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.