Why Online Giving Matters
Congregations that offer online giving typically see an increase in giving. Rev. Freeman Palmer reflects on why online giving can help sustain the ministry of a congregation.
Why Online Giving Matters
Rev. Freeman Palmer, Central Atlantic Conference Minister
Before serving in my present capacity, I served as an Associate Conference Minister for the New York Conference. During that time, I coordinated worship services for our Annual Meeting. For our 2018 meeting in Syracuse, I asked the Praise Team from one of our congregations in New York City to provide music for our opening worship. While the group was en route, the pastor asked if I could send money for unforeseen expenses during their journey. Being of a certain age and admittedly technical aptitude (e.g., nightmares of my high school Fortran class!), my sole experience with immediately sending cash was getting the “Western Union Man” (an old R&B song by artist Jerry Butler) to make this happen. Although I knew Syracuse was the New York Conference office location, I had come to know parts of the city relatively well. Yet, I neither knew Syracuse well enough to find a Western Union office nor did I have time during the 11th hour of the Annual Meeting planning to do so. Those of you who have ever helped plan an Annual Meeting know what I mean. So, asking how to furnish this cash, the pastor spoke of two options: CashApp and Venmo. The former I had vaguely heard about, the latter not at all. Yet understanding our need for their presence and ministry in our worship, I downloaded both apps. Through a self-taught crash course, I was able to get the money to the pastor and the group in fifteen minutes. And later, I welcomed the Praise Team to Syracuse, and they blessed our opening worship in song.
Reflecting on that experience reminded me of the incredible technological advances that enable us to be stewards of our God-given resources. For several years I had fulfilled my local church pledge electronically. However, COVID-19 thrust many people and churches, quickly, into the world of electronic stewardship as it were. As practically in all ways of being the church, pastors and leaders took crash courses in online giving. And it seems that many remarkably succeeded. The UCC Center for Analytics, Research, Development, and Data (“CARDD”) published a Survey Report: COVID-19 and Our Congregations (https://www.ucc.org/wp-content/uploads/unitedchurchofchrist/pages/8433/attachments/original/1608072198/COVID-19_Survey_Report_December_2020.pdf?1608072198) in December of last year. CARDD conducted an email survey of over 800 of our ministers in a variety of pastoral settings. Almost 42 percent (an excellent response rate statistically) of these pastors shared the following (as of mid-August through September of last year:
- 49% of congregations offered electronic giving before March 1, 2020
- 14% of congregations made electronic giving options available since March 1, 2020
- 29% of congregations did not have electronic giving options
- 8% of congregations were considering electronic giving options
- 89% of pastors did not plan to pass offering plates when resuming in-person worship
- Only 7% reported a significant decrease in giving
- Almost 40% reported that giving had stayed the same
- The majority of congregations (58%) reported either constant or increased giving
The above responses demonstrated the effect of electronic giving and its importance, especially during COVID-19 for our churches’ lives and witnesses.
Suppose your congregation happens to be among the roughly 37% who may still be considering or do not have electronic giving options. In that case, I strongly encourage its consideration from my own experience. In my role, I make many virtual visits to congregations on Sundays, sometimes more than one congregation in my Conference. As an expression of both stewardship and worship, I donate to that congregation to support its ministry. Yes, as with all things, electronic giving comes with a cost, in most cases a fee. Yet consider that cost for one such as I. I am far more likely to make a click or two on my laptop or mobile device than to find a check, write it, place it in an envelope, and walk it to my mailbox during worship. From an opportunity cost standpoint, the fee paid by the church might be far less than the donation not received. As with many things virtual, I have found electronic giving to be a Godsend during this time. If your congregation does not offer electronic giving, please consider it and connect with resources from your Association, Conference, and our national setting which may help you do so. I have included some resources here and hope they will be helpful.
I certainly do not pray for another pandemic such as COVID-19. As President Biden put it in his first address to the Nation, this past year or so has been an incalculable ‘time of loss of life and of living. I don’t wish this on any generation in future.’ Yet, I believe that technology, a God-given blessing through human intelligence and creativity, has been a pathway leading us to ways of being the church never considered or even imagined. Electronic giving is but one of the lessons I pray we learn from and that this and other lessons will serve us well for years to come.
The Cornerstone Fund hosted an excellent conversation last year on “The New World of Church Stewardship: From Offering Plates to Online Giving.” (https://vimeo.com/402650334) Panelists included Rev. Courtney Strange-Tregear (Minister for Church Vitality, Pacific Northwest Conference), Rev. Dr. Peter Wiley (First Congregational Church of Hudson), and Rev. Courtney Clayton Jenkins (South Euclid UCC).
Considerations for Online Giving Tipsheet from the Office of Philanthropy provides some ideas as you look to implement an option for your congregation.