Passing the Plate
As instrumentalists play or a soloist sings, as ushers file slowly down the aisles, congregants give money as an act of worship and to support the ministry of the church. If the people don't give, then the pastor goes unpaid, the building never gets built, and the missionaries stay home. When Christians go to church, most expect the collection of an offering as much as they expect preaching, singing, and prayer. Unlike preaching, singing, and prayer, however, the weekly offering did not become a fixture in American worship services until the late 19th century.
Colonial American churches did not depend on voluntary, weekly giving from their members. Instead, as had been the case in Europe, the government established churches, sanctioning certain congregations and supporting them financially. Most New England colonies established Congregational churches, while the Southern colonies along with New York, New Jersey, and Maryland established the Anglican Church. Most of the colonies could not imagine a state without an established church. A prosperous society depended on having citizens of good character, and the people expected churches to create virtuous citizens. Since churches served the public good, it made sense to fund them through public taxes and fees—such as poll and property taxes—rather than voluntary offerings.
Public funding of American churches did not cease immediately after the American Revolution. While the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibited Congress from establishing a national church, the states still supported churches through taxes. In the years following the Revolution, men like Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and John Leland fought against religious establishment in Virginia. ...