Thoughts On Church Giving: Part 2, The Offering Receipt

Okay, here's my first practical idea for increasing the connection and immediacy of giving for the Sunday morning offering:

Give the church a weekly receipt.
The source of this idea goes back to a suggestion I read about last year suggesting that the government give taxpayers a tax receipt. No one likes taxes. But taxes in the abstract are just awful. We just see money going out and wonder what, if anything, that money is being used for. So the argument has been made that if taxpayers received a receipt after Tax Day they could see where, exactly, their money was going and what they were paying for. Because considered on a item by item basis many, if not most, taxpayers don't mind paying for each particular item. The receipt, thus, helps the taxpayer connect their money with various public goods. Here's an example, based on real data, that circulated last year about what a tax receipt might look like (click to enlarge):

Dropping money in the collection plate is kind of like paying taxes, psychologically speaking. You put your money in the collection plate but you don't know where or how that money is spent. You know abstractly that you are paying for everything around you, just like the taxpayer, but the lack of specificity makes it hard to feel a connection. But if you listed out the particulars, like with a tax receipt, then you might increase the feeling of a connection.

In a way, many churches do something like this with their annual financial report. The members see the big pie chart about where all the money went over the last year. But that presentation is still too abstract and done too infrequently. What you need is something more specific and frequent. The optimal idea would be to have a receipt every week. When the collection plate is passed you drop in your money and take out a receipt. And the receipt tells you how your money was used during the previous week. It's direct, specific and immediate feedback.

What would such a receipt look like? I think you're only limited by your creativity. But here's one idea. On the receipt have the major categories highlighted: Building, salaries, ministries, missions, etc. Each week have something very particular listed under each category. For example:
Thanks to your contribution this week we were able to host the local AA meeting and the funeral of Bill Jenkins. Remember the Jenkins family this week in your prayers.

(Use this space to talk about attendance, fellowship meals, and community events hosted at the church. For example, "Thanks to you 250 children enjoyed Sunday School at the building last week" or "Thanks to you we continue to host Big Brothers and Big Sisters every week at the building.")

Ministry Staff:
Thanks to your contribution this week...(have various staff members point out specific things they were up to during the week).

Thanks to your contribution this week...(have missionaries supply mini-reports about the goings on with their respective works).

Community Ministry:
Thanks to your contribution this week...(discuss the various efforts done to help people during the week).

And so on...
I'll admit that the phrasing "Thanks to you..." is both cheesy and theologically dubious. Still, I think you can see what I'm getting at.

Now, a lot of this stuff is already communicated to the church through announcements and the bulletin. What I'm suggesting is shifting away from a newsy bulletin to a weekly receipt. Such a change could help create a more direct connection between the giver and the ministries of the church. Plus, the receipt would help foster conversations about the relative value of the various things mentioned on the receipt and this might, over time, improve stewardship.

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4 thoughts on “Thoughts On Church Giving: Part 2, The Offering Receipt”

  1. Psychologically, I like this idea. I would also want to return my receipt to the church providing a line item veto for the things I am paying for and the things I refuse to pay for (as with my taxes). But I also shudder about the requirement to see everything as a transaction. I read Kenneson's Life on the Vine, and his chapter on love, sticks in my head about getting away from seeing everything as a transaction. I think that's the hardest challenge is letting go of the "score" and giving church the money, even though I may not have a say or feel it is always used in the best way.

  2. That's a great point. A big problem with this idea. It locks in an economic metaphor.

    I wonder if variations might be explored. Instead of a "receipt" perhaps the use a thank you note or frame the whole thing as recognized locations of blessing.

    Regardless, the line item veto is a great idea...

  3. Great idea. I went to a church once that did a variation on this theme. Instead of a budget, they simply made a list of priorities to which money might go. Then they made a giant thermometer-looking chart, which they put in the foyer, with the most important things at the bottom, and the least important things (in the minds of the elders) at the top. Whatever money came in, it paid up to a certain point on the thermometer. If not enough came in, then the lowest priority item didn't get paid for.

    Church members could discuss priorities with the elders, of course, and that was the discussion: priorities. Anyway, each week, you could walk in the door and see what got paid for by the previous week's giving. I loved it.

    Oh - and the weird thing was that one of their lowest priorities was the preacher's salary! (He and all the elders were former missionaries, and not business men ... so maybe that explains things)

  4. Hi Rob,
    I'm not sure that a board of directors would do any better than a church budget committee. Technically, what's the difference? Just a bunch of guys in suits who allocate dollars that don't belong to them. I'm less inclined to buy into "the church does God's work" than the fact that the Church is the People Themselves, not the umbrella org, and that stewardship is personal (per Jesus' parables), not a deferral to an org or its subcommittees and boards.

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