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.

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