The card shown below (front and back) appears in the pew of a large institutional church near us.
Prior to the appearance of these cards in the pews, I imagine there was an extended conversation in the regular Tuesday morning church staff meeting. Let’s listen in on the meeting. . . .
Pastor Being: So I assume most of you have noticed that our offering is dropping off.
Staff of 19 (not including the custodial staff of 5) [in unison, sighing ] Yes, we know. What can we do?
Advisory Accountant: So glad you asked. Here is a graph of the weekly and monthly figures leading up to Reformation Sunday. We are off 20%, especially after that sermon series on Ecclesiastes. Ahem, sorry, Pastor Being.
Pastor Being: Thank you, A.A. Now let’s get down to business. We at RLSC¹ need to find a way to ensure that everyone feels the tug to give. I mean, it’s good for people to be involved, and to hear sermons and all that, but we can’t do any of this unless we put forward a new pitch for pesos, if you know what I mean. A decisive dash for dollars. A bigger buttload of bucks. (Smiling winsomely) . . . hey, this Christmas, if there’s no cash-y, there’s no creche-y!
Staff of 19: [collectively, aggrandizingly] Hahahahaha!
Advisory Accountant: Projecting out current trends, it is a distinct possibility that we’ll have to cut 25-35% on holiday expenditures. The issue, if you ask me, is accountability. Everyone’s concerned about privacy and identity theft, so donation practices are more private then ever. I mean, how can the left hand know what the right hand is doing if all the giving is done on an app in the privacy of one’s home? That doesn’t make a good impression on visitors . . . and what are the pastors supposed to think when the plate is passed through the pews and only 40-50% of the parishioners are dropping in cash and checks? We need more accountability!
Pastor Being: Based on A.A.’s recommendation, I support the notion of accountability. Something doesn’t smell right about the left hand and right hand thing there . . . I’m not sure why . . . but I agree that the impression left when fewer hands touch the collection plates is a downer.
Pastoral Intern: I learned in my Church Growth class last semester that if funds are being contributed by less than 75% of the membership, there is less than a 25% chance of growth during the next two quarters.
Pastor Being: Thank you, P.I. We definitely need a steady growth rate if we’re going to break ground next year on the new office annex, and if we don’t increase the rate, we can kiss the organ loft and pastor bonuses goodbye.
Staff of 19: [Collective sigh and downcast countenances]
Pastoral Intern: I learned in my Church Methods class last fall that organs and choirs . . .
Pastor Being: [interrupting] For the moment, we can’t expect to have much esprit de corps unless we all have a shared sense of everyone else’s giving. You know, like the workplace that displays a United Way contributions thermometer, coloring in the increasing level as it moves toward the goal. . . .
Staff of 19: [collectively] Hahaha!
P.B. [continuing] I’ve been wondering about those internet-savvy hipsters, working in tech companies and carrying the latest devices. How do we know if they’re contributing regularly?
Lead Tech Pastor: Some of them might have encryption devices, or they might know how to disable our spyware so we can’t track their use of our new donation app. For the run-of-the-mill donor, we are working on flash projection, using the robotics we use with the cams for the worship team. When the team is taking a break, we can live-stream the contribution amounts in real-time, moving the screen down the row on the robotic arms in sync with the collection plate. Later on, we can add the number of new donation app users as a sort of soft incentive.
Pastoral Accountant: Studies have shown that people feel more obligated to give if everyone around them is giving.
GenX Involvement Pastor: Seriously? We’re going to make people feel uncomfortable? I guess so, if we have to.
Creativity Pastor: I was talking to the Pastoral Accountant after I saw the contribution figures last Sunday—thank goodness for our lay accountancy team that counts the money during worship. Anyway, the P.A. and I both think we need to develop a card or some object that everyone who contributes online can drop into the collection plate on Sundays. It would be symbolic, but it would increase the pressure on others to donate, too.
Pastoral Accountant: Absolutely. I think it should be a card that says “I give electronically.” A card is heavy, so the sound of them being dropped into the plates will add sonic stimuli. An additional benefit of a card would be that it gives the lay accountancy team something more to count, and that makes them feel more involved, and then they’ll probably give more money, too.
Pastor Being: What biblical passages can you think of that support such a card?
Biblically Learned, Subservient Pastor: Hmm. None, really. Not even a principle that I know of. Come to think of it, not even 1 Corinthians 16 . . .
Pastor B: [interrupting] Well, we can keep researching that. Surely there’s something. . . .
Devoted Sheep among the Staff: There is another way, you know. Has anyone read about Francis Chan’s new movement? Check this out. According to this report, “Chan leads a house church movement in San Francisco called We Are Church. There are currently 14 to 15 house churches, he said, and 30 pastors (two pastors per church) — all of whom do it for free. Each church is designed to be small so it’s more like family where members can actually get to know one another, love one another and make use of their gifts.”
Pastor Being: [Never having considered a simpler, less costly way] That seems sort of pie-in-the-sky, doesn’t it?
Assistant Pastoral Advisory Accountant: You can’t be serious, little follower-sheep!! What would that kind of model do to our cash flow and our end-of-decade projections? We would experience more decline in our contribution income, and we would default on our installment notes. Two or three banks would accelerate the balances on our loans. We’d probably have to tap into our investment funds—or worse, go into hock with HQ. The tax returns would be a nightmare! Who would want to consult for us next quarter or serve as our independent auditors if we’re right around the corner from filing for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy??!
Pastor Being: [continuing and calming the others] Okay, okay. . . . We all know we have this wonderful facility, and we’re not going to lose it just yet. You know what? Look around you. There are some really well-to-do people in our immediate vicinity. I see no reason the Lord wouldn’t want us to reach out to them just as much as to the lower classes.
To inspire and to impress—our twofold mission. We as a pastoral staff do the inspiring, and that impresses our parishioners to the point that they in turn are inspired to impress all those around them by giving more. Everyone is inspired by all the giving, and more giving is the result of that, and that surely impresses our visitors and God, too.
P.B.: All right, it’s settled then. Let’s develop these contribution cards and roll them out in first month of the fourth quarter. Then we can engage independent teams of auditors and church growth consultants to study the effects on cash flow and institutional involvement. . . .
For the complete blog referred to by “Devoted Sheep among the Staff” above, click here.
For a prior blog specifically about e-giving, click here. Near the bottom are two additional links to posts about 1Cor 16:1-2, often cited in support of Christian contributions to churches.
Annnnd . . . I had last written about contributions and tithing in institutional churches here. That piece was a protracted tearing-apart of a very poorly done brochure. At the end, I expressed that I hoped I had the restraint, when coming on this topic again, merely to refer to that post. Unfortunately, the sighting of the cards above brought the topic back, and I was compelled to speak against it.
¹ RLSC: Reformed Large Swanky Church