Leadership: Electronic Giving in a Church of Christ

onlinegiving_pictureWe live in an age when most middle or upper class people pay bills by computer, electronically, and everyone else uses cash. Checks are very nearly obsolete.

Ask most people in your church how many checks they write a month, and for those under age 60, the answer will be four — being the four church checks they write each month. For those over 60, the answer won’t be much higher.

In my church, the overwhelming majority of contributions come by check. Cash contributions amount to about 1% to 2% of the total.

Many church members would prefer a means of giving electronically, and there are countless services out there that let a church easily set up electronic donations.

Now, there are several advantages to electronic giving —

  • Many members will be able to stop buying checks altogether and go entirely electronic.
  • No cash or checks to deposit at the bank. We’ve had multiple break ins over the years where thieves stole cash being held from the Sunday offering or a youth minister’s camp money. (These are typically from someone attending who becomes aware of the cash.)
  • No danger to whoever has to carry the cash to the bank. We’ve not had this happen, but plenty of churches have had their church secretary held up at gunpoint for the weekly cash deposit.
  • Electronic giving protects the church against embezzlement. Most church embezzlement is theft of cash. Churches only allow their most trusted people to handle cash, and so embezzlement is always by someone greatly trusted. Trust is not the solution. Good accounting controls are the solution — and getting rid of cash takes away a temptation.
  • Instant accounting. A proper electronic system will automatically create a database of which member donated how much when, which is required by the IRS. And so the bookkeeping becomes easier, letting your staff spend their time on pastoral and other more important issues.
  • Churches routinely report an increase in giving, largely because people give whether or not they attend. The electronic funds come in even when the donor is gone on vacation or home sick.
  • Gathering cash for a youth Bible camp or the like becomes much easier, as parents don’t have to send money via a middle schooler and remind the middle schooler to ask for a receipt. And the youth minister doesn’t have to issue receipts and keep books. It’s all automatic.
  • No bad checks. People write bad checks for all sorts of reasons, such as not properly balancing their check book or not realizing that their payroll check hasn’t yet cleared. Bad checks means the church office has to call the donor and deal with what can be a very embarrassing situation. There are no bad checks in an electronic transfer system.

Some of the advantages are spiritual —

  • If you believe that giving is a blessing to the giver, as I do, then making it easier to give and to give out of discipline and commitment is spiritually powerful.
  • Members become more disciplined in their giving, giving whether or not they can be present, so that giving is more a matter of commitment than fee-for-service.
  • Members who feel moved to give during the week don’t have to wait for Sunday. If someone wakes up at 2 in the morning feeling the urge to make a gift to support a ministry or need, they can give right then and there.
  • For many, giving becomes a part of the household budget rather than tossing whatever cash in their billfold in the collection plate out of guilt or a desire not to look bad.
  • Giving electronically is more anonymous. People can tell who gives and doesn’t give when a plate is passed. Jesus said,

(Matt. 6:3-4 ESV)  3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,  4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

But there are problems with electronic giving —

  • In the Churches of Christ. we’ve long been taught that weekly giving is an act of worship. Some members will have very genuine, very deeply felt reservations about giving their weekly contribution outside the worship assembly. I would strongly recommend that the church continue to pass plates for the offering so that members who wish to worship in this way may do so.
  • I would also set up wi-fi so members may choose to give using their smartphones during the collection.
  • But some members will object to the perceived shift in doctrine just from the fact that you allow electronic giving. Be prepared to address this issue head on.
  • Some members will use credit cards to fund their giving. All churches are seeing an astonishing level of credit card misuse by church members. Some have had to file bankruptcy because they charged more than they could pay back. As much as the church needs and appreciates donations, you don’t want to encourage fiscal irresponsibility. Therefore, you shouldn’t allow weekly donations to be charged on a credit card. Debit cards are, of course, different.
  • To some members, electronic giving will seem like “running the church like a business,” which to some is a grave sin — normally members who don’t run businesses. In fact, electronic giving allows the church to spend less time on money and bookkeeping and so more time on efforts more directly connected with mission. Explain this to the church. You’re using technology to free your volunteers and staff for mission.

