Will on-line giving replace the collection plate?

If you think about, the offering plate is at once a ritual and a technology for collecting money. Ron Lieber of the New York Times asks how churches and synagogues are adapting to electronic giving and the decreasing reliance on cash.

He notes that Mormons fill out a form, hand it in and the church does the rest...automatically deducting your tithe from your bank account.

Synagogues collect dues. Episcopalians switched from pew rents to pledges at least a century ago.

"So as we approach a busy season for giving among believers" Liber says, "this is a good time to ask whether we’ve settled on a form of collection that is both efficient and meaningful."

Few things are more visceral than the collection plate, however, and it persists for many reasons. “The liturgical act of placing an offering of money into the offertory plate is understood to be a form of worship,” said the Rev. Laurel Johnston, the officer for stewardship in the Episcopal Church. Episcopalians generally make annual pledges in the fall and fulfill them throughout the year through electronic payments or by making periodic payments via an envelope that they put in the collection plate.

Regular worshipers with a regular paycheck may also appreciate the formality of handing over hard currency each week if they believe in the idea of paying God first. Then, there are the parents who like the fact that their children see everyone else giving and can toss in a few coins of their own.

Finally, there’s the peer pressure of having others’ eyes on you as the plate goes around. “Some would call it Catholic guilt,” said Matt Golis, a lifelong Catholic and chief executive of ParishPay’s parent company, YapStone. Many churches that allow electronic giving encourage those who have used it to drop a symbolic receipt of sorts into the collection plate if they wish.

Matt Branaugh writing in Managing Your Church talks about the things to remember as a congregation takes on electronic giving.

A report issued in February by a major provider of fundraising technology and consulting services offers some helpful insights for church leaders as it relates to online giving.

In short: Use of online giving continued to grow in 2011, however, that growth remains small relative to total dollars given. Adding an online giving tool should be done to diversify options for givers and provide convenience for those who desire it. But it won’t provide an instant remedy to any organization struggling to get its vision funded.

...Blackbaud’s [2011 Online Giving] report paints a hopeful picture. Like anything else in ministry, online giving requires commitment, time, and tempered expectations. Churches already using this tool should evaluate their communication styles, follow through, and timing for effectiveness. Those who aren’t should consider adding it as a way to diversify options for their members, especially younger ones—but they also should consider what improvements they need to make in communicating their vision, and the effects their current budgets have in changing lives, because merely providing online giving won’t spur a flurry of new offerings all on its own.

Comments (8)

No, on-line giving won't replace the collection plate.

1. Not everyone uses on-line services, not is it going to become universal any time soon. Not everyone in the country - not even all Episcopalians (gasp!) - are middle or upper class iPhone junkies. It's a little disconcerting that articles like this seem to assume Christianity is a hobby of the well-off.

2. The people quoted in the article are correct in that it's an act of worship. People used to bring their offering to church in kind; later, we substituted cash. In the unlikely event that cash becomes obsolete we'll start dropping something else into the plate, like a printed receipt of our online donation, as the article says some systems allow for now.

By the way, synagogues have never used collection plates because of prohibitions in handling money in the Sabbath, so their use of online resources isn't exactly parallel to churches'.

Sent from my iPhone

IMHO, I think that having more options is a good thing. Generally, I like doing contributions via a credit card. I get the convenience of doing it and having automatic documentation of my giving. In addition, I may get other "perks" from the particular credit card. It is a "win/win" for me, although I understand the issue of the small commission fee lost with the electronic payment. As far as in-church giving, I remain astounded that we still do not have the ability to routinely accept credit card gifts "on the spot" in most churches. At this point, it is extremely easy to get up and running with credit card payments with something such as the easy Square service. There is the 2.75% commission, but it might make the difference between getting and not getting a payment. It would be very easy to give an usher an iphone with a free square reader and have him/her do any gifts. The financial outlay would be minimal and it would allow a "choice" in what is done. Plus, the person can get an immediate receipt and not have to "wait" for the regular statement from the church. I would particularly like it when I am out of town and "visiting" a church that I do not regularly attend. It may not be for everyone, but it is likely to be helpful for some people.

I'm in the stone age, relatively speaking but I can see young people wondering why it is a church wouldn't be set up to accept a donation from a smart phone during the Sunday service.

I have gotten to the point with online banking where I write nearly no checks, and praise the lord I can pay me pledge just I would my doctor or any other payee.

It's wise of my church to remind parishioners that this option is open to them with any online account. And there's not even a commission involved.

That said, I've not put my pledge payment on automatic monthly withdrawal.

I don't think this has anything to do with affluence. In my congregation, it correlates much more to age. Almost all of our electronic givers are under 40. My young adult children never have and never will own checkbooks and carry much less cash than older adults. I still appreciate the symbolic importance of the collection plate, but the fact is fewer and fewer people are going to be carrying around something to put in it. Our pledge numbers have held steady over the last few years, our plate numbers have decreased and our "special gifts" category has markedly increased.

Paying the pledge through online banking really IS the easiest for us. It does take a little of the worship experience away though when the plate comes around and you simply pass it on. Maybe drop in a prayer request?

Randy Hötz (added by ~ed.)

At Christ Church, Delavan, WI, we haven't "passed" a collection plate for the last 6+ years or more. We do have offering plates at a few of the entrances, and one as people come up for Communion, with a sign that says free will offerings accepted. But there is not the "shove the plate in yer face" kind of offering taken any more here during the offetory part of the service. Our offering is seen as more like "ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice" to God, and to others we can help with our gifts. Our pledge cards, although they are considered pledge gift cards for record keeping, are now called "Gift Certificates" each year, and a note on the card says to those who wish to make a annual gift to the Church, "If your gift should cease feeling like a gift, you should quit giving it. (but please inform the church office)" We have not gotten into credit or debit card giving, being a smaller parish, the fees seem to be too much for what we have thought wouldn't be used regularly. We may need to look at that more down the road as well however.
To me, our giving reflects our thanks to God. Some of us are still working into that kind of thanks, and as a Church treasurer for the last 30 years, I am blessed to often see how God touches hearts, minds and souls, which reflects in gratitude and giving in many ways ... treasure, time and talent.

Roberta, I can appreciate what your parish is trying to do, but having a collection plate en route to the communion rail seems far more "in your face" than passing the plate at the Offertory. I've seen that at one or two parishes before, and it somehow had a tollbooth feel about it.

Thank you for your comment Bill, I guess it's like any event ... you have to be there, to really know. Not at all a "tollbooth" thing. It's instead more like a Matthew 5:24 experience... "leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God."

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