QR codes and kiosks: signs of the times in church giving
"We knew it was important ... that we needed to move into this century."
That's one reason Rebecca Stewart said her 100-year-old church, Laurel United Methodist Church in Montana, began receiving offerings via automatic withdrawal from bank accounts and electronic fund transfer (EFT) in early April.
Another reason, she said, was to improve giving throughout the year, especially during the slump of the summer months when many people travel.
Responding to a Facebook query from Interpreter, people across the denomination said their congregations are now offering a variety of electronic giving options: automatic withdrawal, kiosks that accept debit and credit cards, giving through QR (quick response) codes—grid-like patterns scanned by smartphone cameras and converted into a website address, enabling members to quickly access church websites and set up giving profiles—and card scanners that attach to iPads and iPhones.
Laurel leaders wanted to see how the congregation responded to that option before taking on the expense of online giving, said Stewart, who serves as the church and financial secretary.
So far, she said, there hasn't been any resistance.
"By offering this, people who weren't regular givers before are on board, and that right there is what we were hoping for," Stewart said.
The four campuses of First Saints Community (United Methodist) Church in Leonardtown, Md., added online giving three months ago. Younger members were the catalyst.
"The younger people use their phones for everything," said Janet Smith, the church's administrative assistant and membership secretary. "We decided we were probably missing offerings by not making more options available to people."
The church first offered EFT several years ago for members who travelled extensively and wanted to make sure the church received their offering regularly. Now, the church also offers online giving through its website, payroll deduction and one-time giving through a QR code.
Both churches offer EFT through a company called Vanco, which the denomination's General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA) recommends churches use. The company also helps churches establish online giving. Smith's church is one of them.
The Rev. Matt Conover, director of GCFA's financial services, said more than 1,800 United Methodist churches use Vanco's EFT services.
One issue with electronic giving, Conover said, is the potential stigma associated with not giving during the service and discomfort from members when the offering plate passes them by.
Stewart said her church addresses that concern by offering members a card they can place in the plate that reads, "I give electronically."
Regular worshippers and guests at First Saints are asked to place "connect" cards providing their name, address and phone number in the offering basket, so most everyone is "giving" something.
Electronic gifts are not singled out but included as the plate offering is blessed at each worship service.
More secure, more giving
Conover said GCFA encourages churches to offer electronic giving.
"This is one of the most secure ways of making sure your church gets its money," he said.
And, Conover said, the increase in giving generated by electronic giving outweighs the cost.
"When people give electronically, giving goes up by sometimes five to 10 percent," he said. "This is another way to guarantee funds continue whether or not somebody (physically) attends."
Tita Parham is a freelance writer, editor and communications consultant based in Apopka, Fla.
Electronic giving resources
"Key Questions to Ask About Electronic Giving," www.gbod.org/lead-your-church/money-issues.