Why A Decline In Offerings?
As most of us know, due to the Covid-19 global pandemic, the world offerings are down more than 20 percent (in some divisions about 50 percent), as observed in the drop of mission offerings, while the tithe income is more or less staying at the expected level.
What does this fact indicate? Because the tithe income was relatively stable, we may correctly suppose that there was no significant decrease in the overall income of God’s people. So, how can we explain the decline in offerings during the same period? It should lead us to ponder about some possibilities:
1. Offerings: not taught as being as important as the tithe – If the lockdown could not prevent church members from returning their tithe, why didn’t all members return their offerings? Maybe a significant proportion of church members still don’t consider offerings as having the same level of importance as the tithe, even though both the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy do teach that they are equally important and required. Our main publications (Bible Study Guides, for example), when addressing the subject of tithes and offerings, usually emphasize only the tithe as holy and mandatory, while the Bible applies the designation “holy” to both.[i]
In the biblical book of Malachi, it is clear that God expects us to return both, tithes and offerings (ex. Malachi 3:8-10). Ellen G. White also clarifies that “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….”[ii]
2. There is a lack of education on regular and systematic giving and a strong emphasis on project/special offerings giving – A large number of members seem motivated to give offerings only in response to project promotions or appeals. In that sense, the “destination” for the offerings has become far more important than the “motivation” for giving them, which should be to worship God as Giver and Provider. While overemphasizing project giving in detriment to regular and systematic giving as an act of worship, leaders may inadvertently be replacing God with projects as recipients for offerings and leading worshipers to become only donors. We should give regular and systematic offerings not primarily because the church or the mission needs them, but mainly because we gratefully want to worship God, recognizing His giving, every time there is an income. He must be honored as the Recipient of our offerings.
Suggestion: Continuous education on regular and systematic giving (Promise). To teach that the act of giving should be triggered by the grateful perception of blessings already received, as an act of worship, instead of being generated by calls, appeals, or project promotions, as good or necessary as they may be.
In line with this approach, any call or appeal for special offerings (occasional or sporadic offerings for projects, ministries, etc.), should always be followed by the suggestion of giving to it, only in addition to, or beyond, Promise (regular and systematic giving). This suggestion is so important that it was voted by the GC 2002 Spring Meeting as part of the General Conference suggested offering plan[iv].
If the above concepts are implemented, even in the case of a lockdown (with limited opportunities for public calls, appeals, or project promotion), the offering income would likely keep a similar growth pattern as the tithe income. Members would give not in response to a circumstantial need of the church but in response to God’s giving. Speaking about this, Ellen G. White says “… 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.”[v]
3. There is a belief that offerings should be given in response to the good feelings of the heart – A significant portion of church members may still do not understand gratitude as a principle, or a concept, that implies far more than simply a good feeling. Ellen G. White says, for instance, in Testimonies to the Churches, vol. 1, that “God must be served from principle instead of from feeling.”[vii] In the next paragraph she adds that we should “confound not faith and feeling together. They are distinct…. This faith we must keep in exercise…”, she says, adding then that “your feelings have nothing to do with this faith…”[viii]
So, gratitude should be demonstrated by an act of faith in God’s word, rooted in principles, not necessarily based on feelings or mystical impressions. God’s messenger also says that due to the natural selfishness of the heart, “… it is unsafe to be controlled by feeling or impulse.”[ix] She then adds that because this natural selfishness is so strong, “to give or to labor when our sympathies are moved, and to withhold our gifts or service when the emotions are not stirred, is an unwise and dangerous course,” and that is why, “… Christians should act from fixed principle, following the Saviour’s example of self-denial and self-sacrifice.”[x] So, this means that I must give not because “I just feel something good,” but because “I just received something good” (an income or increase).
Suggestion: To teach the difference between sporadic, occasional, or special offerings, and the regular and systematic offering (Promise), which is triggered by the income, and given every time there is an income. Sporadic/special offerings should also be given, but as a “second mile,” and in addition to, or beyond, Promise.
