Online giving isn’t spiritually sexy, but I’ve been surprised by how it helps people grow in their faith and generosity. Recently, my church updated the process to make it easier to give from our website as well as on mobile devices. Over the past three years, I’ve watched as online giving has grown to be about 30% of our giving. It has added another option to the many other ways people want to give (e.g. cash, checks, stock, with envelopes, through a bank’s bill pay system). But, it has done something more than that. It has provided a way for the church to continue to make generosity a core value of living the Christian faith.
If the heart of the Christian faith is that “God so loved the world that God gave,” then growing generous people is about helping people practice generosity with God. I don’t think giving “to” God makes as much sense as giving “with” God. Our ultimate stance in life may be a life oriented toward God, but giving with God seems to invite a person to join in God’s work in the world. Online giving has opened up a way for people to give to the church on Sunday, sitting in the pew, or any other time of the week. In other words, people are worshipping God and practicing generosity in their lives when they feel moved to do so, whether in a worshipping community or throughout the week.
So, here’s my guiding question: how is the church growing generous givers? And, maybe a follow-up question would be. What limits do we create in church life that hinders the growing of givers? I think that online giving has shown me is that the church has a vital role to play in making disciples, encouraging and growing generosity, and it can’t simply be on Sunday morning when the plate is passed. It needs to be through active engagement with where people live and how they live today. How has the church continued to promote passing the plate as the only way to give to the church (which by the way came into existence when people started getting weekly paychecks as part of the industrial revolution) and missed opportunities to grow generous people in the process?
I tell people all the time (especially those who complain about it) that online giving may not be for them. What’s more important is that they give in ways that help them grow in their own generosity. If that is with envelopes placed in the weekly Sunday morning offering plate, fine. But, I also ask them not to make that the standard for everyone. Instead, how about we make the standard growing generous people who give their lives and their money with God and living generosity for the world God so loves.
Chip Low is Co-Pastor at the First Presbyterian Church in Yorktown, NY and a Leadership/Executive Coach.