Material History of American Religion Project

The Weekly Duplex Envelope System, the Best

The first decades of the twentieth century saw a significant change in the way American congregations, especially Protestant churches, raised money. Until that time many congregations relied on pew rentals or other form of annual "dues" for income. In other churches fundraising was haphazard--members simply gave whatever and whenever they wished. Occasional offerings went towards benevolences. The result was unpredictable and often insufficient income.

Increased demands on congregational budgets and the growth of national denominational bureaucracies pushed churches to look for more reliable ways of raising money. They turned to the example offered by the era's growing corporations--they tried to instill method and efficiency into their finance. The most obvious example is the annual pledge/weekly envelope system, here promoted by Lutheran pastor Samuel A. Stein in A Guide to Church Finance(1920). After identifying the problems with previous ways of raising money, he advocates the envelope system (excerpted here), an annual budget, and the every-member canvass. He concludes with advice on how to introduce the system to a most-likely skeptical congregation. (For one congregation's experience, see a related document.) Consistent with the Progressivism of the time, he advocates the advantages of method and system. But consistent with Lutheran creedalism, he stresses the method's doctrinal and biblical purity.

Note that Stein argues against designated giving--donating to one part of the church's work but not another. Faithful giving requires giving to the entire church program, whether you support it or not. Such an attitude was important in the era of growing denominational identity. In recent years more individuals and local congregations are moving back towards designated giving, not funding denominational efforts they don't support. These moves may reflect a return to a pre-World War I model of finance and denominational relationships.


Sending out envelopes for missionary collections, or certain colored envelopes for the different so-called festival collections, or for a congregational fund, or monthly contributions, or weekly envelopes for current expenses only, is not the envelope system. It may lead to it. In some cases it has done this. In others it may be the only way by which a congregation can be educated to the envelope system.

The one and best envelope system to introduce is the Weekly Duplex Envelope System. This system is recognized practically by all Protestant denominations as the most successful method at the present time for congregations to raise money for their own up-keep and for benevolences. About forty religious bodies, comprising twenty million members, advocate it. Thousands of Protestant churches have adopted it. It has been stated that if all Protestant churches (not including the colored) would adopt it, it would add eighty million dollars for local church support and twenty-five million for benevolences. Various Lutheran synods recommend it. Many hundred Lutheran congregations have adopted it and catalogs of the most conservative Lutheran book houses draw attention to some of its decided advantages. We are convinced the church that has not this financial system and what belongs to it has room for improvement along all lines of financial method. Some one says: We have another system and we are raising so much. But that is no argument that you would not do still better with this system, under normal conditions. Of course, we are not speaking here of abnormal congregations. No doubt, there are some who consider normal congregations abnormal. The word abnormal also often contains the element of contrariness. We solemnly express the opinion that a congregation which fails to introduce the very best possible method in keeping with the tasks imposed by God lags behind in obedience to God's Word.

Offering envelope

Here is a sample of the weekly duplex or divided envelope--one for each Sunday in the year. Study the reading.


The church, at insignificant expense, tells the giver fifty-two times a year what the Lord needs His moneys for; what His moneys are expended for. It answers many questions. In many congregations not half a dozen people half have a clear idea of what is required to support the Kingdom of God in their own midst, and their support is according to their hazy views. And as to synodical treasuries! How many of our church members are well informed in regard to these, unless the attempt is made to cancel a debt. And synodical debts are the most unpopular things to present to the people. Debts undermine confidence. Few feel responsibility. Many would "let the debts descend to the heirs." Many church debts would have been avoided if the people would have been provided with the necessary information.

The system is decidedly educational. The financial condition of a synod and a congregation today is to a great extent the result of training, or lack of training, in the past generation. The giving in the future will depend to a considerable extent upon the training or lack of training in the present. Here is a system that leads up to intelligent giving. It instructs, teaches and informs regularly and repeatedly each contributor as to the needs of God's Kingdom. And it reaches more persons, old and young, than any other method. In the parable of the talents, Matt. 25:14, Christ teaches us to use our money to the best advantage of His Church.


