Thinking Out Loud

August 6, 2017

Sunday Link List

An even rarer species than the Weekend Link List, the Sunday list has never been seen in the wild before. Images: Above: Wayne is a pastor in Hawaii, hence the lei (garland). Below: Click the picture to learn more about this coffee franchise whose name is inspired from a story in Daniel 3.

  • Breaking news this past week: YouTube to limit “controversial religious content.” An announcement on the official YouTube blog reads “…If we find that these videos don’t violate our policies but contain controversial religious or supremacist content, they will be placed in a limited state. The videos will remain on YouTube behind an interstitial, won’t be recommended, won’t be monetized, and won’t have key features including comments, suggested videos, and likes. We’ll begin to roll this new treatment out to videos on desktop versions of YouTube in the coming weeks…” All this in the name of “fighting terror online.” Is fear being used as an excuse?My son Aaron [ ] saw this and noted they are now “repressing content for the vague crime of being ‘controversial.'” Read the full statement on their blog.
  • Also this week, a major ruling from the state Supreme Court of South Carolina regarding Anglican parishes which joined up with an alternative denominational group which formed in 2009: “Dozens of parishes that split from The Episcopal Church over theological issues including the ordination of gay priests cannot take valuable real estate with them, according to a split ruling issued Wednesday by South Carolina’s highest court… Both sides have 15 days to ask the Supreme Court to rehear the case if they choose.” Full report at a local ABC News affiliate.
  • Some are spinning a story involving a Quebec, Canada nun who officiated at a wedding as proof that Pope Francis is softening his stance on women as priests. However, “the wedding was carried out according to a long-established provision of canon law. It allows an exception for a layperson to be permitted to officiate at a wedding when a bishop, priest or deacon is unavailable. That layperson can be a man or a woman.”
  • The Broader Culture: The headline reads, “We All Need to Admit That America Has a Tattoo Problem.”
  • Your Money: “A celebrity pastor offered a day-long talk on church finances. He promoted an idea I had never heard before; not in Bible school, in seminary, or from any other pastor(s). He began a practice early in his ministry of knowing the names of people in his church and the amount of money they gave. With this knowledge, he would make appointments with people and talk openly about their giving. I experienced ecclesial culture shock. This pastor’s approach was an invasion of financial privacy.” Should the pastor know what you’re giving? Also check out the — at this writing — 80+ comments.
  • Arts and Crafts and Cottage Industries: Religion News Service looks at people of different faith tribes sharing their belief through selling their wares on Etsy.
  • The book by a University of Missouri history professor officially published on Friday by no less than Oxford University Press. The title: PTL: The Rise and Fall of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s Evangelical Empire.a precis by the book’s author Religion News Service offers .
  • ♫ New Music: Never Giving Up On You by Matthew Parker is the #2 Christian song in Australia.

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January 26, 2016

“If You’re Visiting, Let the Offering Plate Pass By”

Offering PlateOne of the elements of the seeker sensitive movement which caught on within the wider circle of Evangelicals is the idea of not presenting ourselves as just wanting money. When Bill Hybels founded Willow Creek, it was one of two things that turned up in his community survey: ‘We don’t want to be asked to give money.’ (The other was anonymity: ‘We don’t want to be asked to stand up and give our names or be identified as visitors.’)

The line, “If you’re a visitor with us today, don’t feel any obligation to give;” or “This is an opportunity for our own people to worship through giving; if you’re visiting, just let the offering plate pass by;” has become a mantra in many of our churches. They say this in my church, and if I were asked to do the announcements — something for 20 years I’ve been deemed incapable of — I would certainly echo the same sentiment.

But I’m not sure it applies anymore.

For the four reasons below, I want to suggest doing away with it, or at least amending it somewhat.

First, we had the Willow Creek study, which showed that the spiritual characteristics of seekers had changed over the (then) 25-or-so years the church had been operating. Seekers wanted to go deep, they wanted to sit with their Bible in one hand and a pen in the other. They certainly didn’t see themselves as visitors or observers, they wanted to engage with the service the same as everybody else.

Second, there was the study North Point did which focused on people who had been attending for five weeks or less. This survey showed that what we would call visitors were already wanting to “discern next steps.” They wanted to fully plunge in, including volunteering to help. They saw themselves as potential participants, not outsiders. This echoes the saying that, “You’re only a visitor once.” Both of these studies were conducted by professional researchers.

Third, there is my own observation of what happens at Christmas services where an offering is received; a practice we can debate at another time. It’s assumed that many are visiting these services, so sometimes the line is simply skipped, and on those occasions, I’ve seen people who I know to be visiting reach into their wallets and pull out twenty dollar bills, or more. Perhaps they have a spirit of giving because of the season and want to be generous. Maybe it’s guilt for not having been more philanthropic throughout the year. For whatever reason, they seem to want to give.

Finally, there is simply my own hunch that people want to join in because they see the community value in what is taking place because the church is there. The church I attend is making a difference our town, and is in fact in the middle of a project involving refugee placement that has attracted interest from the broader community and has created some partnerships with local charities. (Matthew 5:16b “…that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.“) I think we’re doing things that people want to encourage.

Having said all that, I do understand the spirit of the original Willow Creek goal of not being seen as simply wanting money. I don’t think we should abandon that altogether. But there are other ways of phrasing it that might stay in step with the spirit of the statements we’re using and at the same time invite visitors to join in if they choose, and hopefully eventually come to a place of entering in with their hearts as well as their wallets.


1 Peter 2:12
Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

March 19, 2015

Why Are We Still Using Offering Envelopes?

