Theology and online giving tied together

August 2, 2019 by Robyn Davis Sekula

If your congregation doesn’t have online giving, it is a barrier to full participation in the life of the church, says Rev. Ellie Johns-Kelley, Ministry Relations Officer for the Presbyterian Foundation.

“Giving is part of the liturgy, the work of the people, and the liturgy should be open to all,” Johns-Kelley says. “If we only take cash or check in the offering plate, it becomes a theological issue.”

Objections to offering online giving include that people aren’t accustomed to electronic transactions – particularly more senior members of a church congregation. Johns-Kelley counters this objection with this fact: social security “checks” aren’t checks anymore. Those distributions are handled electronically, landing in the recipient’s account as an electronic (ACH) deposit. Nearly every senior receives those, and probably more than you’d think pay bills online. “My Dad is 75 and he says the only check he writes is to his church,” Johns-Kelley says.

After four years of working with his church, the church finally began offering online giving, Johns-Kelley says.

Rev. Dr. Jerry Cannon, pastor of C.N. Jenkins Memorial Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, says the Session finally agreed to offer online giving for just six months and then re-evaluate. They’ve never felt the need to evaluate, and are still offering the service, seven years later, and it’s proven to be popular as electronic transactions become more commonplace. Cannon also serves as a Minister of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for the Foundation. “If you go to a gas station and try to pay at the pump, and you can’t do that, you leave and go to another gas station,” Cannon says. “It’s essential.”

Johns-Kelley, Olanda Carr (senior ministry relations officer) and Cannon presented a workshop together at Big Tent, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) conference on mission and ministry held in downtown Baltimore August 1 to 3, 2019. The biennial conference drew about 800 people this year.

Foundation online giving services

The Presbyterian Foundation offers online giving services for PC(USA) churches, ministries and Mid-Councils (Presbyteries and Synods), and 774 organizations have taken advantage of this opportunity.

The process of enrollment is quite easy and involves collecting banking and tax information to be input into the system and assigning administrative roles, says Vanessa Elkin, Vice President of Operations at the Presbyterian Foundation. Once the system is configured, an online giving link is available for the church or ministry to use in about a week. On-site and phone support is available throughout the process and Elkin’s staff is on call following the setup to answer questions.

A flat rate of two percent is deducted from each donation to support the program, much lower than other church-centric online donation platforms, and less than half the cost of commercial credit processing systems or popular online services such as PayPal. Monthly transfers of the balances are made to the church or ministry and include any interest earned.

In addition to regular recurring contributions or tithing, the Foundation can set up long term giving opportunities that help fund mission projects, capital needs or larger expenditures.

App available for giving

Johns-Kelley says she regularly attends Presbytery meetings and will gladly donate through the Give Plus app, which is tied to a church’s online giving functions, when that option is available. She says she rarely carries cash, a sentiment echoed by Olanda Carr. He also gives online when he has that option available.

As Carr’s work requires him to often travel over weekends and spend Sundays at various churches, the online option allows him to give even when he’s not physically present at church.

Carr also notes that it’s important to talk to your children about giving, especially if you’re giving online and they don’t see you put anything in the offering plate. Pew cards, which the Foundation offers to churches for free when the online accounts are set up, allow members who give online to grab a card and place it in the offering plate to represent the check or cash they might normally put in if they were not giving online. “The relationship that children have with church offering, that’s where we learn about stewardship and where stewardship actually begins,” Carr says. “There is a relationship between stewardship and those memories.”

Robyn Davis Sekula is Vice President of Communication and Marketing for the Presbyterian Foundation. You can reach her at (502) 569-5101 or robyn.sekula@presbyterianfoundation.org.