Many an edifying and helpful mission sermon loses its effect when the mission offering is announced. And is it fair or reasonable to expect the average church member to do his duty toward the great mission cause for a whole year on one day? Is he paying back dues on that Sunday, or in advance for a year? We think neither. Is it right to give the Christian congregation but one or a few chances a year to give for missions? Are all who would contribute present? Are all just at that hour best prepared? Think of what that amounts to in a larger parish, in 100,000 parishes? No doubt, many are not prepared to give what they would like to give--such are sorry. But how many save up what they could during a whole year and give it at one offering?

A minister recently related to us: "In our section the custom prevails that several of our neighboring congregations hold joint mission services once a year We have several speakers, then I am called on to explain and urge liberal giving." We have no criticism as to joint services. How about the offering? No doubt, in many minds the main feature is the offering; but it ought to be the Word of God. One effect of the Word of God ought to be to make cheerful givers all the year around. We question, on psychological grounds, whether there is much cheerfulness here. Cheerfulness is not acute--once or twice a year. It is a habit of the mind Cheerfulness is permanent. Mere mirth or good humor is occasional--temporary and connected with some particular act. The idea prevails in mans places that the Mission Festival (or Children's Day) is mainly for the purpose of raising money for missions, and the sermons frequently point in that direction. And when the service is over, the persons most interested inquire, How much did we raise? It seems to us, since on such an occasion the attendance is good (if it does not rain), and since also people may be present who hold erroneous doctrines, and again others who generally despise the Word of God, the sermons, besides being of a missionary character, ought to present the pure doctrines of salvation, and if possible bring about the conversion of unbelievers, instead of merely urging them to give. The force-pump should not be needed. We cannot see why the Word of God should be used especially on mission day to get the mission money. Giving should be the fruit of the preaching of the Word of God all the year around. Cheerful giving ought to flow throughout all the year. The weekly double envelope offers this opportunity. "God loveth a cheerful giver" (2 Cor. 9:7).


Regularity here means good order. Mild regularity is needed everywhere--in the clock, in the home, in the state, and why not in the church?

What happens in the biggest business concerns if irregularity creeps in? The Church of Christ is the biggest business on this planet. Regularity and good method cannot be separated. A minister, layman, or congregation can accomplish more with good methods than without them. There is a business side to the church. Method prevents disorder and losses in business. Some one said "Want of method is excusable only in men of great learning or genius, who are often too full to be exact." We question this, but any way the church has often lost or failed to get money through lack of method. Method and habit go together. Much of Christian virtue consists in good habits. A good act comes from faith; often repeated it becomes a good habit.

A successful business man said: "If I were to conduct my business as most churches do, the sheriff would soon close the door. The greatest proof to me of the divine origin of the church is its survival in spite of its unbusinesslike methods."

The way to acquire a habit is by repetition. We teach our children good habits by example and reminder. The weekly envelope adopted by the congregation is a weekly reminder of giving, of a good habit--a God-pleasing habit.

Offering envelope

Many Sunday Schools use the weekly double envelopes. Their use is of great educational value.

Some congregations learned to adopt the envelope system from the Sunday School where it was first introduced. Where there is a will there is a way.

Several months ago we read: The envelope system was introduced recently into a leper church in Siam. In imitation of their more fortunate brethren, the lepers with mutilated fingers made their own envelopes out of scraps of white paper from a mission press. On the first Sunday under the new system their offerings increased from 60 cents to $1.44.

Our catechism states v e should pray "without ceasing, particularly also at stated times." Why not contribute to the support of God's Kingdom at stated times? Our catechism teaches us that a Christian ought to commune "frequent1y," and Paul, l Cor. 11:26, says, "As often as ye eat of this bread,"' etc. Why would it not also be better to give "frequently" and "often"—better for the Christian; better for Christ's Church? We cannot understand why some insist that a Christian ought to give "as he may prosper," but ignore "upon the first day of the week."


