Leader to Leader, Stewardship

The Pros and Cons of Electronic Giving

October 15, 2015 | Posted by Art Scherer

I’m old enough to remember the days of a cash-based society when my parents were paid in cash on a weekly basis in their “weekly pay envelope.” My parents and others in their generation did not start out with credit cards or even checking accounts. They had shoeboxes for weekly bills and savings accounts for long-term needs. It made sense, then, for the church to provide boxes of weekly dollar-sized offering envelopes and to develop a whole system of stewardship encouragement based around the “weekly pay envelope.”

Today, my grown children are paid by direct deposit into their checking account on a monthly or bi-weekly basis. They carry little cash and seldom write checks, choosing to make purchases by credit card and pay bills online or by electronic funds transfer (EFT). In fact, one of the few checks I think they write is a check to place in the dollar bill sized envelopes still provided by the church as the only recommended format for giving.

Many congregations, in tune with the financial management changes of our culture and the rise of online giving, have been offering members and contributors the opportunity to contribute in a way that is more in line with their 21st century practices than the weekly offering envelopes of the early 20th century industrial society.

Some churches have been slow to offer electronic and online giving opportunities.

The advantages of such giving can be found on any search of “online giving for churches.” I would highlight only two reasons to consider taking the step NOW that may have been difficult to take 10 years ago:

A COUPLE OF ENCOURAGEMENTS

  • Consistency of Contributions – “Regular attendance” is being redefined even by the faithful. Those who were every Sunday attenders now still consider themselves “regular” at twice a month. This is one of the reasons for the steady decline in attendance. The “regulars” aren’t coming as regularly. In many cases they are, as a result, also not contributing as regularly. An electronic giving plan enables the member to contribute whether present or not, whether they remember or not.
  • The “Late Adapters” Have Adapted – The older population that makes up the demographic of many of our congregations is often among the late adapters when it comes to the use of technology. In the case of Electronic Fund Transfers, online banking and bill paying, however, a good number of seniors are clearly aboard the acceptance curve. They get much of their income this way (Social Security, pensions, etc.) and know the convenience of shopping and bill paying as well.

A FEW WARNINGS

  • Do Your Homework – Understand what is involved and what is offered by vendors. Look at fees that are charged for various services, particularly for the use of credit cards. See whether reports are compatible with your church management software, or would figures need to be manually entered.
  • Start Small – Some vendors make big promises of 40% enrollment in the first year and want to offer full packages with credit card and phone-in giving. With our demographic, plan on 10%, and be surprised if blessed with more. LCEF’s Joyful Response program offers basic EFT giving FREE of charge to congregations, schools and LWML through Vanco, a leader in the field. If you find you need more later, you can get it from Vanco.
  • Keep Giving Connected to Worship – The offering has always been seen as an act of worship and a part of the worship service. There is danger in electronic giving that the offering becomes a business transaction that takes place somewhere in cyberspace rather than a worshipful act that takes place before the altar of God.  It is important to provide some means such as a well-worded pew card or an insert for an offering envelope that can enable electronic givers to participate in the offertory in a meaningful way.

AUTHOR
Art Scherer
Art Scherer is President Emeritus of the Southeastern District, LCMS, and a consultant in stewardship and capital funding for LCEF. Dr. Scherer is developer of LCEF’s popular Consecrated Stewards series and author of the Living as Children of a Generous God Bible studies.