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:58 am

Today’s article first appeared in the October issue of The Anglican, a newspaper for the Anglican Diocese of Toronto. Author Norah Bolton gave us permission to use it here, for which I am grateful because I have been trying to get this message across to a church in my area for a long time, a church which has a particularly young demographic, and they just don’t see it. So thanks, Norah for being a fresh voice on this subject.


envelope

What’s in your wallet? It might be fun to see what is there right now?

When I tried it, mine contained: Two $20’s, 2 loonies1, 8 quarters, 8 dimes, 3 nickels, a debit card and two credit cards – and a bunch of loyalty cards – some of which haven’t been used in years.

When you attend a church on a Sunday as a visitor, what would you be prepared to put on a collection plate from your wallet? What else might you need to hold back as cash for today or tomorrow? Lunch? Subway tickets? The kids’ pizza day at school?

I thought about this when our parish treasurer received a bill of $500.00 this week for a reprint of pew envelopes and, as warden2, I had to sign the cheque. Open collection is also down this year in our parish.

It will take 25 donations of $20 just to recover those costs. We will then issue a receipt on paper that will include a thank you card, a printed receipt, an envelope and a stamp now costing $1.00 to finish the transaction. So let’s make that 26 to 27 donations at least. That doesn’t include the volunteer counters’ time.

It will take 50 donations of $10 to recover the cost.

It will take 100 donations of $5.

It does not include those attractive pew envelopes hanging on the hooks used for other purposes and wasted – note taking, drawing, paper airplanes. We won’t recover those costs at all – but we will still pay.

In other words, we are using a system designed for another century – and we are spending time in committees discussing whether the colour of the band on the side of the pew envelopes should be red to match a recent brochure or blue to match the signs on the outdoor notice boards – rather than noticing how the world is changing.

We are also assuming that some of the users of the envelopes are potential parishioners, who will fill in the printed copy on the envelopes, when many folks are potential one time “friends” at best. They might or might not ever attend again. They might or might not have a pen in their pockets or purses to fill in the information on the pew envelope either. Some of the envelopes put on the collection plate are blank.

So maybe it’s time to re-frame the conversation.

How do people pay for things now – including making on-site donations?

img 031915I’ll use myself as an example. All my banking is now online. I pay for utilities, groceries, residential fees and taxes, car payments and monthly contributions to the parish via direct debit from my current account – and make two transfers a month to pay my credit card balances in full. Nearly all other purchases are paid via those credit cards – some as monthly deductions including the diocesan capital campaign – and others when I buy online. (The points I earn on one card add up to a free flight a year; on the other it brings me occasional cash deductions). I still have a small business account which receives the odd bit of income from an online order site. I have a line of credit to cover emergencies and a savings account to hold occasional surpluses. I make withdrawals of cash – usually to buy subway tokens – the withdrawal is always $60 in multiples of $20.

Sometimes the cash sits in my wallet for most of the month – but it is there for an emergency. I visited another church recently and didn’t really want to donate $20 but it was all I had in bills and I wasn’t keen to drop a bunch of change.

I donate to my college and TVO3 via their websites. I contribute to another warden’s charity walk online too – and get the tax receipts right away. I read my bank statements on my laptop, tablet or phone.

I’m a senior. Am I typical of my own demographic? How about a younger one? My guess is that the laptop is the least used device for the 20-50 crowd, and I look at the passengers on the subway car, it’s all about the phone.4

So here is the challenge: How are we going to encourage visitors5 to make one-time donations when they visit a parish church on a Sunday – in a way that works for them, not us?

The method does have to maintain confidentiality, be secure and allow us to obtain their basic information, issue a tax receipt and have enough information to thank the donor appropriately.

I think it’s time that churches begin this conversation. How about you?


1Affectionate term for Canada’s $2 coins
2Warden is (I believe) one of the highest offices in the Anglican Church open to the laity
3Equivalent to donating to PBS or NPR in the US
4A large church in west Toronto, which has been using a point-of-sale terminal for several years, has now set up a program where people can give through their phone. Many do this as the offering plates are being passed.
5While Norah’s article points to visitor donations, in many Evangelical churches right now visitors are actually discouraged from making contributions. My own take on this is that a point-of-sale terminal should be available to regular attenders, and I’ve seen this work in other churches. The machines cost to a church or charity is under $35/month, and they can be used for things other than tithing, such as paying for an upcoming youth or women’s retreat. The church I mentioned in the introduction also has a Daycare, with which they could split the terminal’s cost.

December 27, 2008

Church Has “Reverse Offering,” Hands out Money Instead of Collecting

“At a recent Sunday service, [the pastor] did a “reverse offering,” passing out bags each with $5, $10, $20 or $50 bills. Congregants were instructed to choose how the money could be used in their community. [Pastor] Semradek reminded congregants that there would come a day when they would stand in judgment before God.”

Imagine a church so committed to mission that it gives away all — 100% — of everything it collects.

“The nondenominational suburban Chicago church operates on a shoestring budget and under an unusual financial setup so it can stick to a mission: Give 100% of offerings gathered from the collection plate to those in need.”

A church whose website asks people to Help Us Give our Money Away.

jim-semradek“This week we began a new initiative placing the power of distribution of our offerings into the hands of our people.  We have developed a nomination process to enable those living in the community to help us leverage our resources to worthy local causes.  They might be a neighbor you know, a friend, or a co-worker.  But we want your help to find out how we can best support the community. “

Read the story of Waterfront Community Church of Schaumburg, Illinois just posted on the religion page of USAToday or an older story from the November 18 issue of the Chicago Tribune.

.

First two quotations from the USAToday story, last quote is from the church website.

Photo: Pastor Jim Semradek – a really hard guy to find a photograph for!

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