MAKING “I WILL GO” POSSIBLE
How much do you understand about the advantages of the Combined Offering Plan (COP)? If you are a church leader, you can test your knowledge by responding to the following questions before reading the answers:
1. How broad is the adoption of the COP by the Adventist world fields?
Answer: After it was voted by the General Conference 2002 Spring Meeting as the recommended offering plan for the world church, it has been adopted by 11 of the 16 General Conference world divisions and attached fields (MENA will implement it in 2021). Two other divisions have implemented it in some of their territories (SPD and EUD). Thus, the COP is already practiced by more than 90 percent of the Adventist membership around the world.
2. Why has the COP been introduced, and what was it trying to prevent?
Answer: Perhaps one of the major differences between the COP and the other plans is related to the educational and promotional approach. As the other plans use a Calendar of the offerings almost every week, the development of a “project giving” mindset seems to be the natural result. And it appears obvious that this “project giving” approach is more in line with a fundraising mentality than with the regular and systematic giving promoted in both the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy.
Under that kind of fundraising mindset, institutions and ministries with greater promotional power (and budget) would attract a significant part of the resources, while others, maybe equally important but with less promotional appeal, would starve. That unbalanced system would generate a competition for funds that frequently produces an unequal distribution of resources. In this scenario, those with less promotional power, such as the local church, may be left behind. If offerings are mainly dependent on project promotion, how would we fund, for instance, missionary projects in dangerous areas that cannot be promoted for security reasons? So, the COP was devised to correct not only unbalanced distribution of funds but also to emphasize regular and systematic giving.
3. What is “Promise,” and why is this concept so important under the COP?
Answer: “Promise” is a modern name for the regular and systematic offering, a concept that is alluded to in the Bible (Prov. 3:9, 10; Mal. 3:8) and is mentioned many times in Ellen G. White’s writings. It is a highly spiritual way to give, because it is focused on worshiping God in answer to His giving. When they become “Promisors,” members give according to the biblical pattern, which is proportionally, after every income or increase received.
4. What is the meaning of the words “regular” and “systematic” as applied to offerings (Promise) in the COP?
Answer: The “Promise” offering may be considered regular because it is given after a prayerful decision (“promise”) to give it as an act of worship every time the Lord blesses us with an income or increase (Prov. 3:8-10). So the regularity is based not on any project promotion, but on the frequency of the financial blessings. Therefore the primary motivation for giving is not based on occasional necessities in the field, the knowledge of good projects, calls from the pulpit, pieces of mission propaganda, or on stirred emotions. Instead, we give based on a firm and grateful decision to give back to God, after a perception that He not only offered Himself for us, but is also regularly providing for our maintenance. He is the One who always gives first, and our giving should be just a response to His giving.
The “Promise” offering may also be considered systematic because it is given not as a random amount, but proportionally. It is given as a previously determined (“promised”) percentage of every income or increase, without the necessity of any appeal. In short, under the COP, the primary motivation for giving shifts from project promotions, appeals, the financial necessities of the church, or sympathy for a worker/ project to worship of God because of His blessings! And this is a significant change in terms of mindset.
5. How does the COP affect the promotion of giving in the local church?
Answer: The promotion of offerings under the COP will focus mainly on the recognition of financial blessings. The church’s necessities and missionary projects may be promoted after that. It will promote the collection of offerings as an important act of worship instead of an act of charity or philanthropy. The Lord becomes the center of giving and receives all the glory, and not the giver.
6. What principle motivated the development of the COP system of distribution of funds?
Answer: The COP system of distribution was based on the three geographical instances specified by Jesus as evangelistic priorities for those who would receive the Holy Spirit. In Acts 1:8, Jesus told us to be His witnesses not only locally (“Jerusalem”) but also regionally (“Judea and Samaria”) and internationally (“all the ends of the earth”). So, this system of distribution was created to provide equitable financial provision for all those three instances.
7. How are the nonassigned regular and systematic offerings distributed under this plan?
Answer: The distribution of all nonassigned offerings, collected on any day throughout the year, follow the same pattern: 50-60 percent to local missionary endeavors (local church); 20-30 percent to regional missionary initiatives (mission/conference, union, division); and 20 percent to international missionary projects (General Conference World Mission Fund).
