Offering Plates and Etiquette for the Congregation

I have definite ideas about offering plates. I think offering plates should be round, large, (at least 12 inches in diameter) made of brass and heavy. A person receiving the plate from a pew neighbor should have to put both hands on the plate, and it should not rise up in the air when it is received. Felt material in the bottom of the plate is optional.

In other words, the receptacle should be worthy of the gift. If I’m making an offering to God, and putting money in an offering plate is a symbol of giving something of myself, then that act needs proper attention.

I may be obsessing about offering plates because I have read three books recently with “offering plate” in the title. For a while now, however, I’ve been observing the passing of the plate ritual in congregations, and I’m not very happy with what I see.

The ritual has changed. I can remember when receiving the offering took an usher on each end of the pew to keep the plates moving smoothly and reverently. Nowadays, the passing of the plate is anything but smooth because there are sometimes whole rows where nobody puts in anything. What’s an usher to do?

Last Sunday, I had to chase down the plate in the pew behind me because the first person on my pew shook his head when the usher offered the plate. The person in the middle of the row ahead of me actually held up her hand like she was stopping traffic to indicate that she didn’t need the plate, either.

I’m fairly confident that this negative body language does not indicate that these worshipers have no intention of giving; rather, it is a sign that they have already given. They either write one check monthly or use automatic bank draft. Either of those methods of giving is good and represents “first fruits” giving. Congregation leaders should encourage such systematic donations. But where does that leave the passing of the plate or receiving the offering?Are there ways we can keep the emphasis on the offering as an important part, maybe even the most important part, of worship despite the many conveniences of non-cash contributions? Consider the following:

  • The pastor can state, before distributing the offering plates, that now is the time in the service when we offer something of ourselves to God. Passing the plate symbolizes our giving something we value to God, even when the money doesn’t go in the plate at that very moment. An announcement such as, “We now worship through our tithes and offerings,” can remind people that we’re still in worship mode, not transacting the church’s business. Quoting the first verse of, “We Give Thee but Thine Own” is also good.
  • Place filled offering plates on the altar (or other place significant in the worship service) even if they are moved later to prepare for communion elements. Sacrifices have a rightful place on an altar and are central to our worship.
  • The choir anthem, which is most often sung while offerings are being received, could be placed at another time in the service thereby giving both the financial offering and the anthem more emphasis.
  • Worshipers who contribute once a month (by check or bank draft) can be encouraged to place an additional offering representing something they have given up during the week or something or someone for which they are especially thankful.
  • Some congregations have available in the pew row preprinted cards that state this person gives electronically. This allows the person opportunity to use the offering plate and serves to remind others about electronic giving.
    Children and youth can be encouraged to place their tithes and offerings during Sunday worship. Parents who contribute in other ways should explain to their children how and when they are giving.
  • Occasionally receive a designated offering by asking everyone who is able to come forward and place that offering directly on the altar or some other place of significance.

Giving is worship and deserves our best presentation.