“What’s the deal with the wooden box?” I asked one of the long-time members of the church.
The question was an innocuous attempt at connecting with someone. The answer opened my eyes to the historical and spiritual significance of the nondescript wooden box that many churches use to gather offerings. The box dated back to the beginning of the last century, I was told. Before then, a committee from the church would personally, member by member, request gifts and subscriptions to support the work of the congregation. If you didn’t follow up with the gift you had said you’d make, then you got a knock on your door reminding you of your commitment.
A Better Way
In 1900, the pastor of this church devised a better way. He proposed using this simple wooden box, in which the congregation could simply place their offerings each week. The church lived by faith, rather than compulsion, and the funds placed in the box would be divided by percentage for various ministries in the church. Today, many churches use budgets and offering plates. These contemporary methods of giving are rooted in the history of the old box.
New giving methods are once again changing how people contribute to the work of God’s kingdom and, as is usually the case, not everyone thinks this is such a great idea. But change is almost always disruptive. When churches stopped knocking on doors and started putting boxes out, I’m sure there were more than a few who expressed discomfort with and disapproval of the new approach.
Of course, it’s hard to please everyone. Today some believe that the passing of the plates in a worship service has become perfunctory and diminishes the worship experience. And meanwhile, using digital tools for giving raises yet more questions. Does online giving promote individualism and detract from corporate worship? Should churches allow people to give with credit cards, especially given all we know about how some struggle with debt?
Modern Tools Enhance Spirituality
These questions have merit. Overall, however, I believe the spiritual benefits of digital giving outweigh the potential negative impact on a congregation. We can’t go back in time and I doubt it’s a good idea to go back to wooden boxes or—for that matter—requesting pure gold pieces. Churches must consider the practical aspects of a changing culture. We’re a digital society. The church needs to have ways to give online.
Though online giving methods are clearly practical, do they have a spiritual quality to them? In short, yes. Let me give you four spiritual benefits of online giving.
Have you ever forgotten to bring your checkbook to church? Or perhaps you thought you had more cash on hand than you did. When people use digital giving methods—such as giving to God through the local church as soon as each paycheck gets deposited—they can prioritize their giving. Similarly, a person who forgot to give in worship or who was traveling can catch up on a missed Sunday.
The Holy Spirit can convict a person at any time. If someone is convicted about being more generous at 11 p.m. one Thursday night, online giving makes it easy to give to their local church.
Digital giving methods open up more opportunities to give. For example, my brother is planting a church. I am not a member of his church, but I do support his congregation financially. Online giving provides me an opportunity to support his work without being in a worship service. Also, digital giving solutions allow me to give to my church on any day of the week, not just Sunday.
Giving is an act of worship. It’s also a spiritual discipline. Giving honors God’s glory and requires regular effort. Through the use of automatic deductions, online giving methods can help a person become more regular in generosity.
Though I believe they are noteworthy, I don’t want to overplay the spiritual benefits of digital giving tools. For centuries, the church has used a variety of methods, including wooden boxes. Giving is—ultimately—a heart issue. Whether you write a check, create an automatic debit, or use an online giving platform, God honors the generosity of a cheerful giver. Of course, you may also be glad the church clerk doesn’t come knocking on your door demanding money like in the past!