Where Does Your Thank Offering Go?

Each November, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) encourages a denomination-wide special offering—the Thank Offering—to help support Worldwide Outreach. But what is Worldwide Outreach? Why do we support it?

What Is Worldwide Outreach?

Worldwide Outreach is part of our response to our Lord’s Great Commission. “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’ ” (Matt. 28:18-20). The heart of Christ’s Great Commission is that his church is to ‘make disciples.’ The church corporately pursues this mandate by going, baptizing, and teaching. She goes by sending preachers (Rom. 10:13-17) and helpers. She baptizes converts into the church (Acts 2:41-42, 47; cf. 1 Cor. 12:13). This means that she has to plant and build up churches. And since our Lord wants fully-trained disciples, an integral part of her mission program is teaching them.

The OPC is committed to pursuing fully our Savior’s mandate. One way we do that is by means of our “combined budget.” We have a full-orbed ministry that we call “Worldwide Outreach.” Worldwide Outreach is a three-dimensional ministry; it is spear-headed by three distinct program committees—Foreign Missions, Home Missions, and Christian Education. The General Assembly elects the members of each committee and holds each committee accountable. Each committee has a small full-time staff to help implement its ministry. We join as fellow workers in participating in this full-orbed mission program by praying for and giving to Worldwide Outreach.

How Does This Work?

What happens when your church sends money to the Worldwide Outreach ministry of the OPC? The Committee on Coordination (COC) divides it among the various program committees. The General Assembly established the COC to support its Worldwide Outreach program. COC distributes contributions according to percentages the General Assembly has previously set. Each year the General Assembly reevaluates and approves new percentages.

Let’s trace the path of a dollar donated to Worldwide Outreach according to this year’s percentages. The General Assembly mandates that both COC and New Horizons be funded “off the top.” That means that COC will take the first 11 cents of every dollar. Then, it will give 8 cents to New Horizons. This assures both COC and New Horizons of full support. The reason for that is that they are both support ministries for the other ministries. COC handles finances, does administration, and helps promote the Worldwide Outreach ministry of the church. Even though New Horizons is a ministry of Christian Education, it is also a servant to the other ministries. It exists to propagate the Reformed faith and to keep people informed of the OPC’s ministries and the needs of its various program committees. Thus, every month COC and New Horizons receive 1/12 of their annual budget.

The COC divides the remaining 81 cents of the dollar among the three program committees. It dispenses 36 cents to Foreign Missions in order to serve the OPC in its ministry of sending missionaries around the world to preach the gospel of the kingdom. It gives 34 cents to Home Missions so that it can help OPC presbyteries plant reformed churches throughout North America. And it assigns Christian Education the final 11 cents in order to provide biblically reformed resources and training to equip members, officers, ministers, and prospective ministers in order to serve the OPC in its mission of making disciples.

It sounds simple. But what if giving to Worldwide Outreach falls short of the budget? (That happens all the time.) What if contributors designate their gifts just to one committee or just to a favorite cause? (That happens all the time, too.)

Suppose that enough churches and individuals designate gifts to Foreign Missions so that it reaches its total annual budget by November. When COC divides the next undesignated dollar, Coordination and New Horizons will get their 11 and 8 cents, respectively (until they meet their budgets). However, Foreign Missions will have to wait. COC will divide the next 81 cents between Home Missions and Christian Education. COC will thus give Home Missions and Christian Education bigger portions until they achieve their budgets, too. The General Assembly has adopted rules or “instruments” for itself, and this procedure is prescribed in the General Assembly’s “Instrument E.” It is nicknamed “the cap.” “The cap” is designed to help all the committees advance together financially so that the full-orbed mission program of the Church is not crippled.

Why Do We Do This?

The OPC does this in order to submit to biblical principles. First, our Lord gives us a full-orbed Great Commission that involves preaching the gospel, planting churches, and teaching the whole counsel of God. Second, our Lord calls us to do all things decently and in order. Third, when the Holy Spirit speaking through Paul appealed to the Corinthians for gifts to relieve distressed believers in Jerusalem, he stressed a concern for all parts of the body of Christ: “I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of equality your abundance at the present time should supply their want, so that their abundance may supply your want, that there may be equality” (2 Cor. 8:13-14). The combined budget, including “the cap,” is intended to sustain each of our ministries so they can reinforce each other as we pursue the entirety of our Lord’s Great Commission as a church.

The OPC always honors the wishes of donors to support—within the approved budget—particular missionaries or ministries which are close to their hearts. Instrument E says that each designated contribution is to be “allocated to the cause[s] designated by the donors.” At the same time—given the importance of the church, given the oneness of the body of Christ, given the responsibility and authority of the officers of the church, given the full scope of the Great Commission, given the importance of doing things decently and in order, etc.—it is desirable that individuals give through their local churches. And it is desirable that local churches support the ministries of Worldwide Outreach as a whole.

What Is the Thank Offering?

Again, each November, the OPC encourages a denomination-wide special offering—the Thank Offering—to help support Worldwide Outreach. It began years ago as an emergency measure. But the Lord so prospered it, and it proved to be such a blessing to the church, that the General Assembly made it an annual event. It really does help the committees to be able to make a strong start in their ministries as a new year begins. Local churches also find it to be a great opportunity for mission and ministry emphasis and education.

Each year, the General Assembly requests a certain amount per communicant member from each congregation. That is its “regular giving.” The Thank Offering is intended to be “special giving,” voluntarily donated over and above that amount. When Thank Offering gifts are sent to Worldwide Outreach, the COC distributes them according to the same General Assembly-set formula described above.

Congregations handle the Thank Offering in a variety of ways. Some ask their members to put their contributions in the regular collection during the whole month of November, clearly designating them for the Thank Offering. Some have a missions banquet with a guest speaker and have a special offering at that time. Some do a combination of the above. There is a lot of room for creativity. We hope you make good use of the posters and bulletin inserts that we provide for you.

Spiritual Fruit

We’re not accustomed to thinking of money as spiritual “fruit.” But in Romans 15:28, the Holy Spirit chooses that very word. Paul writes that he has collected money from Gentile converts to help their impoverished brethren in Jerusalem, and that after he has “made sure that they have received this fruit,” he hopes to visit Rome. Jesus Christ rescued these Gentiles, these wild olive branches, and grafted them into his church, the good olive tree. Vitally united to Christ, they bore fruit by his grace—including the fruit of generous giving.

When the Lord converts someone’s heart, he converts his wallet, too. The money Paul carried to Jerusalem was the product of Christ’s triumph by his Word and Spirit in the hearts of these Gentiles to whom Paul preached. It was truly a “thank offering.”

Paul was concerned to make sure that he delivered the money safely. Handling the Lord’s money is a grave spiritual responsibility. The apostle Paul took it seriously. Faithful servants of God will handle God’s money efficiently and responsibly, as the apostle did. Church treasurers really help the ministries of the church when they send in the Thank Offering funds by early December. This, too, is a “thank offering.”

As God’s Word goes forth today—to our covenant children, to our own continent, to all the nations—how can we be anything but generous for the sake of the One who has saved us?

—Larry Wilson, September 2001