Church Online Giving: 14 Factors to Consider

Most churches today offer some form of online giving. This is a recent change. Churches have historically been more hesitant than corporations or nonprofits to adopt new technology, but the tide has been slowly turning for years. And online giving continues to grow more popular every year.

But what if the fact that everyone else is doing it isn’t enough to convince your elder board?

If your church is still warming up to the idea of online giving, you need to have a larger conversation about the issues surrounding this trend. Churches, nonprofits, and corporations around the globe are embracing financial technology in new ways, and it appears to be having a positive impact on charitable giving. But does that mean it’s right for your church?

To make a responsible decision, your church needs to….

  • Explore why online giving is so popular.
  • Investigate possible security concerns.
  • Talk through the spiritual implications of this change.
  • Discuss what could be gained from this shift.

We’ve broken these down into 14 factors your leadership team should take into consideration.

1. People don’t carry cash on them anymore

Passing around an offering plate gives people three ways to give to your church:

  • Cash
  • Checks
  • Credit card or bank account information

Checks require forethought. And people are generally pretty hesitant to pass around their personal information, even if you give them a secure envelope. So, for people who only remember to give during an offering, cash is the most convenient thing to put in the plate.

But there’s a problem with that.

People are carrying less cash. In 2014, Bankrate found that 59 percent of people carry $50 or less in cash—and that was four years ago. With the advent of credit cards, cash is no longer the most convenient form of currency. And since the more recent explosion of mobile credit card readers, even small businesses can accept plastic, so there’s less reason to carry cash.

So if the offering basket is the primary way people give at your church, people are going to give whatever they happen to have in their pockets—which might be significantly less than what they feel called to give.

To see how your church can increase donations using excellent mobile giving technology, talk to a Pushpay expert today. You’ll learn the exact tools and strategies your church can employ to encourage generosity by meeting people where they’re at.

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2. Checks are becoming less popular

How many transactions do you break out your checkbook for? Most people can probably count them on one hand. Maybe even one finger: Rent. But even that frequently happens online now. The bottom line is fewer and fewer checks are written every year.

When you ask people to use a payment method they never use for anything else, you’re increasing the friction between their desire to give and their ability to do it. Yes, it takes discipline to surrender our resources—but that doesn’t mean we should make it harder for people.

Teaching the next generation to give shouldn’t have to mean teaching them how to write a check.

3. Online giving takes less time

It might seem disruptive to ask people to pull out their phones during church. But every single service, churches lose precious minutes and stifle momentum by passing the plate.

People can give online at any time. And since most online giving platforms let people save their information, they can login and give even faster next time. Not to mention if people choose a recurring giving option, it all happens automatically.

Online giving is fast. It’s simple. And if it was the norm for your church, you could spend more time in worship or in the Word. It may not seem like much in a single service, but added up over the whole year, a few minutes each service takes hours out of the time you have with your congregation.

If you have an offering time, make it a choice for people who want to give—not a default based on how you’ve always done things.

4. Physical money is easier to lose

When someone gives digitally, the money is transferred directly into your church’s account, and the transaction is automatically recorded. But you don’t have that luxury with physical money. It has to change hands several times before it’s deposited.

And during that time, it’s vulnerable.

Physical money can get lost or forgotten. (Sometimes the most secure locations are the hardest to remember.) It can get stolen when it sits in someone’s car on their way to the bank. Cash can easily be miscounted when fallible humans physically count each bill. And unless they paid with a check, your congregation may not have their own official records of how much they gave.

5. There are multiple ways to provide online giving

When you think of online giving, it might bring to mind hideous web forms from the 90s. Those still exist, but they’re not your only (or best) option anymore:

  • Nonprofits, corporations, and churches have successfully used text-to-give options for more than a decade. In 2005, the American Red Cross used text-to-give to raise $22 million to support victims of Hurricane Katrina.
  • Giving kiosks blend online donations with in-person giving by providing a physical location for people to donate at your church. (This works well for the small percentage of people who don’t have smartphones.)
  • And mobile giving apps make it even easier for your congregation to give by putting your church one tap away on their phones.

6. The increase in giving can outweigh the fees

A common hesitation with online giving is that a small percentage of what your congregation gives to you goes to the company that provides your online giving. Some churches charge this fee to the donor, and others simply eat the additional cost.

But should fees stop you from providing people with the option to give online? Probably not.

At Pushpay, over half of our customers see a 75 percent increase in recurring giving within the first year. By offering online giving, churches often tap into new, previously unreached donor pools and see increased giving from their congregation. So despite the fees, you should have more resources to pour into ministry and other church functions.

7. People can give online at any time

Generosity shouldn’t be limited to Sunday. When people can give online, your monthly giving doesn’t depend on how well you execute the giving moment. In fact, if everyone gave online regularly, it might even feel strange to have a “giving moment” at all.

Online giving lets people give whenever they want. Before church. After church. In the middle of the night when they remember. After reading an inspiring passage about generosity. While watching a recorded video of your service during the week. And they can even schedule their donations to happen automatically, right after payday.

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8. Online giving solutions can integrate with your other tools

The best online giving platforms integrate with your accounting and church management software. Unlike an offering plate, a good digital giving tool talks to your other programs, so when it’s time to send those year-end statements, it’s easy to fetch all the info you need—in bulk. And exporting your giving data directly to your accounting software helps you track where your money is coming from and where it’s going all year long.

