WAKE FOREST, N.C (BP)-–Click. Click. Double-click.
A new form of worship in the church?
Online giving is now available at many churches, which are taking advantage of the Internet and making it easier for church members, or anyone for that matter, to contribute. Prospective contributors with either a credit or debit card can give electronically via the church’s website. In some instances, an auto-draft from a bank account or recurring payments on a credit card can be arranged.
Making donations or paying obligations via the Internet is not a new concept. Many Americans pay bills online or have mortgages automatically deducted from the bank account. The question is, should we embrace online giving that appears to be, undoubtedly, the future of giving in the church?
Perhaps, but I have some concerns. First, will online giving be a supplement or detriment to the Sunday worship? Wise stewardship of the resources that God provides demonstrates spiritual maturity. When we give, we tangibly and willfully relinquish those resources as an expression of praise, thanksgiving and worship to God.
Giving provides us an opportunity to test our hearts to see if we love money more than God. The attitude of the heart is what concerns God most and giving away what we hold dear ascribes true worth to God. Giving is both an individual and corporate act of worship and the expediency of online giving may detract from thoughtful worship as we give.
Unfortunately, many worship services treat the passing of the collection plates as perfunctory and certainly not as a time of worship. All too often, the offering is tacked on to the end of the service while announcements are being made. In some churches, the offering is not even collected during the service. Donation boxes are placed near the doors so as not to consume precious time during the service. These approaches are unfortunate and deprive the church of an opportunity to worship and praise God corporately by giving together as a body, a pattern observed in Scripture.
In the Old Testament, God told Moses to ask for a contribution from the people for materials to construct the tabernacle. The Israelites’ generous response of daily donations caused Moses to declare a moratorium on giving. In Acts, Christians who sold property brought their contributions and laid them at the Apostles’ feet. Paul, writing to the church in Corinth, encouraged the church to be diligent in setting aside money on the first day of the week so that they would be prepared with a generous gift.
While none of these instances prove that all Christians must give at the same time and together, they do indicate that there may be more to public, corporate giving than we realize. Observing everyone giving to the Kingdom allows the church body to share life together and build community.
Second, will online giving help or harm members of a local church? Online giving can reinforce the individualism and pragmatism that engulfs the church. It is not a secret that very few Christians give at least 10 percent of their income to the church. Why? Either there is a dearth of preaching on the subject of stewardship or people simply do not want to give away their money; a lack of giving testifies to all that they do not understand the grace of Jesus Christ. This issue of giving is ultimately related to the condition of our hearts.
How do some churches solve the lack of giving? One solution is to make it easier for members to give via online. Software companies market the benefits of online giving to the church; financial contributions will increase substantially.
Increased giving is good, but one has to ask why members are now suddenly giving via online when earlier they were not diligent to give on a regular basis. Is the problem really that it is difficult to give while at church? Churches need to be careful that giving is not done out of obligation but rather with a willing, cheerful heart.
Third, will automated giving inadvertently foster the notion that giving to God is similar to paying bills or taxes? Bills and taxes are obligations for services rendered. Giving to God is an act of love because of God’s grace in our lives. The New Testament pattern of giving is based upon sacrifice and generosity from a heart that loves God. Online giving may encourage giving out of obligation rather than out of love.
Finally, should the church ask its members to use credit cards to give? It is a fact that Christians struggle with credit card debt. Many households could not survive financially without a credit card. By using a credit card, is the member not giving out of the resources of VISA rather than out of what he actually possesses? Should the church be encouraging this type of activity? I think not.
Certainly there are appropriate uses for online giving and there are legitimate advantages for both the members and the church despite the undisclosed transaction fee of one to two percent. Online giving can, however, negatively impact both the worship service and individuals in the rush to increase coffers of the church. Online giving may be financially profitable for the church, but it is unprofitable for corporate and individual spirituality.
Russell Woodbridge is associate dean of Southeastern College in Wake Forest, a school of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.