It is amazing what we can now accomplish in the electronic, digital environment. I now pay most of my bills online. I buy many Christmas and birthday gifts online, as well as personal indulgences. And now I can choose to give my tithe online or at a kiosk. Why use cash or write checks when you can accomplish the same with a few clicks?
Not that this idea is very new, of course. I developed an online donation method for a non-profit some 8 years ago. It worked off the same shopping cart system I had installed for their book and video sales, the only difference being you did not get anything in return.
Churches have been slow to embrace this element of technology. While many churches have slick websites and multimedia elements in their weekly services, few have dared add electronic giving to their dazzling array of features. So it was to my pleasant surprise a few months ago when I noticed our church had quietly added several “giving kiosks” around campus. They have already been doing online giving for a little while, but these kiosks now gave people instant access to e-giving right at the point of contact.
Companies like Rocky Mountain Media have been marketing church kiosks since 1994, but until recently most of them were primarily for signing in children to class. Now they are being used as reverse ATMs to give money to the church. In a sense, they are little different from the ordering kiosks I recently saw in a McDonald’s in Winter Haven FL. Skip the teenage clerk behind the counter, and type it in quickly yourself.
Being the ever-inquisitive person I am, I had to try out the giving kiosk. Yesterday I grabbed my wife’s arm after the service, and said, “Hey Honey, let’s go give our tithe!”
I almost think my church is being a little apologetic about having these new-fangled machines. There has only been brief mention about them in the video announcements. But the fact that I had to walk between two Greeters and around the corner of the Information Desk to even get to the machine tells me these are low-priority items right now. If God depended on these machines, He’d be in a world of hurt right now.
Aside from this little gripe, my experience was actually quite positive. The kiosk had a full QWERTY keyboard, along with a tracker ball mouse and a right- and left-clicker. There was also a card swiper, but users could opt out of that and instead key everything in.
I first had to create a user account, which is nothing new for anyone who has bought anything online. As long as I can remember my username and password, I will presumably have access to the Throne of Grace (or at least the offering bucket).
This one-time-only exercise then led to where the wallet meets the Almighty. I entered my Visa card number, the amount I wished to give, and then clicked. After a confirmation screen (“Are you sure you want to do this?”), I was finished with my Old Testament obligation and ready to scream out of the parking lot, headed to lunch. Two emails awaited me at home (one for creating an account, the other for donating). Were I savvy enough and owned a Blackberry or iPhone, I could have viewed those emails while driving to lunch.
When it is time to give again, I need only return to the kiosk, login, and enter the amount. Everything else (including my Visa number) has been saved. Spiritual metaphor? Perhaps.
The biggest hurdle to the success of both online giving and churck kiosks is the general resistance I do not doubt exists among many churchgoers. Should one use a credit card to pay one’s tithe? What would Dave Ramsey say? And what about the discount rate the church must pay their merchant account processor for parishioners using Visa and MasterCard?
But there is also a flipside. Perhaps the retail credit card effect will work for churches, too. It is often assumed that customers will spend more when they can pay with plastic, so, the reasoning goes, they might give more when able to do likewise.
Of course, one other thing that probably has not been considered is the possibility of identity theft. My church now has as much information about me as does Amazon.com. What if someone hacks into the system? When my days are o’er, some fraud could pass through the pearly gates on my dime.
Or better yet, go to that other place.
Dr “Ponder That One For Awhile” Gerlich