We Will Now Receive The Offering
By Paul B Smith
Schools do not teach us some of the things we need to know. This is true when we train for any sort of career. The schools we attend do everything they can do in most cases to prepare their students for their chosen careers, but there are many things that seem to be ignored in the classroom and others that can be learned nowhere else but in the field of experience. Some schools are a lot better than others when it comes to practical training and some are almost totally “ivory tower” in their approach.
At the practical level the primary task of any educational institution is two-fold: first, to teach its students how to study, and second, to show them how to find the materials and information they may need when they start working. An institution that accomplishes these is fulfilling its essential role and has every reason to exist.
However, in my opinion, almost every school could improve its practical training and be a little more realistic in telling students the “facts of life” in their profession, business, trade or whatever. Granted, there are areas of every career that cannot be taught. They must be experienced, but there are also other things that are known and could be taught.
In any area of the Lord’s work one of the topics schools seem to back away from is the actual mechanics of how to take an offering and how to raise money in other ways. I suppose this is a result of the age-old vacant room in the mind of many church people that makes them think there is something wrong about asking for financial support and that it would be a great thing if we could operate the Lord’s work without ever taking an offering. In this sort of mind, then, money for God’s work is not a very spiritual thing, and so, in many areas long hours over many years are spent training young people how to study the Bible, how to teach it, how to organize Sunday Schools, how to develop curricula for them, how to conduct music, arrange music, sing or play instruments with very little attention paid to the fact that none of these other abilities are of much value unless there is a place to do them, people to listen, and an organization to carry forth our ministries.
The young ministers, musicians, or missionaries are not out of school very long before they learn how important the ability to finance their work really is, and how limited their spiritual service will be if they cannot pay their bills.
There are physical activities connected with most of our Christian service. We must learn how to put the elements on a communion table and know the general procedure about how this ordinance may be conducted, before we can be blessed by the spiritual benefits of the Lord�s Supper.
Before we preach someone puts chairs on a platform, lights in a pulpit and maybe turns on a public address system. These are necessary and they are spiritual.
The musician learns where to place the sections of the choir, how to arrange the music it will sing, the logistics of getting people from the choir room to the choir loft decently and in order. All of this, before anyone can sing the praise of God effectively.
The ultimate goal of the Christian educational director is to teach people the Word of God and prepare them for service, but these important “spiritual” things cannot be done until the rooms have been set up, blackboards have been cleared, rolls have been taken, etc. It would be a mistake to say that the teaching is spiritual and the logistics of the set-up and organization are not.
By the time you have read this far you know that I think of the giving of God’s people as an extremely spiritual matter, because that is the way the Bible treats it. Remember, it is one of the graces of the Christian life. But seldom does anyone explain the logistics of asking for an offering.
Any Sort of Offering
We should never apologize for the offering. If you feel that you must apologize, you had better not take it at all.
People will generally respond better when they are happy, but in most cases an “offering joke” does not help much. You should choose a time in the service when the people are rejoicing in the blessings of God. Occasionally, a sad or solemn atmosphere may result in a great response, but this is the exception rather than the rule. Happy people give more generously than sad people.
Do not put pressure on people all the time. All of us become immune to this kind of pressure rather quickly and we arm ourselves against it. Very rarely should it be necessary to take two offerings in one service. Sometimes this can be effective, but usually only if some new or unexpected cause has been presented and it is obvious that the people would like an opportunity of contributing to it. There are many services in The Peoples Church when I call for the ushers as simply as possible and mention no special cause whatsoever. Then, when there is a real need the people will listen and respond. Every service or program should not be a sort of financial crisis.
The three major methods that may be used (although there are probably many others) are:
– Take a retiring offering. Have ushers, or an offering box, at the door for the convenience of people as they leave the service. This would be the way that the smallest offering possible would be given.
– Pass the plates. This is by far the most commonly used method. Except under rare circumstances this produces much more than a retiring offering.
– Use envelopes. A general rule of thumb would be that offering envelopes will about double the amount that is given if envelopes are not used. Envelopes lend an importance to the offering that is usually not achieved if it is just taken in the natural course of events.
