Last week I had the opportunity to speak at the Northwest Region International Catholic Stewardship council event. It was a wonderful and uplifting experience. (The event! I hope my presentation offered something to those who listened and if they were uplifted then Thanks Be to God!)
During my talk I had just finished a section of the presentation during which I thought I made a compelling case for why all of our parishes should be using an electronic giving application. There were a number of questions and comments from the audience, supporting the use of electronic giving. Then a priest in the rear of the room suggested that electronic giving applications removed people from participation at offertory and the Mass. This concern brought me to a halt momentarily while I considered the implications.
This comment may be part of the reason behind why some parishes have not moved to embrace electronic giving applications. Please consider some of the data about how the United States population performs banking and payment functions. In 2007, the US Census reported that there were 60 million electronic bank transactions versus slightly more than 20 million checks.
Americanbanker.com reported in 2010 that 80% of all households with internet access do online banking. (I propose that its possible for parishioners who do not have internet at home to use the library or even the internet provided by the parish to access their online contributions). Of the households doing online banking, 28% are ages 21 to 34, 48% are ages 35 to 54, and 24% are age 54 or older. So online banking is distributed across all age groups!
The Leadership Network survey of 1000 churches found that 40% of them plan to do electronic giving in 2011. OSV did a survey of 1000 parishes in 2009 and ALL of them that use an electronic giving application indicated that contributions increased. The OSV Online Giving Indicator shows that about 10% of parishioners are using Online Giving at those parishes who have elected to offer OSVs Online Giving.
Any individual parish may not reflect the attributes of the United States overall population, but the data should generally apply. We have overwhelmingly moved to using the internet for our financial transactions. To respond to this change, our parishes should be making it very easy for our parishioners to give to the church using whatever tool works best for them. So we should offer both envelopes and Online Giving, teach people about the use and importance of both as tools for the parish, and thank them for using the tools provided.
Pope Benedict invites us to make good use of technology for the Catholic Church:
“Without fear we must set sail on the digital sea,
facing into the deep with the same passion that has
governed the ship of the Church for two thousand
years…. [W]e want to qualify ourselves by living
in the digital world with a believer’s heart, helping
to give a soul to the Internet’s incessant flow of
communication.” 22 — POPE BENEDICT XVI (2010)
So rather than avoid electronic giving, we should harness it for the good of the parish as a tool to serve our parishioners and increase our operational efficiency. To engage our parishioners we may need to look far deeper to match talents and strengths with parish ministry and mission. While we do the more challenging work to change lives, let’s create a plan for our “offertory tools” so that it is convenient to give financial gifts and so that we also provide a way to participate actively at Mass.