So let’s talk just a bit about the “act of worship” issue. It’s a big part of Church of Christ theology. I mean, the “Five Acts of Worship” has been a core part of our teaching for 150 years or so. I’ve never thought that this was particularly good theology, especially when seen as defining who is saved and who is lost.

Church leadership can deal with this by either challenging the entire concept of “acts of worship” theology or by explaining how the command is not violated. But for many members, it will be much easier to work within the Five Acts paradigm rather than challenging what many consider a the very definition of “sound.”

Most electronic giving software gives the donor the ability to set up dates and times when transfers will be made. I would have my provider set up an option to transfer funds weekly, on each Sunday morning, at about the same time as the offering is customarily performed. This way, a member who believes that he’s been commanded to give on each Sunday may do so.

And I’d have free wi-fi available at church, so members can transfer funds on their smartphones during the offering. Most will set up their transfers to be automatic, but just having the option will resolve the conscience issue for some.

It is, of course, also possible to point out that 1 Cor 16 is not addressing weekly gifts to the church’s general fund, but a one-time gift from the church in Corinth for the support of the church in Jerusalem.

While Paul’s guidance here may well be applied to other financial commitments the members of a congregation take on (including commitments to a church’s annual budget and other financial needs) it should be noted that Paul is not discussing giving towards a church’s regular budget but the preparations to be taken for one particular and special project.

Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians (Pillar NTC; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), n.p.

In fact, it’s virtually certain that the smaller churches during apostolic times had no general fund at all to give to, as they owned no buildings and had no staff. Meeting were in private homes and centered around the communion/love feast, and these were likely handled on a covered-dish basis. That is, if they raised money, it was to support a missionary or to care for the poor, not to fund local church internal operations.

On the other hand, in a large church such as in Jerusalem, they must have had some sort of general treasury because the apostles were evidently supported by the church. Moreover, we know from Acts that members made donations, not necessarily on a Sunday, to support the poor among them.

(Acts 4:34-37 ESV)  34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold  35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.  36 Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus,  37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet. 

So there is ample precedent for giving to the church treasury as the money is received, not necessarily at the weekly assembly.

I mean, there really is no biblical basis for a rule requiring that we give to our churches in 52 equal contributions. Rather, Paul’s instructions are to give “as we have been prospered” (KJV) — which for most of us is twice a month or every two weeks — and I know many Christians who give based on their payday rather than budgeting to give weekly — in part because of how they read 1 Cor 16:2 and in part because they’d rather give off the the top and so avoid the temptation to spend the money on something else while waiting for the next Sunday to come around.

Yes, Paul also said to set the money aside on the first day of each week, but he was not making doctrine regarding support of the church’s general fund. He was providing a convenient means of accumulating donations over several weeks so that the church could send a single, one-time donation to their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem. It was a convenient time to turn money over to the church’s leaders, but it’s not the only authorized pattern of giving. It’s also okay to give when and as God provides you with the funds to give, as was the case in Jerusalem.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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10 Responses to Leadership: Electronic Giving in a Church of Christ

  1. David Himes says:

    Personally, I’m all in favor of electronic giving. I write one check a month to the woman who helps keep our home clean. And I’m trying to help her accept electronic payments.

    But with that said, I’m also in the fund raising business. And the fact remains that most people prefer to write paper checks for contributions. Electronic giving to charity constitutes a very small percentage of total giving.

    So, while I’m all in favor of it, do it myself … it’s also a mistake to think that our personal preferences extend to others.

    Encourage people to give. Make it as easy as possible. Let them give via any method they prefer.

  2. Dwight says:

    While giving of any type is good. One of the draw backs of electronic giving is that it is not coming from the hands of the giver. It is impersonal and a person doesn’t have the sense that they are having to give up something of value as it is going from their bank to the institution without them ever having to see it. As Dave Ramsey notes…once you start back to giving through your hands the more you realize what you are giving and the more it feels like you are giving up something and having to part with something. It is happening before you and not just in the background. Just a thought.

