Whether they are in church for a service or midweek, many visitors expect and want to make a donation. There is a difference, however, between leaving a begging bowl at every corner of the building, and offering opportunities for giving in the context of an experience of generous Christian hospitality.
Gift Aid envelopes and pens should be as obvious and easily accessible as possible, so that those who do wish to make an offering can Gift Aid it if they pay tax.
Different churches will of course want to give different messages to
their visitors. One option is to have slips of paper or small cards
available with the Gift Aid envelopes on every pew or near the church
entrance. Some churches use these cards to explain church costs and ask for
donations. Others take a different approach and use a message like this:
"At most services, an offering will be taken during one of the hymns. This will be announced, and a collection plate passed along each row. This is our main source of income: in the UK the church does not receive government or council money, so church members' giving is what pays for our priest and other ministry costs, and for the upkeep of our historic buildings. As a visitor, you should feel free either to pass on the collection plate or to contribute if you wish. There is no 'right' amount to contribute: we give what we feel happy and called by God to give."
Gift Aid envelopes, pens and an agreed message should again be made as readily accessible as possible, for those who do wish to make an offering to God.
If a collection will not be taken during the service, then you may wish to leave a collection plate near the church exit(s). If you would like people to use the plate, then it's a good idea to 'prime' it with a small amount of cash, because people are often reluctant to be the first to give.
At funerals in particular, it is important to ensure that people understand whether the collection plate is for a charity or for the church.
Most churches have a donation box of some kind. Make sure that Gift Aid envelopes and pens are conveniently and obviously available near the box. A notice thanking the many visitors who make donations, such as this one, feels more welcoming and can be more effective than a notice simply asking for donations.
If you provide resources for visitors, then you need to decide whether to charge for them or not. In some cases, such as a church bookstall or jam sale, the answer is obvious. But what about the tealights that you make available in the prayer space, or the church visitor guide? The problem with a stream of reminders about the costs of church upkeep, or a barrage of requests for donations, is that they do not make for an experience of generous Christian hospitality. Do you want visitors to come away from your church with the good news about Jesus, or the bad news about church finances?
In addition to welcome leaflets and church guides, could you make faith resources freely available to your visitors? Single copies of a Gospel, simple introductions to the Christian faith, prayer cards or scripture bookmarks are all inexpensive but could make a world of difference to a visitor who takes one. For example:
In general, people give because they value something. Your church building needs to tell them what it is that they might value about your church community, and above all about God. The building needs to reflect the living church and its vision, and it needs to provide resources that help visitors to encounter the living God.
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