It’s unlikely that cash, coins, and checks will go the way of burnt offerings or harvested produce, but rumors of their demise are not greatly exaggerated. Church parishioners and clergy alike may need some time getting used to the optics of church members whipping out their cell phones instead of their wallets, but the trend of giving tithe and offerings electronically, or e-giving, will continue to grow.
In their 2012 “State of the Plate” survey, Christianity Today noted that “the way churches receive donations has shifted from the traditional ‘envelope packets’ toward electronic giving, such as cell phone applications, automatic bank withdrawals, and lobby kiosks. Of the more than 1360 church leaders they surveyed, 92% said that they still pass the offering plate, and a combined 47% said they offer online and cell-phone giving options.
But before cut back on upgrades of your offering plate or cancel your order of tithe envelopes, here are five questions you should ask about online and mobile church giving:
What are the potential benefits of e-giving?
- You can do it anywhere. Traveling church members, college students, and the sick and shut-in can give to their home church in absentia. And e-giving allows us to give in secret, as Jesus advised in Matthew 6:2.
- It expands the donor base. Because givers need not be physically present, anyone who stumbles onto your website or church app may feel compelled to give. Also, guests attending a special event, like a concert, at your church may be more willing to give if they knew they could do so electronically.
- People give more, and more consistently. Many people no longer use checks, or even carry cash, so if all they have in their wallet or purse is $1, that’s all they’ll give. A church administrator in an article on adventistchurchconnect.com calls in “wallet roulette.” In contrast, a church member can use an e-giving portal to automatically debit 10-15% (or whatever they decide) of their paycheck to the church.
What are the potential drawbacks of e-giving?
- Credit costs. For most electronic transactions, the church will typically have to fork over a small percentage for the convenience. Also, if a church member is an undisciplined credit card user, he or she may end up accruing debt.
- Potential security risks. In one sense, credit is safer than paper because it’s much more difficult steal or destroy electronic data. On the other hand, when you submit your financial and personal data to a website or app, you also have to hand over some trust to that third party
- Offertory loses its appeal. It’s the optics, again. What’s the point in passing the plate, if no one is putting anything into it? What will the deacons do with this additonal free time? And does anyone remember to pray a public blessing over the electronic tithes and offerings? (Are you? Share your story in the comments?)
That last seemingly trivial, even humorous, concern notwithstanding, pastors would do well to heed the advice at the Christian Reformed Church Church Administration blog given by a church that recently underwent the transition to e-giving:
“It is important to keep your church decision makers involved in the evaluation process so that neither you nor they get any surprises at the end of the process.”