I don’t like to ruffle feathers (or cause offence). But there is a question that’s been playing on my mind that I would like to get out in the open – why, every Sunday, with little or no explanation, do we pass round a collection plate at church? Why is there usually just a bit of shrapnel sifting around aimlessly at the bottom? Does the church really need my spare 2ps? And why does everyone pass the plate onto the next person as if it’s on fire?
Before I go on, I want to state that I am pro-giving. I think we should all do it, and Christians should do it better than anyone else. I don’t think there’s a Christian alive who would argue that the Bible is quiet on the subject of giving, whether it’s time, money or ourselves.
But I’m beginning to realise that the Bible is quiet about where the money should go. Did the first Christians in the book of Acts set up a standing order to give 10 per cent of their income to their local church? In my Bible it says: “They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need” (Acts 2:45).
So why is ‘giving your tithe to the Church’ promoted so ardently (and sometimes awkwardly) in most churches at least once a year? I’ve heard many sermons about why Christians should give their money to the church, but I’ve had very little feedback about where the money’s gone. What’s it been spent on? Did my £50 go towards the soup kitchen, or the new Wii for the youth group? Do I care? And if I do, do I care enough to find out?
We exist in an information-saturated world of interconnectedness: when I log on to Twitter, I can find out in an instant what the biggest names in the charity world are doing to serve the poor. If I give money to a charity I can choose where that money goes. I have friends living in Kenya who’ve built a school and established a jewellery-making business. I see photos of their outward-focused lives on Facebook. I love to think that the small amount I give each month is making that happen. If I can’t always serve soup to the homeless, or prepare a hamper to give to a family in need, I want to know that the money I give will reach them. Knowing that I’ve enabled a group of 15-year-olds to play Mario Kart doesn’t really cut it.
I think churches need to be more transparent (a financial statement at the back of a booklet that not many people read isn’t enough). I also think we, as Christians, should question the ingrained assumption that all our 10 per cent (our tithe) should go to the church we attend. There are many worthy causes and individuals doing radical things for God. Why shouldn’t all my tithe (and more) go to them? At the very least we should start asking more questions of our church leaders, questions like: how much of our money is targeted at the things we think matter most?
Which brings me back to that collection plate. Does anyone else think it’s an antiquated tradition that people visiting our churches probably find mystifying and isn’t it, well, just a bit odd?