There was a time in American church life when conventional wisdom said to downplay the role of “passing the plate.” Scandals involving prominent television evangelists back then had shined a spotlight on the practice of asking people to give money to religious causes. As a result, many pastors chose to eliminate the regular practice in favor of a less-prominent offering box in the back or a low-key invitation to give.
“Evangelists on TV were doing crazy stuff with money, so I understand that reaction,” says Chad Moore, lead pastor of Sun Valley Community Church in Phoenix, Arizona.
But the pendulum is swinging back. Many influential churches around the country are leading a trend in seizing the offering time in weekly church services to consistently teach giving principles and build a culture of generosity in their congregations.
Every single week we have an opportunity during our services to inspire people, to teach people, to encourage people, and to thank people in the areas of generosity, stewardship, and giving. We’re seeing more and more churches take advantage of those few minutes every week to do some good in the lives of people.
Moore pastors a multisite church with 5,000 in attendance that is growing in generosity toward its community and beyond. He offers some practical insights on making the offering an important part of leading people to follow Christ.
1. Don’t skip the offering
For starters, include an offering time in every church service. Moore says Sun Valley has chosen to never shy away from talking about giving and encourages people to do it through their regular offerings.
“We believe it’s a really important part of worship, and it’s part of what it means to follow Jesus,” he says. “To acknowledge it in every service is important because you’re saying that giving is important. It’s important in what it means to worship God.”
Moore explains that Sun Valley leads people to meet, know, and follow Jesus. Leaders there break down following Jesus this way: “You give, you serve, and you share your faith.”
“So giving is an important part of who we are as a church,” he says. “We want to be known for giving, so of course, we’re going to give you an opportunity to give in all of our services.”
2. “Receive” the offering; don’t “take” it
It’s a very subtle nuance of the language used when launching into the weekly offering—but a very important one, Moore says. At Sun Valley and other churches that strive to make the most of weekly offerings, leaders “receive” an offering—they don’t “take” it.
“That sounds so nitpicky when it comes to language,” he says. “But it’s really important in the context of what you’re teaching people about giving.
“At Sun Valley, we don’t take anything. What we’re doing is receiving an offering from you to be used for kingdom purposes. So we’re helping facilitate that part of worship in your life, and we’re receiving it on behalf of God and what he’s doing in and through the local church.”
3. Let guests decide for themselves whether to give
“When you say, ‘If you’re a guest here today, don’t worry about giving,’ subconsciously you’re apologizing for that part of the service—which is unacceptable for us,” Moore says. “We believe giving is a normal part of following Jesus, so we can be confident in teaching our people that.
“I’m not going to apologize for it. If a guest wants to give, great. If they don’t want to give, that’s between them and the Lord.”
I would add that excusing guests from participating in giving would be similar to giving them an out on other parts of the service that are deemed important.
The pastor never says, “Hey, I’m about to spend 35 minutes teaching from an ancient book. But I know you’re a visitor, so don’t feel like you have to follow along.” If we don’t suggest other important elements aren’t for the visitor, then why do so for the offering?
4. Talk about why the offering matters
I believe that as church leaders take these few strategic minutes in weekly services to focus on giving back to God, they impact the generosity culture in churches. We see an increase in people’s enthusiasm for generosity, stewardship, and giving when churches are more intentional about leveraging the weekend services.
In the past, the trend might have been for leaders to downplay giving to the church and the weekly offering. But pastors often see a positive impact on their congregations—and more importantly, on the hearts of people in their churches—when they capitalize on this key part of a weekly worship service.
Pastors may dread hearing this one from weekend service attenders: “You talk too much about money at your church.” But try using comments like this as teachable moments—and maybe even wear them as a badge of honor that indicates you’re building a culture of generosity in your congregation.
When a pastor plans what to say and do during the offering time of church services, there’s an increase in the number of givers and in people’s enthusiasm for responding. People notice when a church talks about money more often; that doesn’t have to be a negative.
5. Take the opportunity to teach through the offering
Emphasizing the offering is a way to teach an essential part of spiritual formation. When we do so, we see a corresponding increase in giving to the church. So you get a good result because you’re doing the right thing for the people of your church.
Moore says Sun Valley uses the offering time to teach biblical principles of giving. Borrowing from Andy Stanley’s “Give–Save–Live” formula (give to God first, build up savings next, and live on the rest), leaders can hit those principles in a short setup for the weekly offering.
It’s a simple mantra that’s repeated so often that most people at Sun Valley could finish the sentence. Moore says this is how it goes many weeks: “We’re going to receive an offering this morning because here’s what the Bible teaches about money: We’re to give first, save second, and live on the rest. God gave first, so giving first honors God. Saving second builds wealth, and living on the rest teaches contentment.”
In that short statement, they’ve communicated it’s not what God wants from people as much as what he wants for people. And I believe that those teachable moments and that boldly receiving an offering are raising the temperature on generosity at churches around the country.
Teaching through the offering also helps you ensure it doesn’t become transactional. To avoid that pitfall, leaders need to regularly express that giving is a heart issue, and giving generously can contribute to spiritual growth. We can say things like, “When you give it grows your heart, it addresses greed, it stretches your faith.”
This article was adapted from a series published in collaboration with the Leadership Network’s generosity initiative.