One of the assignments I give students in our Money & the Mission of the Church class invites them to imagine stewardship from scratch. I invite them — using the power of imagination — to consider what the “ideal” form of stewardship would be in a church they could invent in their mind’s eye. Where does the money go? How is it collected? Is there even an offering? For most students, their call may never confront them with a similar challenge, but the exercise is still helpful to examine assumptions. In a similar vein for this week’s post, Pastor Sarah Brouwer describes launching a new service at an existing congregation…so what about the offering?
Adam Copeland, Center for Stewardship Leaders
The Background Story
Nearly two years ago, I was part of a capital campaign for my church called Open Doors Open Futures. Along with directing a gift toward mission, there was a plan for a new building, which would contain a significant sanctuary and event space, with wonderful acoustics and large windows overlooking the city streets — a ripe spot for experimenting with non-traditional worship.
We wanted to reach beyond our walls to those in our neighborhood — both young and old, many moving in at rapid rates — searching for a worship service style that was neither “Sunday morning with a towering organ” nor “praise band and swirling light show.” We imagined providing worship centered in the arts with poetic, contemporary liturgy, and using old practices with unexpected, casual twists. Our vision highlighted radical hospitality and using language, movement, and technology that was accessible, so those unfamiliar with faith tradition would feel welcome. We wanted worship to feel safe for those who have not felt that way in church.
The Year of Learning
We actually do refer to the time of this experiment as “The Year of Learning!” Almost twelve months ago, we started Gathered at Five, implementing this vision of a creative, justice-oriented, engaging service. The service has been absolutely beautiful, and decently attended. But one of the most challenging parts of worship planning, to no one’s surprise, has been the offering. From every angle around offering — logistics, technology, liturgy, theology — we’ve had to stretch our imaginations. Raising money for a building was one thing, inspiring a regular culture of giving has been another.
Important Questions We are Asking…
- Do they trust enough to give?
Gathered at Five may offer a fresh worship style, but Westminster is still part of the mainline Church. For the average person, such institutions are fraught with complexity, worthy of wariness, especially when it comes to money. Through offering, we’re inviting people to respond to God and trust in a Church that frankly hasn’t always been trustworthy. Particularly for those who are coming back to church, or who have little experience with it as adults, giving can feel very vulnerable, shaming, or even triggering of pain from the past. We’re pretty clear in our worship that doubt is a part of faith; doubt in God and the Church. But when people aren’t sure what or who they can believe in, what does giving look like?
- Do people understand the offering, theologically?
We are blessed with new faces in our worship, and must be mindful they don’t necessarily share our theological or liturgical vocabulary. Most days when we receive the offering, we spend mere moments explaining why we do this part, and that hardly seems adequate. People might not fully understand what we are asking them to do, but we must also give them more credit than we assume. How do we educate on this topic in a way that is empowering, but not condescending?
- What are the ethics of giving with technology?
We have used the Tithe.ly app with success and ease-of-access, but the option to give via credit card presents other challenges. We are welcoming more vulnerable populations into our worship, so for some of us a credit card might be a resource reserved for emergency situations, if ever. But will the language of giving pressure pious people into giving offering money they don’t have?
- What are options in addition to weekly offering and capital campaigns?
I wonder about the possibilities of crowdfunding. It’s format seems to be popular because its goals are understandable, urgent, more immediately tangible, and inclined to make us feel like we are part of something bigger. Crowdfunding is more specifically packaged than offering, and more quickly applied than a capital campaign. Not that crowdfunding or anything else will replace other models, but in what other ways can such imaginative thinking get us somewhere fresh and inviting?
The Service and the Future of Giving
None of these offering questions at Gathered at Five are unheard of, but the story is still worth hearing about. We are trying to operate thoughtfully, maximizing technology and maintaining loads of authenticity. The heartfelt message of the Gospel resonates with people’s yearning to care, be inspired, and respond. When I see even the smallest gift come in on Tithe.ly from a young adult who has attended Gathered at Five for the first time, I want to trust they have not given out of shame or pressure, but have chosen to respond to worship they understand. This kind of offering is a sign to me that something urgent and tangible has happened in worship, and the Gospel has reached at least one more. Such experiences shift our fixation from fiscal capital, to the kind of brilliant capitalizing that makes us cry out in recognition and emphasize our words.
THANKS BE TO GOD, for the opportunity to serve God’s people, and for reimagining capital success.
For More Information
Rev. Sarah Brouwer is Associate Pastor for Congregational Life at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Minneapolis. Sarah finds great joy in young adult ministry, creating new worship opportunities, preaching, liturgical art-making, nurturing church leadership, utilizing social media to tell the church’s story, and finding time to spend with her husband and two small children.
Westminster Presbyterian Church is nestled in the heart of Downtown Minneapolis, and is a thriving, historic 3,100 member community with a telling presence in the city’s work for social justice.
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