Why Credit Cards Are Crippling the Church.

I’m all about convenience.

When given the option of ordering pizza for dinner or picking it up on the way home, I’ll always order. My car doesn’t have time for crank down windows. I’m an Amazon Prime member because who has time to wait more than 2 days for something they bought online?

When it comes to the conveniences and luxuries of life I’m all for them.

But what I know is that most of those conveniences come at a cost. With Pizza there’s a $2.50 delivery fee plus the tip you leave for the driver. Ordering a movie On Demand costs double the cost of driving to the nearest Redbox.

I understand that and make that decision willingly to afford myself a few extra minutes with my family, or if I’m being honest because I’m just flat out lazy some days.

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Photo Credit Here

Over the past decade I’ve started seeing more and more churches accept credit and debit cards as a method for receiving tithes and offerings.

It’s not to the point where they’re passing a digital offering plate down the aisle where you just swipe your card (although I’m sure that exists somewhere.) But at most major churches around the country, you can find self service kiosks to swipe your card, enter the amount you wish to give, and do your giving this way.

Churches also have setup to receive your giving by a card through their websites.

Wow! We don’t have to remember the checkbook or grab cash from our bank the day before. Plus if you’ve got a rewards credit card, you’ll get reward points for giving! Yay! Reward points and Jesus! It’s super convenient and sure can make that part of our life easier.

But giving isn’t supposed to be convenient or easy. It’s supposed to be a sacrifice. It’s a part of worship and an outward display of our acknowledgement that God owns every aspect of our life, including our finances. And when we make giving a convenience or something that seems easy, or put an opportunity for reward points because of our generosity,we’re crippling the point of giving in the first place.

I accept debit cards as the primary form of payment for my business. Over 90% of my sales are done online, so it’s just part of daily operations for me. But with accepting those cards comes an expense. I’m a rather small business so it costs me about 3% of each transaction to process those cards.

When churches accept cards because it’s an added convenience for their members, it becomes a huge expense item in their operating budget. If your church takes in $10M a year in credit/debit card giving and they pay 2% to process those transactions, they are spending $200,000 a year just to receive their offerings.

How many children that are under-resourced in your local community could receive school supplies for $200,000? How many local families could your church feed if they didn’t have to pay card processing fees?

When we make our church giving a mere convenience it waters down the significance of giving and cripples the churches ability to make an impact. Stop relying on convenience and remember to bring your checkbook.

Comments

  1. Even though it is a convenience, how many more people now give because of these options? The church I used to attend just started electronic giving and giving has gone up. Also, even if people have it deducted from their accounts weekly/bi-weekly/monthly that is still a sacrifice, isn’t it? I mean you have that already set in your budget and it is a guideline in your life that isn’t as easy to change then not bringing in your checkbook. I do however cringe at the amount it takes a church to receive electronic giving.

    • I can understand why churches would do this. This isn’t a call to churches to stop making the option available, but a call to the Faithful to be the best steward possible. The sacrifice is lessened if you’re receiving reward points and airlines miles as a bonus for your tithe.

  2. Jon Noggle says:

    I think there is a problem with math assumptions here. Based on the article, the church must pay $200,000 a year to receive $10M. However, we can’t assume the church was going to bring in the same amount with or without credit card use. In my experience as a staff pastor and being in board meetings, there are basically two things that happen when giving goes down. First of all, when someone leaves for vacation, most of them do not send in their tithes and offerings, nor do they ever “make it up” when they get back. And secondly, for those who don’t have enough cash or forgot their checkbook, they are very unlikely to make it up the next week either. So is it better to have a credit card option available because these people have plastic on them and could give, let’s say $100 each week for tithes, and pay the $3 fee, or miss out on the $100 all together? Obviously, any church or business will prefer cash or check, but if the people don’t have it, I think the church would be better off to have the $97 over the risk only receiving the $5 that is left in the wallet.

    • You’re right. From a church perspective the math makes sense to do it that way. But as a discussion about Christ Followers, what the heck?! “I forgot” isn’t a valid excuse for not giving. This is a call to be the best steward possible, and giving your tithe via debit/credit cards is not the best way.

  3. How does tithing by online bill pay fit into the equation? We pay our tithe twice a month by bill pay. No cost incurred by the church, yet it’s convenient for us. Thoughts? And as the pastor’s wife in a small church, do I have an obligation to demonstrate the ” outward display of our acknowledgement that God owns every aspect of our life, including our finances.”?
    Not being antagonistic. Honestly curious.
    Sue

    • ACH or bill-pay I think are great! You’re giving your tithe responsibly and still being a good steward by not causing the church to pay fees in order to accept your tithe and still getting the convenience benefits. I can say from personal experience, I feel the pain and sacrifice significantly more when I write a check or get cash out of the bank to give than just swiping a card. It’s a tangible reminder of who really owns every aspect of our life.

  4. Casey,

    As the stewardship minister and Lay Leader of a small congregation I agree with you fully. I also know that many churches choose to go with this option and I understand all the points made above about why. I think the issue is that we aren’t really teaching giving, generosity, stewardship, tithing and the reasons for it in church. Most pastors seem more willing to discuss sex, marriage and other controversial topics LONG before they talk about money. Honestly, for that matter, many pastors are dealing with debt of their own and other issues of financial stewardship and don’t feel fully qualified to talk on money. Yet regardless it is our responsibility as teachers and leaders in the church to teach on these issues and teach what God’s word says about them.

    (yes I know credit cards aren’t mentioned in the Bible, but debt, tithing, stewardship, and generosity are.)

    Scott

  5. Casey, I’ve never met a more passionate and respectable “Christian finance guy” than you. I’ve never met you, but through your writings I’ve come to trust you.

    However, in my opinion, this article explore the “theoretical” costs of credit/debit cards, but doesn’t take into account the “practical” impact.

    If you look at 2 churches of the exact same size, demographics, geography, etc., do you know which one will take up more tithes/offering? It’s the church that offers and promotes digital giving.

    In fact, digital giving is the #1 characteristics of all fully funded churches.

    There are fees associated with online giving, but fees are cheaper than what it would costs to hire a bookkeeper. It also offers more protection because the church is less responsible for physical management of tithes and offering (lowers the chance of theft and impropriety).

    Additionally, you make the argument that giving online is somehow less meaningful or sacrificial. In truth, it allows me to be more faithful in my giving. Now, if I get paid on Monday, I’m able to give on Monday. I don’t have to wait until the next Sunday when the plate it passed.

    Finally, in your example, you used a church with $10 mil in revenues. Over 95% of churches have budgets of less than $500k.

    Assuming half is giving online (which is more than the current national average) with 3% in fees, you’re talk about $7,500 in annual costs. Knowing intimately about this topic, I can assure you that the opportunity costs of not offering online giving is much higher…probably 5 to 10 times higher.

    We began offering online giving about 5 years ago. In about 2 years time our total giving doubled…that was directly correlated with allowing people to give online.

    Keep doing what you are doing! I love reading your stuff.

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