There are certain things you cannot delegate to another, such as believing going to church and hearing the Word of God, singing, praying, and giving. Giving belongs to the sacrificial part of the divine service. The old custom that the head of the family should pay for all is out of date. And why should the husband not give his wife money for the Kingdom of God as well as he gives her money for a new hat? All housewives that have an allowance certainly ought to give to Christ's Church. Then, remember, it is the Christian Church that has given to woman the high place that God wants her to have. Parents give their children money for useful and often even for useless things; why not for the Church?

A certain father was liberal and the main financial supporter of a church. When he died the church was hardly able to survive the financial loss. How about his large family? Oh, the sons and daughters give practically nothing. They were not taught to give. Pa always gave for them (?). In another family the father paid for all (?) for years. His subscription was usually one of the first on the deacons' list (the old fashioned kind). When the new system was introduced every member supported the Church, and this amounted to much more in more than one respect Thus the congregation increased the number of givers by over 70%. We know of a church in which this new system was introduced where on the first Sunday so many envelopes came in that the two collection plates ran over again and again. After the service one of the deacons came to the pastor, all excited, and said rather angrily: "This will never do. Why, I had to pick up envelopes from the floor and put them in my pocket." After several Sundays the church council was compelled to order five new plates of a deep style. How the children like this method and delight in throwing into the plate their envelopes! It reminds them and their parents each Sunday of the support they owe to their Saviour's Kingdom. In more than one way and in many congregations has the baptized youth been neglected and deprived of the training for service which pleases God The training feature of the weekly duplex envelope system is great. "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it" (Prov. 22:6).


Giving belongs to true religion. Christian giving is worship. "Honor the Lord with your substance." We worship God by paying as well as by praying. On the Lord's day we hear that God gave His Son for us; that His Son gave His life for us; that the Spirit of God offers and gives saving grace. Is that same great day of grace not also the best, the most reasonable time for the children of God to give to God? When we hear of God's unspeakable gift for us poor sinners to make us rich now and forever, that ought to move us to give then and every Sunday in the year--weekly, but not weakly. People often say: "People go to church to get religion." There is truth in that; but religion that does not cost very much, is not worth very much. God gives every Lord's day; His people, by the grace that He gives, should learn to give in return. In a true Lutheran Sunday service God gives to man, and man gives to God. To receive God's grace by faith, thankfully, implies in return a giving of self and of what belongs to us, also money. In a true Lutheran service there is the sacramental element. The God of grace deals with man through the saving Means of Grace, the Word and the Holy Sacraments. God gives. And, flowing from this, God's people, who have by faith accepted His grace, commune with Him in the service. This includes confession, prayer and thanks—the sacrificial element of a God-pleasing service. And the sacrifice of money belongs here. God gives and by His grace we give. In every Sunday service God gives, and the worshipers give as his children. Their giving is a grateful acknowledgement that He five has given them. Right giving is a religious act. What a blessed inter-communication. We never had the boldness to take the collection plates, stand before the altar, and say: "God loveth a cheerful giver," and then hand them over to the deacons, receive them again in due time with the old fashioned collection of pennies and nickels, and then turn to the altar and face the Lord, and say some nice words about sacrifices and spreading the Kingdom. Some insist upon paying by the year; but God gives us grace every moment. It seems when the Christian congregation on the day of its Lord hears: "He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might become rich" (2 Cor. 8:9), it ought to respond also with money. The weekly duplex envelopes give the opportunity to all worshippers to give of their substance "upon the first day of the week," "the Lord's day." This is one of the underlying ideas of this method.


We have never heard any object (theoretically) to proportionate giving, or deny that the Word of God teaches proportionate giving. God is the owner of all money. He gives it to us. We are not the absolute owners, but stewards. Some of the money God gave us we received for the purpose of using it for the upbuilding of his Kingdom. How much? A percentage need and cannot be stated here--that would be legalism; but this much is certain that we ought to give a fair share of what He gave us. That means, in dollars, much more for the rich man than for the poor. God's Word lays down a certain principle: "Every man should give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord thy God which he hath given thee" (Deut. 16:17). "According to ability": "As God hath prospered," "not grudgingly, or of necessity; for God loveth a cheerful giver" (2 Cor. 9:7).