8. Why is the World Budget (including Hope Channel, ADRA, Global Mission, and AWR) recommended to receive just 20 percent of our offerings, while the local church receives 50-60 percent of them?
Answer: The local church (local mission) receives a bigger percentage because there are comparatively fewer people participating in its financial support (usually only the local church members). As the most important component of the church’s missionary structure, the local church must be thoroughly maintained because it is where new members are generated and nurtured.
Actually, all the ministries, departments, and the administrative structure of the church exist to support it; and if the local church is not carefully sustained, all the rest of the church’s structure will lose its meaning and collapse.
On the other hand, wherever the COP system of distribution is adopted, and members are encouraged to follow the above pattern (see question 7), 20 percent of their missionary offerings will go to the World Mission Fund (which includes Global Mission, Hope Channel, ADRA, AWR, etc.), generating an uninterrupted flow of resources available for our international missions!
9. Are only the loose offerings in the offering plate to be divided according to the COP's distribution?
Answer: All nonassigned offerings—either loose offerings or envelope offerings, given at any moment or day of the week/year—are divided up in the same way.
10. Why does the COP recommend members to give nonassigned offerings? Can members still designate an offering to special projects on their tithing envelopes?
Answer: Even though under the COP members are recommended to give nonassigned offerings, they are still free to assign their offerings to any specific projects or destinations of their choice. The advantage of giving nonassigned offerings is that they all go to a common fund, from which they are equitably distributed, providing a steady and balanced source of funds to all church entities, authorized missionary projects, institutions, ministries, administrative levels, and world regions. On the other hand, by assigning the offering to one or more preferred projects, all the other necessities of the missionary endeavor will stay unattended.
11. Is the COP against new missionary projects?
Answer: No. It is exactly the opposite! The COP was planned to fund voted and budgeted projects, old or new, on a more regular and steadier basis. Under this plan, an established percentage of any nonassigned offering that is collected will be directed to local, regional, and international missionary projects.
12. May churches in the COP territories still collect missionary offerings during the Sabbath School?
Answer: Yes. All the nonassigned offerings, collected at any time under the COP, including during the Sabbath School, are in a high sense missionary offering and will be distributed according to the pattern mentioned on question 7. According to Jesus, our missionary endeavors and consequently our offerings must equally cover local, regional, and international missionary instances (Acts 1:8), providing an equitable growth.
13. Can mission stories/videos be presented during the Sabbath School, before the offering collection?
Answer: Yes. But after listening or watching the mission stories, the worshipers should be informed that according to the COP system of distribution, part of their nonassigned offerings collected at that moment (and also in all other moments) will be automatically directed to the promoted project.
14. Why does the COP not emphasize the Thirteenth Sabbath Offering, which helps to fund our worldwide mission?
Answer: Instead of promoting a special offering to international missions just once in the quarterly, the COP will direct 20 percent of every nonassigned offering, collected at any moment (service, Sabbath School, Youth Program, etc.) and on any day of the week, to support the church’s worldwide mission (which includes projects funded by the 13th Sabbath Offering). Besides that, another 20-30 percent of any nonassigned offering, collected on any day, will also be directed to regional missionary projects. And if we consider the local church also as a missionary project or a center of influence (as it is), we may say then that 100 percent of all nonassigned offerings collected at any time are dedicated to fulfilling our mission.
Actually, all necessities of the church that were funded by special offerings under the other plans (such as the Thirteenth Sabbath Offering), will now receive a share from any nonassigned offering. So, the more people are regularly giving nonassigned offerings, the more the church will equitably grow everywhere and in all aspects.
15. Why are members under the COP recommended to give only to special projects “beyond and above” their regular, systematic, and nonassigned offerings (Promise)?
Answer: Because in that way we will keep the whole body of the church functioning. Actually, as we do with our physical bodies, it is the duty of every member of the church to keep the whole body of Christ alive, and not just preferred parts of the body. The Lord planned for us to be like an organized army and not as a scattered company, shooting here and there, each one doing whatever seems best in their own eyes. As in any victorious army, we are supposed to unify efforts against common targets. Together we are stronger, go farther, do more, and go faster.