These are the main methods, but any method is improved by a great cause. There should be frequent services in which the offering is received for some particular need. Our people are intelligent and they are a bit reluctant to give very largely to general causes or for rather evasive uses. We need to confront our folk with a great deal of respect for their intelligence, and whenever possible state the facts of the need. It doesn’t have to be on a highly emotional level. Sometimes it is enough to say: “Here is what we have. This is what we need. Now is our opportunity to take care of it.”
A Faith Promise Offering
I have already said a great deal about the biblical basis, the essential principles and the philosophy of a faith promise offering. Now, I will deal with the logistics. How do you do it? What is the mechanical procedure of actually putting this good scriptural method into operation?
In every department of our Sunday School we receive a faith promise offering each Sunday morning during our World Missions Conference. We ask for a similar offering in all the sanctuary services, both morning and night, of each Sunday. Because our conference involves two weeks, this means that we repeat the faith promise offering for three consecutive Sundays.
Even if your conference only includes one Sunday you should take the offering on at least two. There are very few churches that have all of their people, even the dedicated ones, present on any single Sunday. In a large church it would usually take at least two or three Sundays to see all the faithful members. This is why most churches have a much larger number of members, even active ones, than they have seating capacity or attendance. If you take your faith promise offering only on one Sunday you will miss many of your people. This is true of any equally important offering.
Every year I prepare a printed outline describing how leaders should ask for faith promises in their classes or departments of our Sunday School. Then I talk to them at a Sunday School workers, meeting and very carefully explain each step. They may vary it from class to class, but it gives them something to start with, based on the success of more than fifty conferences in our own church, as well as scores of others all over the world in just about every denomination and kind of church. These have been conferences where I was usually the main speaker and often responsible for taking the offering.
– Explain your objectives. In any faith promise offering the people must know how the church expects to use the money. I usually tell my people how much we need in order to maintain our existing commitments. I outline these in broad terms, how many missionaries we are helping and at what cost, also what projects we are already involved in. Our home missions projects are also outlined. People want to know how much of their money will go to foreign countries and how much will be used at home for things like rescue missions, Bible schools, and missions whose work is primarily at home. We try to keep by far the majority of our resources for missions going to foreign fields of the world, but very few object if some of it is used for good projects at home.
If you are a large church and your missionary income is quite high, you will discover that eventually you may have to use a percentage of it for overhead. In 1978 we used approximately eleven percent for overhead that is, to share the cost of utilities, maintenance, salaries, office supplies, etc., without which the missionary department could not function, and if it did not function there would be no missions income whatever. When our faith promise was small we were able to use it all for missions and the local church budget carried the overhead, which was also small.
When I announce the amount we need to maintain existing commitments I often say “We need ‘X’ thousands of dollars just to stand still.”
– Give out the envelopes. Although we have already sent envelopes and an, appeal letter to all of our people, we never depend on that, nor do we rely on having envelopes in the pews. We have the ushers come down the aisles and give enough envelopes to the person at the end of the pew so that there is more than enough for everyone including husbands, wives and children.
Avoid having the ushers count envelopes so that there is exactly one for each person. That takes too long. You can afford to be liberal with the envelopes. You will need four or five times the number of envelopes than the number that will be used. Some of those that are left over can be picked up after the service.
Don’t ask the people who want one to put up their hands and ask for one as the ushers go up the aisles. Most of them won’t do it. One of the secrets of good participation in a faith promise offering is to get an envelope into the hands of everyone in the building. I usually say, “Would you be courteous enough to take one. I want everyone to have one when we read it together. Wives don’t let your husbands do all the giving for the family. Be sure every child receives one. The only way people will ever learn how to give is by developing the habit from childhood. Even if you have already filled out one envelope in another service, take another. Give God a chance to speak to you again. You may want to turn in a second envelope that adds to your earlier promise.”
You see, as the conference goes on, more information is given out, a better vision of the fields has been received and God will often speak very definitely to people and urge them to do more than they have already done. Be sure they have an envelope in their hands so that they can obey God if He should speak to them.
If you really trust God yourself, then you should be expecting Him to work all the time. Giving out envelopes is an indication of the preacher’s faith. He is getting prepared for God to work among his people.
– Read what the envelope say’s. Ask your people to follow you from their envelope as you read. Generally it reads something like this: “In dependence upon God I will endeavor to give the amount checked month by month for the next twelve months toward the World Missions program of this church.”