4. There is a lack of education on vowing a proportion of income to be given as regular offering (Promise) – Maybe many of our members have not yet been taught to develop the habit of giving offerings as a previously vowed percentage of their income, calculating it immediately after they calculate the tithe, and delivering both at the same time. After stating that tithes and offerings are the measure of our obligation (yes, this is the word that was used), Ellen G. White says that each one should “regularly examine his income…. After the tithe is set apart, let gifts and offerings be apportioned, ‘as God hath prospered’ you.”[xi]
Suggestion: To regularly conduct renewal-of-vows ceremonies, using a commitment card[xii]; at the same time, to teach the concept of Promise. The next step will be to lead members to “purpose” (2 Cor. 9:7) or to a vow[xiii] a percentage of their income to be regularly returned, as regular and systematic offerings (see more about the ‘Promise’ concept below).
It is important to remember that any Stewardship education on Promise in a given field will thrive only if officers, department directors, district pastors, and other workers will also live and proactively promote the concept. By the way, are you already a ‘Promisor’? Have you already purposed a percentage to give regularly as offering, as regularly as God’s blessings are?
You will find below some additional resources related to the concept of Promise (Regular and Systematic Offerings):
- General Resources on Promise – Find here on our webpage, a collection of resources about Promise, such as articles, videos, and PowerPoints.
- Podcasts (audios) or video:
- How to Increase Giving in the Local Church?, by Marcos Bomfim – Available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Google Podcast.
- The Promise Concept, by Marcos Bomfim – presentation available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Google Podcast (only audio), or on YouTube (PowerPoint and audio).
- Offertory Devotional Videos – A tool that was developed for promoting the concept of Promise. Each short video was created to be presented every Sabbath before the offering collection. Is your local church presenting them each week? Are the churches in your field presenting them? Do the pastors and church leaders in your field know about them?
- 2020 Offertory Devotional Videos - available in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin), Romanian, Russian, Hungarian, and Japanese (about Promise, see especially videos #25, 13, 07, 14, 34, 16, 23, 40, 03, 21, 26, 39, 20).
- 2021 Offertory Devotional Videos – available in English, Spanish, French (undated 2020 videos), Portuguese, Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin), Romanian, Russian, Hungarian, and Japanese.
Ellen G. White clearly equates regular and systematic offerings to the tithe in importance and obligation. Both are equally expected by God and will lead His people to develop a relationship of faith, gratefully recognizing Him as the Origin of their income. It will increase their trust in the Lord and prepare them to do exactly what they are supposed to do in the time of the end: “In the last extremity, before this work shall close, thousands will be cheerfully laid upon the altar. Men and women will feel it a blessed privilege to share in the work of preparing souls to stand in the great day of God, and they will give hundreds as readily as dollars are given now.”[xiv]
God is calling us to prepare a people for this occasion, and we may not have a second chance. The time is now!
Marcos Faiock Bomfim
[i] Some offerings are even considered as “most holy” (Lev. 6:25; 7:1). Others are declared as the “most holy part” or “too sacred” (Lev. 2:3; 22:10). See Barbe, A. (2020, July). Offerings: Holy to the Lord. Dynamic Steward, vol. 24 (3), page 2.
[ii] Ellen G. White, Review & Herald, May 9, 1893 (emphasis provided; also in Counsels on Stewardship, pages 80, 81).
[iii] See https://stewardship.adventist.org/promise-offerings for more resources on “Promise”.
[iv] See Faiock Bomfim, M. (2019, October). Combined to Grow: Reasons for the ‘New’ Offering Plan. Dynamic Steward, 22, 4, 17-19.
[v] Ellen G. White, Testimonies, vol. 4, page 474 (emphasis provided).
[vi] Access https://stewardship.adventist.org/tithe-and-offerings-readings. Different language options available.
[vii] Ellen G. White, Testimonies, vol. 1, page 167.
[ix] Ellen G. White, Review & Herald, Dec. 7, 1886 (also on Counsels on Stewardship, page 25).
[xi] Ellen G. White, Review & Herald, May 9, 1893 (also on Counsels on Stewardship, pages 80, 81).
[xii] Find Commitment Card options on https://stewardship.adventist.org/commitment-card-promise.
[xiii] About vows on regular and systematic offering, see Faiock Bomfim, M. (2020, July). Why and How to Vow Regarding Offerings. Dynamic Steward, vol. 24 (3), pages 21-23.
[xiv] Ellen G. White, Counsels on Stewardship, page 40.