Does your congregation share the offering plate?   

This was the question posted on the Giving Speaks blog a few years back.  In all, sixty-six responses were received along with a number of comments.  Here is what I learned from the poll responses and commentary.

Ninety-one percent (91%) of the respondents reported their congregations share some or all of their offering plate contributions at regular intervals during the year.  Among
those responding, only 7.5% say their congregations are considering a shared
offering program but have concerns about doing so.  Only one congregation represented had shared its offering plate in the past, but has stopped the program.

The comment by one respondent seems to speak for a number of congregation leaders that I have met with over the past five years, “We’ve been giving away 50% of every collection plate for two years. It has been an unqualified success.   It’s very clear that when people are given an opportunity to be generous, they respond.  Each month’s selected recipient is described by the minister at every service, with careful attention to why the mission of
the selected organization is viewed as an extension of our own ministry. The 50% of the collection which is retained by the church is always greater than the 100% we collected before the program was instituted. But, more importantly, everyone is proud of the church, and we are making a real difference for these selected organizations. It is a genuine win/win.”

Several comments indicate the shared offering plate program is a part of a congregation’s outreach ministry, helping those in need nearby or in response to a crisis at a distance.  One respondent wrote,  “At our church we found members were very interested in knowing that our plate was going to a good cause and made them feel good that we were reaching out to those in need.  For example, we have been contributing 50% of our plate for UUA Tornado Relief. Our total plate has increased since we started doing this several years ago.”

One concern shared indicates not all view the trend of giving away of all or part of the Sunday offering as  positive, “Sharing the plate is an unfortunate development – people come to UU churches to share in a religion not in a foundation that disburses money in vague ways according to the fad of the moment – I give money to my church to support our religion –God knows it is fragile enough – I give other money to charities I feel a
connection to – I don’t need others in my congregation to help me/tell me to what charity I should direct my money…”

Clearly, from the responses to this poll and from anecdotal research, the majority of congregations with shared offering plate programs find there are benefits to such a program.   Generally, the perception of the contributions made to community agencies and crisis relief funds is positive among congregants, in that they feel their congregation is making a difference.   Many report increases in giving to plate offerings, as well as in pledged contributions to the congregation in which the shared offering program is a visible, recognized outreach ministry.   What is less clear is whether or not instituting a shared offering program raises funding levels enough to sustain a congregation’s annual budgeted expenditures over time and without cuts to staffing, programs, and denominational funding.

As always, your stories, ideas, resources, and comments are welcome!