By Marcos F. Bomfim
Why was the Combined Offering Plan (COP) vote in 2002 as “the giving system recommended and promoted by the General Conference”1 of the Seventh-day Adventist Church?2 What kind of growth is expected for worshipers and the church’s institutions by the adoption of this “concept of a simplified offering system”?3
What it is: As the name says, the COP “combines” all unassigned offerings into a single fund. From there, the resources are distributed, feeding in an equitable way all nontithe-funded expenses of the church, on all levels and in all geographic regions.
As a well-knit system of motivation, collection, and distribution of offerings, the COP recognizes that tithes and regular and systematic offerings (now called “Promise”) are the most basic and initial expression of worship,4 and are supposed to be brought to the storehouse. This plan is already followed by nine world divisions, comprising more than 90 percent of the Adventist world membership.5
This plan is aimed at providing growth or development to the church in at least three aspects: theological, institutional, and individual.
Recognizes God as the Focus of Giving:
Instead of focusing on the material needs of the church or specific missionary projects, ministries, or institutions, the COP emphasizes the human spiritual need to worship God.6 Thus, “offerings will be promoted as an expression of worship to God in response to His blessing,”7 and given as regularly as He blesses (Prov. 3:9, 10).
Suggests a Distribution Based on the Threefold Missionary Strategy:
All the collected and not designated offerings are distributed following the threefold MissionaryStrategy described in Acts 1:8, which equally supplies for local, regional, and international necessities.
It Follows the “Body” Principle:
The COP is in line with the biblical concept of the church as a “body,” which presupposes that each part must equally and consistently receive its share of nourishment.
Emphasizes “Promise” (Regular and Systematic Giving):
“Promise” is a name adopted for educational purposes to identify the regular and systematic offering, because it is previously “promised” or “purposed” by the worshiper (2 Cor. 9:7) as a proportion or percentage8 (1 Cor. 16:1; Deut. 16:17) of any income (Prov. 3:9). It is considered as binding as the tithe9 (Mal. 3:8-10) and is offered by the worshiper immediately after it, before any other expense or giving10 (Prov. 3:9; Matt. 6:33).
Resembles the Storehouse Principle:
It seems inescapable that the COP resembles the tithe collection, providing an equitable system of distribution comparable to the tithe storehouse principle.11 This is a logical development, as tithes and regular/systematic offerings are under the same biblical system, 12 and as the Old Testament applies the storehouse principle to both.13
Affords More Spiritual Teaching and Promotion:
Giving “as an expression of worship”14 and the “Promise” concept are the educational focus. Instead of confusing members by constantly promoting dozens of different projects, destinations, and ministries, the educational actions for offerings will focus more on God than on projects, more on the right motivation than on the destination for offerings. Worship replaces fundraising, and worshipers replace donors. Instead of giving to help something or someone, as do donors, worshipers give out of the recognition that they were already helped!
Provides Equitable Growth:
When that plan is implemented, the broad spectrum of the church’s missionary authorized endeavors, with a special emphasis on the local church, will automatically receive their voted share. Also, the local field, union, and division will regularly have more nontithe funds to invest in new strategic missionary projects and to support missionary actions at the local church level.
According to the General Conference Working Policy regarding the COP, “the local church shall receive a minimum of 50 percent and a maximum of 60 percent of the Combined Offering for the local church budget;” the local field, union, and division a minimum of 20 percent and a maximum of 30 percent; and the World Missionary Budget will receive 20 percent.15
Promotes Unity of Purpose and Efficiency:
By everyone giving to the same “pot,” as it happens with the tithe, we foster unity, become stronger, and go farther in answer to our missionary commission. After all, as in a home, unity of thought and action cannot thrive if there is not a corresponding unity of pockets.
Avoids Congregationalism and Institutional Selfishness:
It’s an altruist and comprehensive giving and distribution system, which helps to prevent institutional selfishness.
On the other hand, a wild competition for funds from the Adventist giving base will generate a congregationalist reaction on every side. It will become the religious version of the struggle of the species and the survival of the fittest—hardly a Christian concept. By diverting resources from the local church, the reason for its existence, a ministry is shooting itself in the foot. In the same way, a church develops corporate selfishness if it encourages members to keep all the funds “here.”
To worship God as regularly as His blessings are received is now the focus of any offering initiative. It is no longer based on calls, the existence of relevant projects, good feelings, or sympathy
It Follows the “Reflex Influence” Principle:
The distribution of the offerings under the COP also obeys the “Reflex Influence” principle,16 which establishes that the more that is invested in the success of foreign missions (“there”), the more the work will develop locally (“here”). The promised blessing for generosity (Prov. 11:24-26) is also extendable to institutions!
Provides Strong Focus on Supporting the local church:
As the local church is where new members are generated and nurtured, the larger percentage of all regular or unassigned offerings (a minimum of 50 percent and a maximum of 60 percent), collected at any time, will remain there, providing due financial support for the most important entity of the Seventh-day Adventist administrative structure.
Provides a Balanced Space for Project Giving:
Church members are always free to decide how to assign their offerings, and the COP also recognizes the value of supportive ministries and sacrificial giving. Thus, under the COP members may be encouraged to bring freewill offerings17 (sporadic, sacrificial, project-driven, not regular, not vowed), but only above and beyond “Promise,” the regular giving.
