Au­to­mated tithe: ‘Giv­ing kiosks’ raise church do­na­tions

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Greg Bluestein

MARTINEZ, Ga. — At the Stevens Creek Com­mu­nity Church, God takes credit cards. Debit cards, too. Two “giv­ing kiosks” sit just out­side the church’s chapel, next-gen­er­a­tion col­lec­tion plates that al­low church­go­ers to use their credit or debit cards to in­stantly make do­na­tions to the church.

The Rev. Marty Baker likes to call the black ter­mi­nals ATMs — “au­to­matic tithe ma­chines.”

“We’re­just­try­ing­to­con­nectwith thecul­ture,”he­said.“Andthat’show the cul­ture does busi­ness. It’s more than an ATM for Je­sus. It’s about eras­ing bar­ri­ers.”

Mr. Baker came up with the idea three years ago when his east Ge­or­gia church was pre­par­ing for a fundrais­ing drive. He re­al­ized that, like many in his 1,100-mem­ber con­gre­ga­tion,her­arely­car­ried­cash.So hehired­de­vel­op­er­stofind­away­for his flock to pay with plas­tic.

Even­tu­ally,th­ey­cob­bled­to­gether a pro­to­type that he set up at his church in early 2005.

Sincethen,thee­van­gel­i­calchurch has seen an 18 per­cent rise in do­na­tions — and an av­er­age gift of more than $100 each time a card is used.

The re­sults en­cour­aged Mr. Baker and his wife, Patty, to form a for-profit com­pany, called Se­cureGive, that sells the ter­mi­nals for be­tween $2,000 and $5,000 each and chargesa$50monthly­sub­scrip­tion fee. By the end of the year, they ex­pect to have ter­mi­nals in 15 spots across the coun­try.

The kiosks are fairly sim­ple to use.After­typing­i­na­pho­nenum­ber and­per­son­ali­den­ti­fi­ca­tion­num­ber, users swipe a credit or debit card. The ter­mi­nals al­low users to give to a spe­cific fund, such as a build­ing drive or a mis­sion. Af­ter­ward, it spits out a re­ceipt.

At Stevens Creek, where ser­vices be­gin with flashy light shows and an in-house Chris­tian band plays sal­va­tion songs, the em­brace of tech­nol­ogy has helped fos­ter a sense that this con­gre­ga­tion is on the cut­ting edge.

“We’re real. We’re in to­day,” said church vol­un­teer Dorna Adams. “We’re here where so­ci­ety is at.”

Mr. Baker com­pares his tech­nol­o­gy­tothe­daysoft­heOldTes­ta­ment when peo­ple stopped of­fer­ing sac­ri­fices and started of­fer­ing coins. “It’s the same now with bring­ing plas­tic,” he said. “It’s an evo­lu­tion — and this will take root.” And to pla­cate churches con­cerned that parish­ioner­swill­do­nate­moneythey do not have, the com­pany of­fers to build ma­chines that only ac­cept debit cards.

At the Bel Air Pres­by­te­rian Church in Los An­ge­les, it was the price that was galling, not the con­cept. The church con­sid­ered buy­ing the kiosks be­fore de­cid­ing to build a homemade ver­sion for a few hun­dred dol­lars, said Jeremy Tur­geon, the church’s in­for­ma­tion ser­vice man­ager. “It’s still a the­ory whether we could do it or not, but other churches have, so we know it’s pos­si­ble,” he said.

In some ways, the rise of the kiosks are a nat­u­ral ex­ten­sion of the on­line do­na­tions that many church Web sites now ac­cept. Phill Martin of the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Church Busi­ness Ad­min­is­tra­tion said he ex­pects even some of the most re­sis­tant churches to even­tu­ally of­fer some sort of credit-based do­na­tions.

“Whether we’ll have an of­fer­ing plate with a card reader one day, who knows,” Mr. Martin said. “But we’re cer­tainly not far from that.”

The real mar­ket, though, may windup­be­ingnon­prof­it­groups.Mr. Baker said he is in talks with New Or­leans boost­ers to set up kiosks around town so vis­i­tors and res­i­dents can do­nate to a re­build­ing fund.Andthe­com­pa­nyjus­treached a deal with the Ore­gon Bal­let Theatre, which will de­but two of the kiosks in De­cem­ber dur­ing the “Nutcracker” per­for­mances.

“The onus is on all of us in the busi­ness to ex­plore new and in­no­va­tive ways of en­cour­ag­ing private giv­ing,” said Erik Jones, the theater’s mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor. “We see thekiosksasa­low­pres­sure­and­con­ve­nient way for our pa­trons to do­nate to the Ore­gon Bal­let Theatre while they’re ac­tu­ally at a per­for­mance and still in the glow of what they’ve wit­nessed on­stage.”

The ma­chines haven’t sig­naled an end to tra­di­tional col­lect­ing.

At Stevens Creek, pro­ceeds from the ma­chines ac­count for only one­fifth of the money the church re­ceivesin­do­na­tions.Duringare­cent Wed­nes­day night bap­tism cer­e­mony, vol­un­teer ush­ers proudly sprang to at­ten­tion when called to col­lect of­fer­ings, ready to pass the bas­ket.

Even so, the mod­ern-day do­na­tion plate in the church atrium usu­ally grabs most of the at­ten­tion.

Amy For­rest, a 31-year-old who drives an hour from her South Carolina town on Sun­days toat­tend ser­vices, said she knew the church was the right fit for her the first time she saw the kiosks. “This church gets how I live,” she said.

And an added bonus: They make it much eas­ier for her to chip in her weekly $40 do­na­tion.

“If you give cash, you think about it.An­di­fy­ouswi­pea­cred­it­card,you don’t. It makes it eas­ier to type that 4-0,” she said.

“And it makes it eas­ier to break down to the Lord.”

As­so­ci­ated Press

Tithing in the 21st cen­tury: Stevens Creek Com­mu­nity Church in Au­gusta, Ga., has seen an 18 per­cent rise in do­na­tions be­cause of “giv­ing kiosks.”

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