The main words to emphasize are “in dependence upon God.” Point out that this is a promise that is contingent on God’s supply. “I will endeavor” means that you will give it if God provides it. All you are doing now is committing it to God before you have it. Then when it comes there will be no question about how it will be used. Your faith promise has already decided that. If there should be some unforeseen reversal in your circumstances, you are not stuck with a pledge you cannot keep. If you don’t receive it, you can’t give it.
– Explain the Faith Promise System. You can never do this too often. Some new people have never heard about it, others have heard but haven’t learned. There are still others who have learned and haven’t responded.
It has been my privilege to help with the conference and offering of the First Presbyterian Church of Jackson, Mississippi, over a period of a dozen consecutive years. During the early years Dr. John Reed Miller was minister and when he retired Dr. Donald Patterson was gracious enough to continue asking me back. Both of these pastors have contributed substantially to the spirit of World Missions that pervades many of the Presbyterian churches in the deep South.
After a few years with Dr. Miller he used to draw me aside before each Sunday service and urge me to explain the faith promise again. As a result, every year there were people who made a promise in this way for the first time. Even after fifty years of explanation in The Peoples Church we still have some folk who never made a faith promise.
The points to cover in your own way are:
a) This is not a cash offering. You don’t need cash to participate. Having explained this, I usually add that we are using an envelope, so that if some wish to put in their first installment, they can do so. If visitors wish to make a one-time cash offering, they can do so. You will lose a considerable potential for missions if you use a card rather than an envelope. Our envelopes also have a flap that is a blank check form already made out to The Peoples Church. Although they will sometimes protest, most banks will accept a blank check form if it is properly filled out, In many places banks are required to do this despite their computer markings. Available check forms always increase an offering.
But then quickly return to the concept that this is not a cash offering.
b) Emphasize that it is not a pledge in the sense that no one will ever ask them for it. It is a covenant between a person and God. It is turned in to the church so that an intelligent budget can be drawn up by the missionary committee for the next twelve months based on the faith of the people.
c) It is a faith promise. At this point I generally quote the basic verse, “Every man (every woman, every boy, every girl) as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give” (II Corinthians 9:7). Sometimes this verse is on the envelope and you can read it.
d) Describe the difference between an intelligent promise and a foolish one. I have dealt with this at great length in my exposition of Corinthians, chapter eight. Now, in brief I usually say, “It would be foolish to promise one dollar more than the Holy Spirit is urging upon you. It would be just as foolish to promise less. Listen to the voice of God, and as you pray about what you should do, God will direct you.”
– Pray with the people about the amount they should give. For many it will be the first time they have ever done this. They will need good sense and divine guidance.
– Give the people time to fill in their envelopes. Generally, it is better to avoid filling in this time with anything else that might distract them from their faith promise. Sometimes, I continue talking a little bit about the offering. Often, I just stop, and ask the organist to play some background music. I don�t move out of the pulpit. I just stand there and wait until it is obvious that people have finished writing and are ready to turn in their envelopes.
– Collect the promises. We usually have the ushers come forward and pass the plates and then carry them to the office where we have a trained staff to tabulate the total. When I was young my father used to have the promises brought to a table where the monthly gift was multiplied by twelve. Then someone brought them to the pulpit and he would read out the yearly amounts – without names, of course. From there the envelopes were taken to workers with adding machines who gave him totals from time to time until the final amount was in.
This used to be a rather exciting kind of offering sometimes a bit noisy, but in those early days it did a lot to make people “faith promise” conscious. I preach at some conferences that still do this, and very often the results are good. Usually they are churches where my father led their first conference and taught them how to do it by calling out amounts and using adding machines.
More than ten years ago I decided to take a chance and just collect the envelopes and have them tabulated in the office. While this is going on we have the main speaker preach. Once the offering is over he can concentrate on some other aspect of world missions. By the time he is finished, the office has sent me the total. I announce it and have the congregation sing the doxology. On the final Sunday night, after the grand total has been announced we have the choir sing The Hallelujah Chorus. It can be a service to the glory of God that few people ever forget.
Excerpted from “The Senders” World Missions Conferences and Faith Promise Offerings by Paul B Smith
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”