Tuesday, September 22, 2009

21st Century Christians? (Part 2)

It's been longer than I'd planned to write this second installment of this topic, but here goes:

Another of the ways the church needs to come on into the 21st century is in our use of the internet, websites and electronic communication. One of the things we're doing right now in our church is sending out our church's monthly newsletter electronically to those who are willing to receive it that way. So we have reduced the number of those sent by snail-mail by 30%. We estimate that this saves as much as $100 a month in postage, paper, etc. And not only is it more cost effective and less wasteful (and less impact on the environment), but it also allows us to use more color, better quality photos, etc.

Another way I've become convinced we need to fully utilize is providing a way for people to give money, to make financial contributions to the church online. I read an article a year or two ago (I can't remember the publication) that indicated that in 10 years, paper bank checks will be obsolete. And yet how does the church receive almost all of its contributions? By paper bank check. So the main way we receive revenue will disappear in perhaps a decade. This alone is reason to provide the option for people to give electronically. In the community in which I now live and serve, I have noticed myself at least half a dozen businesses that have within the last six months posted a sign that says "We no longer accept checks - only cash or debit/credit cards."

A perhaps even more significant reason to provide electronic and internet based giving is demographic. One of the struggles that all churches deal with is developing younger people as givers. And I've talked to many people of this generation (under 40), who don't EVER write checks. They pay bills, make purchases, etc. online, using a debit or credit card, or in some cases, a direct transfer from their bank account initiated on the web. So how are we to expect them to give if we don't allow them to do so in the manner in which they live their lives financially?

I was talking to a friend of mine recently who work in the area of stewardship for the church (a man in his 60's or so) who said he was rather uncomfortable with the notion of giving by credict card, and was quite disapproving when he saw a card swipe machine in a church narthex. He was mentioning this to a friend of his who is about the same age or maybe a bit older and the friend commented: "You know, early in the 20th century churches had to make the controversial decsion to start accepting checks. Up till then, they only received cash for contributions. And church leaders at the time objected or raised concerns about that. 'What if people don't have the money in their accounts to cover the bank note?' This is really no different than that." Of course, every church I have served has had the experience regularly of having contribution checks bounce or returned for insufficient funds.

In talking to some churches that have been receiving contributions online from credit cards for a few years have told me that the people who utilize this method of giving aren't those who struggle with debt. They are people who tend to pay of their cards every month and use them for convienience or for points/miles, etc.

Lastly, enabling people to "click to give" on the church's website increases traffic on the website. At the same time, people who frequent the website are more likely to give if they can do so easily. Other possibilities include providing for folks to register for camps, banquets, and other events and pay for their tickets, registration, etc. right there and the church office avoids the hassle of trying to collect for those things, determining who's paid and who hasn't, etc. (That alone seems a great reason to explore this!).

This issue is another application of something I heard Dr. George Hunter say in a conference a few years ago: "The church is poised and ready for the 1950's. Should they ever come around again, we'll be ready!"