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Electronic Giving

Last week I wrote about several historic forms of funding the church. This week, we shift to considering electronic giving—automatic debits, buttons on websites, text-to-give options, and more.

Speaking of technology, I’m thrilled to announce the Center for Stewardship Leaders is launching a vastly new and improved website. If all goes according to plan, by the time you read this you’ll be able to enjoy the bright, shiny, and user-friendly site here:

Please help us share this good news. The website contains around 2,000 resources and newsletter archives! And, many, many thanks to the team that helped bring the vision to reality, particularly Jim Dudley and Ben McDonald Coltvet.  

Yours truly, 

Adam Copeland, Director of the Center for Stewardship Leaders  

Electronic Giving 

Adam J. Copeland 

Electronic giving is no fad; according to a new study, it is the preferred method of giving for a majority of church members. In other settings, people have developed habits of giving that rely on e-giving methods. Many of our congregations, however, haven’t yet responded to these changes. So, what do we know about church-related electronic giving? How might the church respond? 

First, as suggested by recent research from Vanco Payment Solutions, there’s a “giving gap” in the church at large. In short, compared to what congregations offer, many more people would prefer to give by smart phone, recurring contribution on a debit or credit card, and even by text message. 

This result may not be particularly surprising, but it hopefully causes the church to sit-up and take notice. Many congregations emphasize hospitality in their ministries, making sure signage is clear, parking is convenient, and facilities are clean. So too, having electronic giving available is an issue of hospitality. In a culture in which I can give to most non-profits in a minute or less while on my iPhone at home, keeping up barriers such as expecting people to carry checks or cash is counterproductive. Along these lines, providing a church website that allows for online giving is another show of hospitality and convenience. 

Second, contrary to how many of us speak of e-giving in the church, the same Vanco study found that churchgoers who are most engaged with their congregations have stronger preferences toward electronic giving. 

Some congregations approach the electronic giving conversation primarily as a means for getting those occasional attenders to give more regularly. If we allow for a monthly recurring draw from their bank account, we figure, then perhaps they’ll give more regularly. Well…. perhaps, but the Vanco study finds that those most likely to give are those people in our pews most Sundays. So why not make electronic giving easier for these active members? As a bonus, recurring giving options like monthly draws from bank accounts can help a congregation’s cash flow remain steady, avoiding that dreaded summer lag. 

Third, moving towards electronic giving—just like the church’s move from once being supported by tax dollars and pew rentals—requires a shift in culture rather than a one-time change. It’s not as simple as putting a note in the newsletter every few months, but establishing and modeling shifts in practice. For example, many people like the physical act of putting something in the offering plate when it is passed. So, consider providing cards or tokens in each pew that people can place in the plate as a sign of their electronic gift. 

If your congregation offers an easy way to give via smart phone or text-to-give during the service, having a leader note this invitation out loud may help avoid some of the awkwardness—or, less face it, judgment—when using one’s smart phone during worship. 

Finally, as with all church giving, don’t forget to find ways to say “thank you” to those who give electronically. God works in many and mysterious ways, even through digital technologies like electronic giving. As we move to embrace digital forms of giving, we also must not forget to express our gratitude to God who is always doing a new thing!

Author information was updated as of the article's post date. Author profiles may not reflect author's current employment or location.

"Technology" by Mervi Eskelinen, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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