16. Why do the COP territories limit campaigns promoting additional special offerings?
Answer: Because even countries and businesses do not consider it a wise method. Almost all developed and organized countries collect taxes and then distribute the funds according to what was budgeted, instead of requesting multiple special taxes every time there is a need. As through the COP distribution system, all authorized and budgeted projects and institutions are equitably and regularly supplied, campaigns for special offerings are seen as draining resources and threatening the equitable growth of the whole church’s structure.
17. Is there a way to still promote special offerings to new missionary projects?
Answer: Yes. New authorized projects or missions should still be promoted, provided the donor base is reminded that they are already giving to those projects when they give their unassigned offerings. But if, in addition to that, they want to give a special offering directly to those projects, the COP establishes that the donor base should be recommended to do it only beyond and above their Promise (regular, systematic, and nonassigned offerings).
18. How then do we create promotional campaigns requesting donations for special projects in a COP setting?
Answer: Usually the COP fields/unions/divisions will vote only one or two special projects per year to be promoted in all their churches. But they will always be promoted as freewill offerings, in addition to their “Promise” (regular and systematic offering). They should always be informed that those offerings should be given in addition to, not in place of, the “Promise.”
Websites of official church entities/institutions or even ministries may promote special giving if they add what was voted during the 2002 Spring Meeting to the promotional materials:
“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."’”1
On the other hand, requests or campaigns for donations to special projects that don’t mention that “beyond and above Promise” clause are usually received by COP territories with great suspicion and will probably not be promoted. The principle of equity will be harmed if members are encouraged to give directly to some projects without mentioning that those projects are already receiving their share from the COP distribution system. This practice will divert resources from funds that otherwise would equitably support the church in all its instances, projects, and regions.
When the “beyond and above” clause is not mentioned, it is usually the local church that suffers the most. And if the local church is left to starve and finally die, the ministry draining all the resources will lose meaning and also die. God’s principle for a healthy church growth is not the struggle of the ministries and the survival of the fittest, but love and mutual consideration. Hence, there must be a vigilant care on the part of the COP field administrators to avoid any wild competition for funds and keep a balanced distribution of them, as proposed by this offering plan.
19. What should we do if there is an occasional shortage of means in specific areas/ministries that are supported by offerings?
Answer: As we wisely do with our physical bodies, we never leave the whole body to starve while feeding a member or limb that is sick. Instead, we all know that it is of paramount importance to always nurture the entire body, even more when there is sickness.
So, the following can be done in times of financial crisis:
1. Members should primarily be taught to give, not because there is a need or crisis, but because they recognize that they are receiving blessings from God. They should give by habit, as regularly as they are receiving their income from Him.
2. Members must be educated to give proportionally, giving a regular percentage every time they are blessed. That percentage may be the same as that used for the tithe, less than tithe, or more than the tithe (use the Commitment Cards2).
3. Members should be taught the principle of nourishing all the body first. Applied to offerings, it means that a special emphasis must be given on the importance of nonassigned regular and systematic offerings. It is the only way to equitably nourish all the body of Christ.
4. Members, especially prospective members, should be educated about Promise (regular and systematic offering), and invited to adopt that plan, becoming Promisors. Commitment Cards3 may be used at the end of the educational process to foster decisions.
5. Special sacrificial offerings may also be solicited, but always specifying that they should be given in addition to and above Promise (regular and systematic offering).
There is a special blessing promised to those who practice this plan: “Whenever God’s people, in any period of the world, have cheerfully and willingly carried out His plan in systematic benevolence and in gifts and offerings, they have realized the standing promise that prosperity should attend all their labors just in proportion as they obeyed His requirements.”4
Imagine what would happen if every member around the world would understand and practice this God-given concept, giving offerings every time they receive an income or increase from God. Says Ellen G. White: “If the plan of systematic benevolence were adopted by every individual and fully carried out, there would be a constant supply in the treasury. The income would flow in like a steady stream constantly supplied by overflowing springs of benevolence.”5
1 Faiock Bomfim, M. (2019, October). Combined to Grow: Reasons for the ‘New’ Offering Plan. Dynamic Steward, 22, 4, 17-19.
4 Ellen G. White, Counsels on Stewardship, p. 347.
5 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 3, p. 389.