For that reason, the 2002 Spring Meeting voted that any “direct appeals to the Seventh-day Adventist donor base will be requested to include in their donor materials an affirmation of the donor’s prior responsibility to worship God through tithe and regular support of the Church through systematic offerings.” The text also adds that “such affirmation shall include a statement such as: ‘Contributions to the appeal should be above and beyond regular return of tithe and systematic offerings through your local church.’”18
Emphasizes Altruist Giving:
The COP encourages church members to avoid selfish giving, which may be cultivated when “I give only to what I like, prefer, to what I know, or to which will benefit me somehow." After all, if Satan finally cannot prevent me from giving, he will try to make me selfish even when I give!
Equates Regular Offerings and Tithe in Importance:
This plan encourages members to adopt a biblical perspective about regular and systematic offerings, considering them as binding as the tithe (Mal. 3:8-10), giving after any income (Prov. 3:9), as a vowed percentage of the income (1 Cor. 16:2; Deut. 16:17), and moved by principle. Not only the member’s character is developed, but at every investment, their emotions will be placed in spiritual realities (Matt. 6:21).
Provides a Broad Missionary Inclusiveness:
Unity and love for mission are increased when worshipers invest their treasures in the mission (Matt. 6:21). It brings satisfaction to know that small portions of each offering will be distributed in an equitable way to meet all the necessities of the church’s missionary endeavor, from the local church to the most remote part of the world!
Develops Mature Givers:
To worship God as regularly as His blessings are received is now the focus of any offering initiative. It is no longer based on calls, the existence of relevant projects, good feelings, or sympathy.19 As put by Ellen G, White, “the followers of Christ should not wait for thrilling missionary appeals to arouse them to action. If spiritually awake, they would hear in the income of every week, whether much or little, the voice of God and of conscience with authority demanding the tithes and offerings due the Lord.”20
God’s messenger also adds that “God has devised a plan by which all may give as He has prospered them, and which will make giving a habit without waiting for special calls.... Until all shall carry out the plan of systematic benevolence, there will be a failure in coming up to the apostolic rule.”21
As summarized by one division treasurer while promoting the implementation of the COP for his field, the church devised this plan “not because it will bring more funds, although it may happen, but because it is the right thing to do!”22
1 2002 Annual Council Minutes 02-337, October 9, 2002.
2 The two others are the “Calendar of Offerings Weekly Appeal” and the “Personal Giving Plan.” See General Conference Working Policy 2018-2019, p. 617 (V 30).
3 2002 GC Spring Meeting Minutes 02-53, April 18, 2002.
4 “One’s expression of worship through financial stewardship begins with tithing and the regular support of the Church through systematic offerings.” 2002 GC Spring Meeting Minutes 02-54, April 18, 2002.
5 ECD, ESD, EUD (Spain and Portugal), IAD, NSD, SAD, SID, SPD (PNG and Islands), SUD, SSD, and WAD.
6 See Psalm 50:14; 66:13-16; 76:11; 96:8, 9; 116:17-19.
7 2002 Annual Council Minutes 02-337, October 9, 2002.
8 For more on proportional giving, see footnote #12 and https://stewardship. adventist.org/2017-21-3-why-should-our-offerings-be-percentage-based.
9 “This matter of giving is not left to impulse. God has given us definite instruction in regard to it. He has specified tithes and offerings as the measure of our obligation. And he desires us to give regularly and systematically.… After the tithe is set apart, let gifts and offerings be apportioned, ‘as God hath prospered’ you.” Ellen G. White, Counsels on Stewardship, pp. 80, 81 (italics provided).
10 “We are not to consecrate to Him what remains of our income…; but before any portion is consumed, we should set apart that which God has specified as His.” Idem, p. 81.
11 See more about the storehouse principle in Ed Reid’s book, Where Do We Bring Our Tithe? In Search of the Storehouse.
12 In Malachi 3:8-10, tithes and offerings are clearly under the same system, implicitly suggesting at least three similar characteristics for both: (1) regularity and (2) proportionality based on the income, and (3) a system of collecting and equally distributing them. Ellen G. White agrees with that concept when she says, for instance, that “in the Bible system [singular word] of tithes and offerings [the two under the same system] the amounts paid by different persons will, of course, vary greatly, since they are proportioned to the income.”—Counsels on Stewardship, p. 73 (italics provided).
13 Deut. 12; 18:8; 2 Chron. 31:11-21; Pss. 66:13-16; 96:8, 9; 116:17-19; Neh. 10:32-39; 12:44-47; 13:8-14; Mal. 3:8-10. See also Counsels on Stewardship, pp. 65, 67, and 75. In the Adventist Church, the local conference is recognized as the “storehouse;” but “for the convenience of church members” (see Ed Reid’s book, Where Do We Bring Our Tithe? In Search of the Storehouse, p. 2), giving may be processed through the local church, which is considered an outpost of the storehouse.
14 2002 Annual Council Minutes 02-337, October 9, 2002.
15 General Conference Working Policy 2018-2019, pp. 618, 619 (V 35 20).
16 The “Reflex Influence” principle is found here: “To show a liberal, self-denying spirit for the success of foreign missions is a sure way to advance home missionary work; for the prosperity of the home work depends largely, under God, upon the reflex influence of the evangelical work done in countries afar off”—Ellen G. White, Gospel Workers, p. 465.
17 According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, freewill offering is “a voluntary religious offering made in addition to what is required by a vow, tithe, or pledge”; https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/freewill%20offering (retrieved on April 1, 2019).
18 2002 GC Spring Meeting Minutes (02-55).
19 See footnote #9.
20 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 4, p. 474 (italics provided).
21 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 3, p. 411 (italics provided).
22 Heard from German Lust, now GC associate treasurer, in a private conversation.