Passing the Plate – Emerson/Smith/Snell

 Smith, Christian; Emerson, Michael O.; and Snell, Patricia. Passing the Plate: Why American Christians Don’t Give Away More Money.  Oxford: University Press, 2008 .  pp 288

Rev Scott Budlong

Rev Scott Budlong

Passing the Plate is a book that is keenly designed to help church professionals understand the larger context of Christian giving in America.  To this extent, the book is unrivaled in presenting, with solid data, what our giving patterns are in the church.  Passing the Plate is a 288 page compellation of studies, statistics, and surveys intertwined with short arguments about common misconceptions and myths in the culture of Christian giving.   The adage may be true that whenever three Disciples are in a room there are four opinions.  In Passing the Plate, the author makes conclusive statement about giving on a macro and micro level with strong statistical reasoning.  There is little room in this book for unsupported opinions.  The authors clearly exposes, from a macro level, the ways which Christian giving has decline in the last hundred years.  From the micro level of giving, the authors debunk common misconceptions about lack of giving due to individual motivations.  For example, why do Americans have so much more income now but give proportionally less to their churches?  Read the book and you will find out.  ***Spoiler Alert*** The most significant part of the answer has to do with the lack of confidence they feel in how their money will be used to make a difference.  I will not spoil what the surveys suggest would correct this barrier. 

This book is for any church professional (i.e. pastor) who needs to understand and the church’s financial situation before they buy another how-to-stewardship book.  If you are a trusting reader, and you don’t need to know all the data and details, then this book may only take a few hours to read.  It is simply laid out with clear titles and bolded main points.  It’s very easy to skim. However, if you need to know the full reasoning as to how the authors came to their simple conclusions, the book can be quite cumbersome and long due the thoroughness with which the authors likes to support their arguments.  Also, there are few attempts at levity which makes for good going-to-sleep reading and not-so-good reading during at the office. 

Passing the Plate is the best comprehensive study I’ve seen with regards to understanding why some “best-practices” in church stewardship yield no results.  In turn, the book also helps explain what some of the trade-offs might be in implementing new strategies.  You will not find practical solutions to combat low giving in your church, but I am confident you will understand giving better by the time you are done.   As my favorite G.I. Joe used to say, “knowing is half the battle,” and this seems to be full of facts worth knowing.