If you were to take a picture of your congregation during the Sunday morning offering, how many smiles would be in the photograph? It usually doesn't look like we are enjoying the offering or our giving, even though we typically proclaim that "God loves a cheerful giver."
The Greek word translated "cheerful" is "hilarion." So we could say that "God loves a hilarious giver," one who gives with the excitement and hilarity of joy and the power of commitment. Some of our Filipino and African-American congregations and partner churches in southern Africa already have traditions that reflect this joy of giving.
But when most of us give our offering on Sunday morning, does it look and feel like we are giving joyfully, with hilarity, out of commitment? Can we reclaim the power of the Sunday morning offering? Of course we can!
If we change the experience of the offering, we will change some of the old giving patterns. A church in Vermont has livened up the call to offering and has experienced dramatic increases in both regular giving and contributions to special offerings. If you rev up the offering, your church will be more attractive to newcomers and visitors hunting a lively, vital congregation.
Here is a bold, yet simple, suggestion that you might want to try first on a special occasion, or with a special group, or for one Sunday a month. May your Sunday morning offering be a celebration of how God gives to us and we to others!
As the offering begins, remind people that God loves a cheerful, hilarious, joyful, smiling giver. Ask people to hold their hands open before them and give thanks to God for all gifts poured into our hands. Invite each one that is able to bring his or her offering forward.
As people come forward, the choir or musician can begin lively, joyful music. Invite people to sing as they come forward, to raise their hands in celebration, or even to dance. Is it hard to imagine our people doing this? A little, so invite, do not insist. Move gently into this style. Perhaps at first liturgical dancers could precede the parade of offering. (In parts of Africa, people noisily slap their offering on the table, sure that this is an offering they want to make.)
O God, great, giving, generous God;
We have just opened our hands to give of our wealth.
Bless now these gifts and our giving.
And yet for a little while
keep our hands open that we might give again
when we see the needs of any of your people,
or feel our own need to give.
And yet a little longer, O God, keep our hands open
that we might receive and give thanks
for all good gifts from you. Amen.
We bring these gifts that we might share,
That we might love and be aware.
O God, to us you richly give.
Now let us share that all may live.
Occasionally, without advance notice, receive two offerings during worship. One might be the regular offering. The second might follow a mission story, or an announcement of a local need, or be called in gratitude for a resource or stance or assistance from some part of the United Church of Christ. Invite people to enjoy the second offering even more than the first.
If you are the pastor or a worship leader, be sure that you visibly place your offering in the plate or basket each Sunday. Think about the message communicated if the person asking people to give generously, sacrificially, gladly and cheerfully is never seen putting anything into that "important" offering.
What about people who give their offering once a month or who mail their gift to the church? Create a set of 3 x 5 cards for your pews, with messages on them, so that each Sunday everyone has something of significance to put in the plate or the basket each time it is passed. The cards might say:
"This week I intend to give one hour to writing thank you notes to people I don't know."
"I will volunteer to help out my church the next time I am asked."
"This card celebrates that I have named the church in my will."
"This week I will read or tell a story of God's love to a child."
Include some blank cards, and recycle the cards back into the pews each week.
Linda Noonan and Kirsten Peachey, missionaries in South Africa, wrote of experiencing the offering in a church in Peitermaritzburg, South Africa:
"'Shame on you, you can do better than this!' Baba (Father) Shona, the head deacon of the church points his finger at the loose change on the altar, smiling and shaking his head. 'You'll have to do it one more time!' Someone begins a chorus and a line of children, men, and women in their blue and white Women's Guild uniforms snakes its way to the altar, singing and clapping, change jingling as pockets are emptied. The older women know Baba, and won't be dismayed. As they find their coins and approach the altar, they sing even louder and add their silver to the rest with pride and gusto, dancing back to their benches. It is good to worship here, to preach, to sing. Like anywhere else, the church in South Africa struggles. But in the spirit of Baba, we are reminded that we are all called to give more . . . but to do it with pride, with gusto, and if we're lucky, in the company of a few friends and a good chorus."
Originally published in Connections Magazine by the Stewardship Council – Fall 1995