I have always enjoyed the part of the worship service we call “the offering” or “the collection.” This is the time when the deacons pass the plates and each of us gives our financial gifts. It is a moment of both joy and solemnity as we express gratitude through generosity. It is an act of corporate worship as together we give back to the Lord what he has given to us. But the collection is going the way of the dodo because cash is going the way of the dodo.
Taking up a collection was straightforward in a world in which financial transactions involved cash and checks. Both could easily be brought to church and both could easily be dropped into the plate. But that world is quickly fading as we advance rapidly toward a cashless society. The majority of transactions today involve the electronic exchange of electronic currency. My children have never written a check and are not atypical in that their bank accounts don’t even provide or support writing them. When they buy something, they do so with debit cards or mobile phones, not cash. When I recently sold my library, almost every one of the younger people who bought books paid me by e-transfer. My son is a cashier at a grocery store and finds that only older people ever hand him bills. It’s a new world. A different world.
When I was growing in my convictions about giving money to the church I was influenced by Donald Whitney through his book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. He says, rightly, that giving to the Lord is a form of worship and quotes Wayne Watts as he describes his growing conviction that he was to give each week during each worship service:
I have come to the conclusion that giving, along with our thanksgiving and praise, is worship. In the past I made pledges to my church to be paid on a yearly basis. Once a month, I would write a check while in church and drop it in the collection plate. Sometimes I would mail a check from my office. My objective was for the church to get the total pledge before the end of the year. Though I had already experienced the joy of giving, the act of making my gift had little relationship to worship. While I was writing this book God convicted me to begin giving every time I went to church.
That was good counsel for the world as it was at the time. But it doesn’t work anymore. At least, it doesn’t work for the whole church. There is something sweet and deliberate about putting $100 in the offering plate each week and whispering a prayer of thanks to God while singing “Take My Life and Let It Be.” There is something that seems odd and less significant about knowing that $100 will be automatically syphoned out of your account that evening. And yet this is the world today.
This leaves me with two questions.
First, how do our churches make giving to the Lord an act of worship when, rather than being done corporately and manually, it is done electronically and automatically? I suppose the answer will vary from context to context, from those where cash is still in regular use to those where it is rare. At Grace Fellowship Church we no longer take up a collection but do put a basket at the back for those who wish to give by cash or check. We also accept electronic giving. But on a regular basis we integrate a time of thanksgiving into our service. Even though we are not taking up a collection at that time, we still thank God for his provision and express joy that we are able to generously return a portion of it to his work. We may even sing “Take My Life and Let It Be,” “All I Have Is Yours,” or another appropriate song.
Second, how do we as individuals make giving an act of worship when our involvement may be no more than filling out an electronic giving form? I suppose the answer to this one remains with the individual. But I wonder if it is simply something to integrate into your prayer life. Even if the act of giving is not what it once was, there is still every reason to thank God for his generosity, to express your trust and confidence in his further provision, and to ask that he will carry out his will and glorify himself through what you have given.
I’d be interested in knowing, and perhaps you can take to Facebook or Twitter to let me know: How does your church handle the collection in an increasingly cashless world? And how do you make giving a significant act of worship if your giving is done electronically? What are your thoughts about the future of the collection?