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Electronic Giving Raises Techno-, Theo-logical Questions

The preference among churchgoers for electronic giving is clear.  A recent study showed that 79% of 24-34 year olds prefer to give electronically with 60 percent of all church-goers stating the same preference.

"Remove whatever obstacles might be in the way for individuals to practice generosity," the Rev. Matt Lipan wrote in response to a survey conducted by the connectional giving team at United Methodist Communications. "It has only been a positive experience for our congregation as more and more individuals sign-up for online giving. It is also something I actively encourage from the 'pulpit.'" Lipan leads Gateway United Methodist Church in Indianapolis.

    Rev. Matt Lipan.

The challenge with meeting givers' growing preference is both technological and theological. Less than one quarter of all churches offer the option of electronic giving. People continue to make the lion's share of their offerings in person during worship.  There is also concern that people will lose an understanding of giving as an act of worship.

It is important not to let the means minimize the ancient connection between giving and worship, said the Rev. Thad Austin, an elder from the Tennessee conference and a doctoral candidate at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University. "The first act of giving as part of worship happens in the first family in the Bible with Cain and Abel."

Giving in a worship service carries power as it physically expresses a spiritual act. Giving the resources under their stewardship to the church lets worshippers match actions with their words as they sing about the sacrifice of praise.

    The Rev. Thad Austin.

Online giving may also complicate teaching children and youth about giving. When youngsters see their parents and grandparents placing checks and cash in the offering plate, they begin to understand the importance their family places on financial faithfulness. Without provisions for some sort of symbolic offering – in lieu of money – Austen said, "Children might see the plate pass by and never see their parents put something in it."

To address the dilemma of plate vs. electronic offerings, Austin said churches first "must allow people to give in their native language." That means the church cannot ignore the shift to financial transactions any more than it could ignore the shift to using cash to writing checks. 

Offering congregants new forms of giving – online, texting, church kiosk to name a few – also provides an opportunity to teach about the theology of giving and money in general. That can be through a sermon series or even a teaching video placed on the website that explains how the new giving system works.

"By not embracing modern forms of giving, we are actually excluding people from being able to participate fully in worship," Austin says. Opening the door to electronic giving does not have to mean closing the door to participating in the offertory in the worship service. With careful thought and planning, church leaders can both remove the barriers to giving and increase participation in worship.

excerpt from Interpreter article by The Rev. Jeremy Steele, pastor, Christ UMC in Mobile, Al.

United Methodist Church Giving is about people working together to accomplish something bigger than themselves. In so doing, we effect change around the world, all in the name of Jesus Christ. To read stories about the generosity of United Methodists click here.

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