I believe I have completed my virtual tour of the websites of the Rio Texas Annual Conference. I have started my physical tour of the churches though I have a lot more driving to do. I have found that a very small percentage of the churches in the conference offer and online giving option.
That is bad news for me. I like giving my money to churches. However, passing the plate leaves me feeling awkward. Like many, as the plates come around, I do the awkward shuffle to pull out my wallet. Usually, the only paper inside is a couple of receipts, and a crumpled up business card. I haven’t been to an actual bank since I opened my last account. I think I have checks in a file cabinet at home, but I would have to ask my wife.*
The way we use currency is continually changing. There was a time when people paid for goods and services with other goods and services. Eventually, we used cattle, animal skins, gold and silver as currency. Then, there were coins and then paper money. Today, we have credit cards, debit cards, Apple Pay, PayPal, and even BitCoin. The marketplace has adjusted quickly. I still remember when the idea of using a credit card to buy groceries was laughed at. It is now the norm. More and more retailers are adopting Apple Pay and Google Wallet and are ready to take one whatever comes next.
There are certainly pitfalls. Target and Home Depot are the most widely know examples of companies who have had their electronic payment system hacked. But still we press on because crime is not new. When businesses ran on all cash, instead of hackers, there were bandits stealing the cash.
So, why are so many churches still stuck with only taking forms of payment that fold? I think it comes down to two issues: scriptural/theological and practical.
There are some who believe that taking an offering of anything other than cash and checks is not scriptural. I don’t want to dismiss this completely as I understand people with this viewpoint are trying to be faithful. I do have trouble finding scriptural support for any particular method of payment. We are no longer using the sanctuary shekel or brining our livestock to the altar. Our currency and checking systems already look much different from anything in biblical times. However, there is often another angle to this.
Some object to the idea of the use of credit cards in particular. Their objection is based on the assumption of givers being in debt and using deficit spending for their offerings. This is a valid line of thinking. However, if this is the issue, the church needs to have a conversation about this particular issue. Given that currency is shifting to more and more e-currency, is the church willing to forgo a large amount of giving based on this objection? Are there other options? Can the church help members get out of debt and move away from credit cards using programs like Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University?
The other issue keeping churches stuck with only folding currency is practical. Where the heck do you start? For churches who have never accepted anything other than cash and checks, moving to credit cards and online giving can be daunting. I know. I have spent the last couple of days wading through all the different options available. Church leaders have a lot of questions to answer:
- Do we need our own merchant account or an end-to-end solution?
- Is it worth paying more up-front or monthly fees to get lower transaction fees?
- Which service is best for our scale?
- Is anyone going to use this?
- Do we need an option for e-checks?
- What the heck is “text to give”?
- How will this work with my church’s website?
- What if we don’t have a website?
I have spent a couple of days going down the online giving rabbit hole and have emerged ready to begin this conversation. Watch the blog and the website at riotexas.org/media for information, recommendations, and some tips to get started.
*I don’t want you to think that this means I don’t give. My bank lets’s me send payments via check to anyone with a mailing address. Also, some churches take credit cards offline. Sometimes, I just go to the ATM and take out cash.