I grew up in a ELCA Lutheran Church that always had coffee and a diverse supply of donuts available for folks in between our two Sunday morning churches services. There was a basket available on the table and people could contribute money if they liked. Most people threw in a dollar or two. One of the churches that I served at previously in The United Methodist Church also had a basket out that people could throw a few bucks into when they grabbed their coffee and treats. I am not one to carry around a lot of cash, so there were many times in which I guiltily went through the line without making a contribution. I would say it is a pretty common practice at many churches to have a basket out for people to make a contribution during fellowship time.
Imagine my surprise when I arrived at Dodgeville United Methodist Church and there was no basket at the front of the line. People just went through the line, grabbed what they liked, and went about sitting at the tables and socializing. I thought this was awesome! I was curious to know more about why there was no offering basket, and much of it had to do with being open and welcoming to guests at the church. We did not want to have anything that may present a barrier to people joining us for this time. I wanted to reaffirm this practice with the church council and we have continued this practice.
There have been several people that have approached me in the last few weeks requesting that we go back to a previous practice in which we put out a basket at the front of the line for Fellowship Time. A sign could be put up that says that giving is not mandatory, but those who want to support the ministry would have the opportunity to do so. Money could go to support the ministry or another project of the church. I certainly appreciate those who would like to see this change, but in consultation with the Membership Care Committee of Dodgeville United Methodist Church, we will continue to not be putting out a basket. I would like to share the reasons why:
1. We don’t want to provide any barriers to fellowship. If someone is coming to our church for the first time, we want them to not only feel welcome while they are worshiping with us, but also to feel comfortable to go through the line and get a coffee and some treats without thinking they need to put money in the basket. While we can advertise that it is not mandatory, it can still make people feel uncomfortable if they did not bring any money or do not have any to give.
2. This is hospitality that we want to offer for free. Someone at the Membership Care Committee put it very well: “If we invite someone to our home for a meal, we don’t expect them to pay. When we invite people into our church, we don’t want them to feel like they have to pay anything. We want them to feel at home.” I agree.
3. Our budget already supports the ministry. We have money that is budgeted to cover the supplies for our fellowship time. We have volunteers who are willing to donate the baked goods, fruit, veggies, desserts, and other treats that are provided each week. They do it as a way of giving back to the church.
4. You can still support the ministry monetarily in other ways. If you’d like to give to our “cafe” budget, I would encourage you to designate an offering for “cafe.” We can make sure that it gets used to support this ministry of hospitality without creating any barriers in the process.
We have been having a wonderful turnout for fellowship time, and, if you haven’t already you should stick around and grab a chair. Of course, that is, after you get your coffee and treat! 🙂 For me, I’ll grab some hot water for tea…