  3. Chris says:

    So, looks like this is another avenue where electronic giving in an electronic banking world is an option. If situations arise where I’m out of town or sick, it’s much easier and it’s good to know we can make a electronic transaction rather than write a check, find an envelope, find a stamp and mail it. I would much rather give electronically than run the risk of it being stolen or someone harmed. Jay, Vaughn Park COC in Montgomery also has a Kiosk in the lobby for those who want to give at church ( at least they did when we attended several years ago).

  4. laymond says:

    Luk 21:2 And he saw also a certain poor widow casting in thither two mites.
    Luk 21:3 And he said, Of a truth I say unto you, that this poor widow hath cast in more than they all:

    I guess Jesus can just check your bank account every week 🙂

    Boy, looks like if I were to attend one of the congregation you guys do, I might need a chain on my wallet . 🙂

  5. Mark says:

    Please be cautious of free wifi as it is insecure. It can be hacked and your login/password or credit card captured. Remember, some people give weekly, quarterly, annually. Especially around Christmas some people give extra.

    If you are going to accept e-donations, please do it right, take credit cards, and allow for donations to different funds and be able to select honor/memorial contributions with the acknowledgement person’s name and address. This is because it is easier for people who are not familiar with the church to donate in memory of someone.

    Also, you might be surprised who will donate for a specific cause. An example is when the Stamford cofC hired Naomi Walters (yes,a woman cofC assoc minister) without really having the money to pay her. The word got out online and a lot of progressives sent donations to them to help cover her pay.

  6. laymond says:

    By the way, would my car be safe in the parking lot. 🙂

    Church going thieves
    ” multiple break ins over the years where thieves stole cash being held from the Sunday offering or a youth minister’s camp money. (These are typically from someone attending who becomes aware of the cash.)”

    Risk of robbery.
    ◾No danger to whoever has to carry the cash to the bank. We’ve not had this happen, but plenty of churches have had their church secretary held up at gunpoint for the weekly cash deposit.

    embezzlement.
    ” Most church embezzlement is theft of cash. Churches only allow their most trusted people to handle cash, and so embezzlement is always by someone greatly trusted. ”

    Hot checks, by members.
    ◾No bad checks. People write bad checks for all sorts of reasons,

  7. Travis says:

    Interested in recommendations for methods of handling eDonations. Do you use a service to process these, or are there instructions for using a financial institution’s bill payment service? A little txt help here would be appreciated!

  8. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Travis,

    There are many services that do this. My notes are out of date, but it’s easy to Google. The cheapest options use ACH to transfer funds rather than other methods. Typically you set up a page with the service provider that is formatted to match the look and feel of your site and then set up a link from your site to the ACH page. You might also check the websites of churches you have a high regard for and see what service they are using.

    Charges for ACH are usually pennies per check.

  9. Richard constant says:

    How about an electronic emergency Fund, Say like in your church.
    every member gets a card with a withdrawal limit of $1,000 no questions asked.
    Put $20,000 in the emergency fund refresh it every month.
    Now you taking care of the poor in the congregation you also know who they are and how or why they need some help.
    it’s really too simple.
    except for the power and control of money you know powers and principalities and not need.

  10. Richard constant says:

    Of . course the limit should be refreshed every month also.
    absolutely amazing how we take care of the poor in our congregation or the Needy in our congregations…
    and the embarrassing hoops that they get to jump through Absolutely shameful. I would be willing to guess the allotment for the needy and the poor and funds that are available for them.
    Are delegated regulated to other members so that it doesn’t come out of the church fuNd. so that the body of Christ can be edified that they’re helping somebody in need… how is the point of as the second chapter and third chapter is absolutely lost.
    but boy oh boy plate gets passed around every week doesn’t It J…
    tradition you’ve got to love it.
    Although then the Lord’s going to get ahold of the elders, and they’re going to separate such a Loss, they will wish they set up a fund…
    it would have been a lot cheaper.

    so to speak.
    nobody pays attention to Scripture when it involves what they have nobody description 1 in balls what they have..
    is absolutely nothing wrong with this day I’d like to see what your group of church goers would say that.
    It would be amazing to me dang close to a miracle… if they said that’s a good idea. okay let’s do it

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