9. Your congregation already brings their smartphones to church

Some church leaders are concerned that their congregations—especially elderly members—won’t adopt online giving even if it’s offered. You don’t want to pay for something people won’t use. But the reality is that even among older demographics, most people already have smartphones at church. In fact, Pew Research Center states that 77 percent of all Americans have smartphones.

And those phones aren’t all sitting in people’s pockets, either. Some members of your congregation are already following along with the sermon on their Bible app. YouVersion alone has accumulated more than 100 million downloads. Even if you don’t have a mobile giving solution, your congregation can be ready to give online in just a few taps.

10. Seniors use the internet, too

Obviously, you wouldn’t want to adopt a new giving method if it was too complicated for your elderly members. But most senior citizens already use the internet.

Pew Research Center says only 42 percent of those over age 65 have smartphones, but 67 percent of seniors say they go online. That’s a huge increase from 2,000 when only 14 percent of them did.
Internet usage isn’t nearly as prevalent in seniors, but it’s increased by over 400 percent in the last two decades. As more tech-savvy generations grow older, that percentage will only continue to climb. So even if you have a high percentage of seniors in your congregation, your church can still benefit from an online giving platform.

Most online giving options are relatively easy for you to set up and easy for your congregation to learn. And to make sure nobody gets left behind, some giving platforms (like us) have a thorough onboarding system that walks people through the whole process.

11. The Bible doesn’t say you have to pass a plate

Generosity is a Christian mandate. But the ways we express it have varied widely over the centuries and across cultures. When you read Bible verses about tithing, there’s no mention of passing a plate or basket of any kind. In fact, weekly offerings like we see today didn’t emerge until the nineteenth century.

In the 1800s, people rented pews and pledged gifts in books that were passed around the church. Before the American revolution (and even after, for a time) churches were funded by the government, through taxes. And throughout Scripture we see early Christians selling all they have and sharing their resources directly with those in need:

“All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
–Acts 2:44–47, NIV

12. People still have to trust God when they give automatically

A common objection to online giving—specifically recurring giving, which online giving enables—is that it’s less spiritual than the physical act of giving, because the giver doesn’t have to make a conscious decision to give each time.

The spiritual health of your church is obviously more important than how much money you have. But God is more worried about our attitude towards giving than he is about how we give. In 2 Corinthians 9:7, Paul says, “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

If someone reluctantly puts money in the plate each week out of guilt or obligation, is it more spiritual than someone who cheerfully gives automatically? No.

And suppose a family prayerfully decides to have a certain amount automatically withdrawn from their bank account each month. It isn’t really a one-time decision. They have to be conscious of that commitment all month long. They have to adjust their budget accordingly and make sacrifices. Each month is still a renewal of that commitment, and it still takes discipline, even if they made the decision to give automatically long ago.

13. Online giving doesn’t stop people from writing checks

There’s nothing that says you have to roll out online giving and remove all other giving options. You don’t have to choose one or the other.

Without a digital option, you limit the ways that people can give. Changing the ways you limit people won’t help. Some people really are more comfortable writing checks or handing over cash each week. And that’s great. They can continue doing so after you launch online giving for everyone else.
Online giving can supplement what you’re already doing without disrupting it.

14. Young people are more likely to miss opportunities to give in person

Right now, it might not feel like that big of a deal that people mostly just give to your church on weekends. But there’s another trend your leadership team should be aware of: Young people are more likely to miss church because of illness, work, social commitments, and lack of energy or interest. In fact, a 2016 State of the Plate report claimed that people in their twenties and thirties are:

  • 51% more likely to miss church because they’re sick.
  • 32% more likely to miss church because of work.
  • 24% more likely to miss church because of social commitments.
  • 21% more likely to miss church “just because.”

And on top of all that, they’re giving less money, less frequently. It’s going to take all the tools you have to combat this trend and continue growing when your congregation gets older. As the world around them becomes increasingly digital, younger generations are going to be increasingly resistant to anything that’s not.

Consider the Cost of Not Offering Online Giving

In the mid-80s, 57 percent of charitable giving went toward religious organizations and churches. Now it’s less than one third. And while all nine major types of charitable giving are increasing, churches have only recently joined this trend after years of gradual decline. Why?

There are lots of possible factors, but one that can’t be overlooked is the rise of online giving. Nonprofits and ministries—which don’t have the crutch of weekly gatherings to provide regular offerings—were quicker to adapt to new ways for people to give, and they’ve seen a slow increase in giving since the recession.

People are still walking through your doors with money in their pockets. But it doesn’t look anything like it once did. And nobody’s putting their phone in your basket. So how is your church going to address that?

Pushpay was designed to help churches drive generosity in the digital age. People use mobile devices to pay bills, send and receive money, and even shop for groceries. And they expect to be able to donate to your church using their mobile phone too. The Pushpay digital giving platform encourages giving by offering people a simple and easy-to-use platform to securely send you donations. Used by over 7,000 churches, Pushpay has helped churches not only stabilize their yearly planned-giving and overcome the summer slump, but also drive generosity that helps fund new ministries and missions opportunities.

To learn more about how Pushpay can drive generosity in the digital age, talk to an expert today.