Now, is it reasonable and God-pleasing for a man to hold off bringing an offering to the Lord until some festival, or until six months or the congregational year is up, and then try to figure out what proportionate giving is? Does the good Lord not give to each one every day in the week; and would it not be much more reasonable for him to bring his offerings each Lord's Day? A man says: "I'll pay mine in a lump when the year is up." Suppose he wants to see then how the Lord has prospered him. Well, we do not see how he can see at the end of the year whether or not the Lord has prospered him, if he cannot see it now. Experience shows that he never gives a due portion. Moreover, what right has a man to hold up "his share" for months when the Church of Christ needs it today?

How do thousands of our wage-earners pay for their homes; get a savings account in the bank; attain to prosperity? It is by regularly setting aside and paying in smaller sums. It is the easy, successful way of raising large sums. It is universal in the civilized world. Governments have tested it. How did the thousands of savings banks acquire their enormous capital? The method of saving regularly a certain amount of money encourages thrift and discourages waste. It makes possible the honest accumulation of money much more easily than any other method. It makes possible in the end the setting aside of a grater portion or per cent for any cause.

Say a person's income is $1,500 a year. He pays $10 in one or two payments for the support of the Kingdom of God in his congregation; $1.50 at the Mission Festival; $1.00 on Children's Day; and for the institutions $1.00 on Easter, and $1.50 on Christmas. When he gives this in six or seven payments it does not seem to him so small an amount. He has probably not much cash at hand, or just then has other expenses. Otherwise, he thinks he could do better. He is doing very poorly. He is giving one per cent of his income to the Lord, or 28 11/13 cents a week. If he does not differ from 99% of church people he would with great ease give a larger, perhaps much larger, portion of his income to the Lord, if the church gave him an opportunity to do so; if the church made it easier for him to do so. If asked: How much can you pay to the support of our congregation by the week? he would hardly subscribe less than 25 cents. That would be $13, an increase of $3. Now consider a hundred or more cases. If he gave but 15 cents a Sunday for benevolences that would amount to $7.80, an increase of $2.80. Altogether, he would increase the portion for the Lord's Kingdom by $5.80.

A lady was paying $10 to support her church and occasionally cast a little stray money into the basket for benevolence when it was passed around on special occasions. When the congregation installed a better financial system for the work of Him whose Name is above every name she said to the canvassers: "I cannot increase my gifts, but if I pay by the week, I can pledge 50 cents a week for our church and give 25 cents a week for benevolence and thus support all the benevolent work of our church, and it will be easier for me." The church gave her the opportunity for increasing her portion to the Lord's treasury. This way helps people to do their duty toward the various causes of the Lord's work. It counteracts hobbies. Who has not heard such expressions: I always give for orphans, but do not believe in sending away money for the heathen, and the like? Weekly offerings, introduced in thousands of churches in America, have according to statistics increased the sum for missions 100 per cent and the income of churches in America over 20 million dollars. How do our increases compare with this? and in comparison with "how the Lord hath prospered us"? Multitudes, including children, who have little money and give scarcely anything, easily and readily give five and ten cents a week. Multitudes, when led to give each Lord's day, double the amount they formerly gave. And the multitudes that thought they were good payers in the church when they paid $20 a year saw for the first time how little and altogether out of proportion this sum was when they learned that it was less than thirty-nine cents a week--less than six cents a day for Him who redeemed us, not with "corruptible' "silver or gold" but with His "precious blood."

Recently, riding with an undertaker in his automobile, we said: "We have been looking for a good example to show the benefit of a good method and thought of the old way at funerals, when father rode out in a road wagon with flay in the bottom on a rainy day for ten miles, and compared that with the present." He said, "The new is so much better for all concerned. I have almost forgotten the old way." Many Christians hate to think of the old way of giving. We can see no doctrinal difficulties in the new may. We know the Spirit of God says, "Give as the Lord hath prospered you," and the weekly plan reminds us of this, offers the opportunity for it and encourages us to do so. It makes the service of love easier. Is it right to tempt to covetousness by unsuccessful methods?

Excerpted from Samuel A. Stein, A Guide in Church Finance(Columbus, Ohio: Lutheran Book Concern, 1920), 11-18.

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