Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Some Churches Stop Passing Collection Plates ; Departure from Traditional Offering Comes as Churches Try to Distance Themselves from Scandals and Welcome Visitors

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Some Churches Stop Passing Collection Plates ; Departure from Traditional Offering Comes as Churches Try to Distance Themselves from Scandals and Welcome Visitors

Article excerpt

Like many pastors, the Rev. Eric Likkel has parishioners who get nostalgic for bygone vestiges of their youth - things like passing the offering plate during worship.

Though most congregations across the country still send ushers to solicit from every pew, Emmaus Road Church in downtown Seattle is among a growing number that have dropped the collection tradition like a handful of spare change.

It's not that they don't have bills to pay. But for reasons ranging from church scandals to changing generational attitudes, many churches are trying a softer approach to fundraising.

While many churches still opt for a traditional collection - often emphasizing it as a concrete way to respond to God's grace - congregations that experiment don't find their coffers running dry.

Emmaus Road Church, for example, has covered its $100,000 annual budget without passing the plate once since 1996.

If any of the 20- and 30-something members get sentimental for a traditional offering, Mr. Likkel reminds them why the church instead points would-be givers to what he calls "the little white box" in the rear of the office space they rent for worship.

"There are so many people who have experienced the abuse of finances by religious figures that we wanted to remove that barrier," he says. Passing the plate to curious newcomers makes them "feel a sense of pressure to give."

What works in a Seattle workspace is bearing fruit in other regions and more-traditional settings, too:

* At New England Chapel in suburban Franklin, Mass., five years of warehouse worship without passing the plate has produced a $300,000 budget, a weekly attendance of 500 and a confidence in the Rev. Chris Mitchell that passing the plate would produce less revenue.

* At Sagemont Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, donors put their money in a central collection basket without being asked - and anyone in need is welcome to take from it on the spot.

* At St. Agnes Roman Catholic Church in Middleton, Mass., parishioners rocked by child sexual-abuse scandals never have a plate put in front of them and consequently feel able to give "without a feeling of obligation," according to Msgr. John McDonough. Giving levels are roughly the same as when ushers passed the plate.

'No. 1 negative concern'

At Bethany Congregational Church in Foxboro, Mass., the Rev. Paul Sangree is preparing to ask his board of deacons for permission to stop taking an offering at the church's year-old contemporary service.

"My highest value is reaching out to lost people, because I think lost people matter to God," Mr. Sangree says. "And surveys say their No. 1 negative concern about the church is that all they want is your money.... The only way they'll come back is if they really have a sense that the church is open and welcoming."

Though data on offering habits are sparse, scholars have found that those who stay away from religious institutions often resent the constant pressure to give money, according to sociologist Phillip Hammond at the Center for the Study of Religion at the University of California, in Santa Barbara. …

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