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Online Giving For Churches: Is It Spiritually Profitable?

Is online giving for churches spiritually profitable? Can it be? I think so.

In my last post, I talked about how some churches communicate the benefits of online giving on their church donation pages. I explained that building spiritually-profitable donation pages is God’s design for our church websites. That’s because using church donation pages to foster maturity in the Christian life is His priority (Ephesians 4:11-13; Colossians 1:28-29). Making the most of every opportunity to encourage Christian maturity is good (Galatians 6:10), and should be our priority, too.

Whether your church offers online giving or not, the ideas discussed in that post offer a perspective of our donation pages as discipleship opportunities for influencing the kind of intentional, heart-felt giving that pleases God (2 Corinthians 9:7).

As I mentioned in that post, my church doesn’t currently offer an online giving solution. Researching the option has been a real eye-opener for me. For example, I was surprised to discover that some people consider all online giving to be a “tool of the devil.” I don’t agree with that. But I do believe that, like any other tool meant for good, online giving has the potential to be used in ways that are unprofitable.

Russell Woodbridge, seminary professor and co-author of Health, Wealth & Happiness: Has the Prosperity Gospel Overshadowed the Gospel of Christ?, expressed numerous concerns he had for churches embracing online giving. At the time of his writing, he believed that,

Online giving may be financially profitable for the church, but it is unprofitable for corporate and individual spirituality.

Though I do not agree with his conclusion, I do think he raises some very valid concerns. I thought these were good starting points for thinking through the possible effects online giving might have on our ministry and the people we serve.

Here are the four main concerns he addresses, along with my thoughts and recommendations I would propose to my own church:

Will online giving be a supplement or detriment to the Sunday worship?

Woodbridge discusses two main concerns for how online giving may be detrimental to the Sunday worship:

  1. Giving is both an individual and corporate act of worship and the expediency of online giving may detract from thoughtful worship as we give.
  2. Observing everyone giving to the Kingdom (during Sunday worship) allows the church body to share life together and build community.

I agree with his concerns, but not with his conclusion. If we were talking about completely replacing corporate giving with online giving, I would agree. That would be detrimental.

Collecting an offering during the worship service allows the church body an opportunity to worship God corporately, share life together, and build community. But even corporate giving can be practiced with distant hearts and wrong motives.

My recommendation: I agree with Woodbridge: God is most concerned with the attitude of the heart as we give. So, I would propose that my church take care to create content for our church donation page that supplements and even expands upon the sound doctrine taught from the pulpit. Truth-filled teaching and support—offline and online—on topics like money, stewardship, giving, etc., will encourage worshipful giving regardless of the method used to offer the gift.

Will online giving help or harm members of a local church?

Woodbridge states,

Online giving can reinforce the individualism and pragmatism that engulfs the church.

He goes on to explore possible reasons why people don’t want to give when the plate is passed. He suggests that some churches attempt to solve the lack of giving by believing that making giving easier is the solution. So, as a knee-jerk response, they turn to online giving and put their faith in the claims made by software companies: financial contributions will increase substantially.

While Woodbridge’s concern seems more focused on the heart of the giver, I’m concerned about the motivation of church leaders offering the solution. I would ask, “Who are we putting our hope in to supply the resources we need? Who are we really depending on?”

As Christ followers, these are the kinds of “thin lines” we encounter every day. Sometimes, we don’t even realize what side of the line we’re on until our faith is tested. And, loss or lack is a great faith-tester.

My recommendation: I agree with Woodbridge: this issue of giving is ultimately related to the condition of our hearts. So, I would propose that the leadership of my church be careful to consider our own motivations for adding an online giving solution to our ministry. The desire to make giving convenient is okay. But, we must be diligent to guard against overlooking the moral principles underlying giving, like faith (Matthew 23:23-24), and teaching others to do the same.

Will automated giving inadvertently foster the notion that giving to God is similar to paying bills or taxes?

I agree with Woodbridge’s line of thinking here. In fact, I think the adage, “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should,” applies.

In my previous post, I explained how convenient it is for me to use my bank’s automatic options to manage money. Using “set it and forget it”, recurring options for building savings accounts and paying debts is great. But, giving our offerings to God is not like paying bills (at least, it shouldn’t be).

Christian giving is an act of love and worship. Wrapped up in that act is a completely distinct motivation that calls for an intentional, fully-present gesture—mind, body, and spirit—every time we give.

My recommendation: I would propose that we do not offer an option for automatic, recurring gifts. I would propose that the giver must personally bring his offering, each time, to the donation page. Every time he comes, he’ll be presented with encouraging, supportive web page content that teaches and reminds him of the true benefits of Christian giving. With God’s help, the fruit of those online exchanges will be a change of heart and mind (Romans 12:1-2).

Should the church ask its members to use credit cards to give?

I’ve seen arguments in favor of discouraging the use of credit cards to make offerings. One of the most common, for a church’s part, is their desire to not encourage increasing debt on the part of the giver. Another common argument relates to churches avoiding the processing fees banks charge for each transaction.

My argument mirrors Woodbridge’s concern. In his article, he asks,

By using a credit card, is the member not giving out of the resources of VISA® rather than out of what he actually possesses?

My response: ABSOLUTELY! So, given that reality, I don’t understand why churches offer this option for giving at all. For clarity, let’s look at a couple of definitions. First, here’s how Merriam-Webster defines “credit”:

Money that a bank or business will allow a person to use and then pay back in the future.

Now, here’s how Investopedia defines “credit card”:

A card issued by a financial company giving the holder an option to borrow funds, usually at point of sale.

So, what are we saying by accepting credit cards on our church donation pages? Giving to God with borrowed funds is an acceptable offering. Seriously?

For online giving, I believe options that deduct money directly from an individual’s personal account best serve the giver and the church. It ensures the giver’s gift is offered, by faith, out of resources he himself possesses. Beginning with the account of the very first offering (Genesis 4:3-5), this is the pattern we see in the Bible of acceptable giving demonstrated (Hebrews 11:4).

Yes, God is concerned with our hearts in giving. But, giving the first and very best out of one’s own resources is a basic principle of practicing faithful stewardship. God approves of that kind of giving.

My recommendation: I would propose that my church not offer the option to accept credits cards online. Debit/check cards or other options that deduct funds directly from an individual’s personal account would be acceptable.

Embracing online giving for discipleship

Online giving provides a unique opportunity for our churches to embrace technology for discipleship. Prayerfully thinking through questions of impact and effect upon our ministry and the people we serve is crucial. Taking time to do so, guides us to carefully make choices that ensure our donation pages will:

  • supplement Sunday worship
  • help members of our local church
  • reinforce Christian giving as an act of love and worship
  • and, offer a convenient method for giving out of our own resources

In my next post, I’ll offer ideas for creating spiritually-profitable donation page content. I’ll be sure to include a few examples, too!

Do you think online giving can be spiritually profitable?

What do you think about using credit cards for offerings? Share your thoughts with a comment below.

Image credit: Kevin Dooley | Flickr

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