Most Christians no longer give a tithe, or 10%, to their church. However, studies suggest that most people who attend a church regularly usually put at least some money into an offering plate during the year. Most people who give to the church probably assume that at least part of their giving goes to the poor. These assumptions are not always true; and this type of giving is not reflective of how the Early Church practiced giving to the poor. The first Christians practice almsgiving.
As I discussed in my previous post, almsgiving is a Biblical word that means: ““something given out of the compassion of one’s heart to meet a need.” Almsgiving was clearly one of the most important practices of the Early Church. Many Christians participate in forms of almsgiving even though they don’t know what the word means. Almsgiving is meant to be identified with more than just the offering plate. Almsgiving takes place when what is given goes directly to the poor. Giving alms can be a worshipful experience as well as a tangible expression of God’s love, grace, and mercy.
In my last post on John Calvin and almsgiving, I promised a follow-up discussion of 21st Century almsgiving among Western Evangelicals. The list below is by no means exhaustive, but I hope it gets us thinking about how we might revive this ancient practice for the benefit of the Kingdom and the needy people around us who are made in the image of God. This list only includes ministries that are a part of local churches. It does not include parachurch ministries like the Salvation Army, World Vision, rescue missions, etc.
SOME FORMS OF 21st CENTURY ALMSGIVING AMONG EVANGELICALS:
- Mission Offerings - some denominations emphasize special “mission offerings” that take place in churches around the world. These are great examples of almsgiving, as churches and believers around the world give over and above their regular offerings to spread the gospel and meet needs on every inhabited continent. You will find some examples at the end of this post.
- Benevolence Funds - many churches have a benevolence fund, or a benevolence ministry, that consists of money that has been set aside to help people with physical needs. Most often these funds help people with rent, utilities, gasoline, or other expenses. Because this type of ministry is challenging and can make the church or its ministers susceptible to dishonest recipients, many churches have ceased providing benevolence assistance. This is a shame. Benevolence ministries are still a good option and I believe a responsibility of the church. They take hard work and the church must manage them responsibly.
- Special Offerings – some churches take up special collections, sometimes called “love offerings,” to help meet a specific need as it arises. Sometimes these collections are scheduled during the administration of the Lord’s Supper, at special services, or on special occasions.
- Food Pantries – many churches have or support ministries that provide groceries to needy individuals and families. These types of ministries are great at helping people who are hungry by providing tangible help without any money changing hands. As a downtown church, we provide a different bag of groceries for those who are homeless than those who have a residence. The homeless prefer items that can be opened easily and do not need to be cooked. If there is a community food bank in the local church’s area, the church can often become a distribution center and receive most of its food for free.
- Clothing Closets – these ministries are a good way for a church to provide another tangible need – clothing for those in the community. As children (and adults) outgrow their clothing, or people choose to give clothing away, the church is a viable option for distribution. This type of service can lead to new contacts and ministry opportunities. Some churches and organizations have even taken a “thrift store” approach and offer the clothing for sale at very low prices so that income can be generated to purchase more quality clothing. It is good for churches who do this ministry to have funds available to purchase clothing like socks and underwear . . . because who wants used socks or underwear?
- Holiday Support - some churches offer special support for the needy during the Holiday Season. Some examples are Thanksgiving food baskets, adopting families for Christmas, or special ministry events to help the needy.
- Counseling Services – most ministers offer some sort of pastoral counseling as a part of their regular duties. Some churches, such as ours, actually employ licensed counselors or provide financial assistance to help provide counseling.
- Partnerships - this is a common form of giving provided by larger churches who have larger amounts of resources. These partnerships are often in the form of suburan-to-urban (i.e. affluent-to-low-income) situations, or from established churches to those who are struggling or just beginning.
- Disaster Relief – many churches participate in disaster relief ministries at international, national, state, denominational, or local levels. These ministries come along side people and communities in the wake of disasters and tragedies. These groups can develop great partnerships with other organizations like the Red Cross, FEMA, Habitat for Humanity, etc.
- OTHERS? Feel free to comment below with any other examples that you think of.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
-Southern Baptist Lottie Moon Christmas Offering: http://www.imb.org/main/give/page.asp?StoryID=5725&LanguageID=1709
-Southern Baptist Annie Armstrong Easter Offering: http://www.namb.net/annie-armstrong/
-Southern Baptist Disaster Relief: http://www.namb.net/dr/
-United Methodist special offerings: http://secure.gbgm-umc.org/donations/advance/index.cfm?
-Nazarene mission offerings: http://web.nazarene.org/site/PageServer?pagename=DonationSplash
-Presbyterian USA offerings: http://gamc.pcusa.org/ministries/specialofferings/
-Adventist mission offerings: http://www.adventistmission.org/article.php?id=566