We took a look at a number of congregation websites to see how they have provided for online giving. One pastor said there are Sundays in the summer months when online giving surpasses offering plate collection. Online giving must be something worth our attention. Today's writer shares some thoughts about online options.
Glenn Taibl, Co-Director
Center for Stewardship Leaders
Thank goodness I have two people under 30 on my Stewardship Team--and if you don't, I'd find some!--because online giving is not the first thing that comes to my mind. (Although checking my Facebook rarely comes to mind either.) But it IS the first thing that Nolan and Emily bring up. At Westwood, online giving has continued to increase in the past several years, and my guess is this is quite typical.
Although theologically, I love the idea of a gathered community placing their offerings in a communal plate and having that brought forward, placed on the altar, and then prayed over, we all know that a decreasing number of people give that way. So if our people are going to make gifts online and/or use electronic fund transfer for their pledging, new questions arise: How do we model giving to our children and youth when adults do it with a tap on the keyboard late at night or from the office? What rituals or responses can surround giving when suddenly it is a completely private and electronic event? How do we ask, thank and tell differently, if laptops and smart phones are the new pledge forms and offering envelopes?
At Westwood, we are certainly not on the cutting edge of these questions, but like you, we are trying to keep up with an ever-changing array of ways to give. We have a QR code in our worship folder each week that takes people directly to our online giving page. This gives our guests a quick and easy way to be a part of supporting some great ministries right there and right away. This was the first year we did most of our fall stewardship online, versus creating printed packets that are expensive both to print and mail. People could pledge online, set up electronic fund transfer or give a one-time gift...all online.
As you have likely learned as well, online giving comes with a cost....thousands of dollars annually for us now in fees. We've had to start budgeting for this expense and also are beginning to make people aware that 3% of their gifts processed on credit cards goes to fees, so they may want to adjust their gift accordingly.
Our biggest challenge, however, with online giving (and here I do not mean regular electronic fund transfers, but rather one-time gift giving) is that it plays into a culture where people give simply in response to a request or a stated need. Your heartstrings are pulled, and you go online and give some money. Now, on the one hand, why would we have a problem with that? Giving is good. Dollars get raised. But this doesn't nurture a spiritual maturity or a deeper understanding of stewardship that making a longer-term pledge does. How can we nurture an understanding that we give out of response to God's gracious and abundant love for us, not simply because of a current need or our current generosity? When we need to shape our spending around being faithful to a commitment we have made, something deeper happens. We are forced to evaluate bigger decisions and purchases in light of a promise, a covenant that we have made. But when I can go online and only give when I feel like it, when I've been motivated or inspired to do so, it can become more about me and my needs.
Giving online has generated more dollars for wonderful causes world-wide than ever before...and that will always be something to celebrate! But how we as a church not only generate dollars to meet the world's needs, but also provide opportunities for the Holy Spirit to transform the giver, is a question we'll need to keep working on.
Tania Haber is Senior Pastor at Westwood Lutheran Church, St. Louis Park, Minn.
Image credit: © Ignacio García Losa (ignaciogarcialosa.com) via Flickr. Used by permission.