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Giving from the heart — with a click or tap

E-giving on the rise as more Christians contribute to the church online.

When the collection plate is passed at the Figueroa Church of Christ in Los Angeles, it’s not unusual for minister James A. Maxwell to see members tapping on their smartphones.

Don’t worry: These tech-savvy brothers and sisters aren’t distracted. Rather, they’re contributing what they’ve purposed in their hearts via a mobile app.

James A. Maxwell“It takes just a matter of seconds,” Maxwell said of the digital transactions.

At a growing number of Churches of Christ nationwide, Christians skip taking cash out of their wallets or writing a check.

Instead, they use tools such as automatic bank drafts, debit card readers and even text messages to give to God electronically.

“While I sometimes worry about the example I set for others by not putting anything in the plate, I feel the automatic withdrawal is a huge blessing,” said Mike Avery, youth minister for the Memorial Church of Christ in Houston.

“I don’t have to worry about making up missed contributions when I am out of town for a youth event or remember to bring my checkbook,” Avery added. “Before I gave online, I always missed at least one or two weeks of my commitment each year. Now, it is easy and consistent, and I get an online report at the end of the year for taxes.”

In the larger religious world, the concept of “e-tithing” is not new. It has made headlines for at least 15 years. Companies such as easyTithe, PushPay and tithe.ly serve thousands of houses of worship.

However, only in recent years has the practice gained traction among a significant number of Churches of Christ, The Christian Chronicle found in interviews with church leaders nationwide.

“Basically, online giving means no more excuses for not being able to support the church financially because you were out of town or you were ill,” said Maxwell, who splits his time between serving the Seattle-area Tukwila Church of Christ and the Figueroa congregation, where he preaches the first and third Sundays of each month. “It helps offset slumps in the summertime and at holidays.”

Members of the Wetzel Road Church of Christ in Liverpool, N.Y., can’t give online — yet.

David OwensBut the church is exploring possibilities for changing that, minister and elder David Owens said.

“The younger ones don’t carry cash or checks,” Owens said.

Just this fall, the Broken Arrow Church of Christ in Oklahoma rolled out an e-giving option.

The Tulsa-area church hopes to eliminate the ups and downs that occur as members travel and neglect to make up missed offerings, ministry leaders Rob Lee and Caleb Bigham said. Already, most members receive paychecks by direct deposit and pay bills online.

“The only check I wrote was to the church,” said Lee, a 35-year-old father of two. “The first week it was available, I signed up on easyTithe. It took about five minutes, and my intention is to never reorder checks again.”

Online companies charge fees — typically 1 percent to 3 percent of the amount given online. However, advocates tout increased overall contributions as more than making up for those costs.

Skeptics remain.

“Those who sell the service will tell you that your giving will go up at least 20 percent,” said Dale Jenkins, minister for the Spring Meadows Church of Christ in Spring Hill, Tenn. “But I do not believe that will be the case in Churches of Christ. I think that increase comes from churches in the larger religious world where … to stay on the roll, you have to tithe annually.”

Others worry about eliminating the community aspect of putting cash and checks in the plate.

“In our world today, we are getting more and more detached from the church and especially the community we enjoy or should be enjoying in the church together,” said Doug Edwards, an elder of the Metro Church of Christ in Sterling Heights, Mich.

“Giving is a part of the relationship we have in the body of Christ,” Edwards added. “So, while technically I enjoy the convenience of doing giving online, I wonder if it will become another way of detaching from our community in Christ.”

Steve Cloer, minister for the Southside Church of Christ in Fort Worth, Texas, sees advantages to online giving but understands the concerns.

“People set the recurring feature and then forget about it,” Cloer said. “Giving becomes like paying a bill, and there is no sense of worship to God in offering our resources for the church to use.”

Steve Cloer preaches for the Southside Church of Christ in Fort Worth, Texas. (PHOTO BY BOBBY ROSS JR.)

The solution?

“One way we have tried to negate this,” Cloer said, “is during the giving time, we mention that there is an online option. We try to preserve the ‘giving moment’ in our worship but just recognize that there are various ways of doing this — in the plate or online.”

1 Corinthians 16:2 says, “On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come, no collections will have to be made.”

Some churches make a card available in the pews for those who give online but want to place something in the plate.

The Broken Arrow church’s minister, Tim Pyles, scheduled his contribution to come out of his bank account the first day of every week.

“I guess I’m old school enough,” Pyles said, “that just knowing that electronic transfer is going to happen on Sunday just kind of seems to fit.”

Filed under: e-tithing National

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