How to Handle Online Offerings at Church: Best Practices from Stewardship Specialists
When the COVID-19 crisis forced houses of worship to close their doors, most churches quickly adapted and pivoted to doing online church. According to a Barna/Gloo’s Church Pulse Weekly poll in mid-April, only 3% of the 875 pastors were not doing church services online. Pastors have had to adjust their preaching style to accommodate moving from a big platform to speaking to their flock on a small screen. Churches have also had to learn how to handle the offering moment virtually.
Soon, your church will be able to return to your building. We want you to be ready.
We reached out to several of our trusted stewardship experts for insights on how to handle online offerings. Here are their insights and best practices for how to handle online offerings:
Giving is part of our communal worship experience and cultivating generosity is an important aspect of how churches help people grow in their faith. For people new to church or new to online giving, the idea of giving money to a church may be unfamiliar and off-putting.
According to Chad Aukland, Director of Consulting with Injoy Stewardship says that because so many people are attending church online—many for the first time, churches need to provide some context for why giving is an important part of our faith journey. Take a moment at every service to mention the “why” behind giving. Even a brief instructional moment can help newcomers to the faith gain a deeper understanding of how faith plays out in our actions.
Geoff Surratt, the founder of MinistryTogether said in a recent webinar with Generis, “Don’t shy away from the power of the local church. If you think about it, most of our churches are now multisite because we are meeting in homes across our community… The generosity moment is a great opportunity to highlight some stories of the community you serve… All church is local and I want to know what’s happening in my suburb.”
Show your church how their giving is making a difference. Highlight stories of how lives have been changed because of the congregation’s generosity and cast the vision that they can make a difference this week in their community even from their living room.
Brian Dodd, Director of New Ministry Partnerships with Injoy Stewardship and founder of the website and podcast, “Brian Dodd on Leadership,” talks about the offering moment at North Metro Church in Georgia: “The pastor told the congregation that because of their generosity, they were able to provide every healthcare worker at a local hospital with lunch and a handwritten thank you note by a church member. They showed photos of these workers and talked of the direct impact their gift made.”
According to Dodd, “This ties people’s generosity back to serving people and advancing the churches mission and vision. People then go, ‘My giving goes to making that happen!’ and it’s not hard for people to connect the dots and see that their giving is literally saving lives.”
The Three S’s:
Dodd coaches leaders to hit on the three “S’s” when they talk about giving—story (like the one North Metro Church shared), scripture, and statistics:
1. Story: A specific story of impact and transformation that directly connects the church’s life-changing ministry with the listener’s giving patterns.
Joel Mikell, a partner with Horizons Stewardship, says, “There is a church in Brentwood, TN, that shares a ministry impact story every Sunday just before receiving the offering. The story is usually 60-90 seconds in length. Following the story, the pastor will say, ‘Thank you, church, for your generous giving. Your generosity made this story possible. Thank you! And if you are here this morning and have not discovered the joy of investing in the lives of people and you want to be a part of these stories, we invite you to begin giving today.’ The minister will then share the various ways someone could give to their church. Something such as this could be done easily and impactfully during a live-streamed service.”
2. Scripture: Mikell says offering talks can also be a great time to share a short biblical truth about stewardship, giving, and generosity and its application to your listeners. Several examples of strong teaching passages to consider are:
The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37)
The Widow (Mark 12:41-44)
Feeding the 5,000 (John 6:1-14)
The Woman and the Alabaster Jar (Mark 14:3-9)
The Generosity of the Macedonian Churches (2 Corinthians 8)
3. Statistics: Use data to highlight a specific need the church would like to meet. For example, “Unemployment in our area has risen to over 10%. There are people in our community who we need to come alongside and help during this time.”
Communicating Your Church’s Financial Status
In a time of crisis, people want to be helpful in any way they can. If your church is experiencing a major dip in giving, tell people so they can respond.
Mike Stadelmayer, VP of Client Relations for Church Growth Services, says, “You absolutely need to be transparent and communicate well. People want to know about organizations they love and are a part of. You not only share the need if there is a shortfall, but you do it without any panic or fear, and you communicate well and with clarity.”
Aukland says, “Congregants want to help sustain the ministry, but pastors must ask; we cannot assume they know.”
This is also a time to highlight existing budget items, especially areas of the budget that are making a difference during this time (i.e. care center, mobile food pantry, etc). Make sure to tell stories of how God is using your church during this crisis.
If the church is doing well, report this and celebrate how those resources are being used to serve the community and honor God, as North Metro Church did. Use this time to thank the church for all they have done and encourage them to continue giving to make an impact for weeks to come.
Adverse Financial impact
Every church has been impacted by the pandemic. Congregants have been adversely affected by job loss, pay cuts, illness and death because of the Coronavirus. Make sure you’re not tone deaf during this time. When you talk about giving at your church, highlight that there are people struggling during this season, and it’s okay if they have to give less or nothing at all. But then invite them to take the next step to let the church know so you can help them with benevolence funds or support from your care center or other resources.
Remind people that an offering to the Lord is not just from our treasure but can also be our time and our talents. Right now, circumstances may dictate which of these each individual is able to offer. Herb Buwalda of Horizons Stewardship says, “Don’t feel guilty about what you are unable to give. Focus on what you are able to give.”
On the flip side, there are people within your church who have not been affected by this crisis. Encourage them to continue giving generously so the church can help those in need. Aukland says, “Regardless of how you’ve been affected as a ministry, always use opportunities when you’re communicating about giving as an opportunity to serve somebody who needs help.”
Churches will sometimes shy away from asking people to give to the church and its mission. In a webinar by Generis on how to handle offerings online, panelist Julie Bullock, who serves as a senior generosity strategist for Generis, give this advice to church leaders: “Don’t make the decision not to give for someone. Always give the opportunity and allow them to make a personal decision.”
Bullock and her colleagues at Generis offered these additional insights on how to ask for online offerings:
Go back to the Bible. 2 Corinthians 8 talks about three churches going through severe trials, but they were still being praised for their giving.
Remind people that giving an offering is not something we have to do; it’s something we get to do.
We have the offering so that the church can go back and help those in need.
The nature of online church means it’s more personal, it feels one-on-one, so let your offering ask reflect this; be personal.
Communicate How to Give
Giving can become an out of sight, out of mind issue, meaning pastors need to talk about it more than they normally would to make sure people understand the “why” for giving, the “what”—don’t be afraid to let people know that your church relies on generous giving to ensure that vital ministries can thrive—and finally, the “how.”
Be sure your congregants know all of the ways they can share their offering, such as online, by text, or USPS mail. If you’re making online giving available, make sure to optimize your landing page so it’s easy and convenient for people to give.
Though many churches are promoting online giving as the primary way to share tithes, Aukland says, “You cannot forget that there is a segment of the church that will never ever give via online means. Always give people the option to put a stamp on an envelope and put their gift in the mail.”
Everyone wants to be thanked when they’ve given to any organization or ministry. Recruit a team of volunteers who can write a handwritten note or call each giver to say a quick thank you.
One church followed up with each giver by letting them know that at the next service they would be showing a video highlighting the impact their gift made during the week. This is a great way to encourage new givers to return the next week and see the direct impact they made in their community.
Churches are learning many new ways to conduct the online offering moment. What best practices has your church employed to create a culture of generosity?