November 11, 2016

By Eddie Pipkin

Much has been written about stewardship issues for local congregations and the value of keeping current with technology in order to sustain giving levels, but these articles tend to focus on the financial implications themselves.  Very little has been written about the value of these new technological tools as ways to build relationships with ministry partners and people in the community.

Of course, from a standpoint of sound financial management, moving beyond the checks-and-cash-in-the-Sunday-morning-offering-plate model is just a simple means of survival.  People don’t consider “regular attendance” to be every Sunday any longer.  And people (especially the Millenials and younger) don’t carry cash—sometimes they look at a check like an old rotary wall-mounted phone with a cord on it.  Churches have slowly adapted to accepting ministry funds in ways that are familiar to modern bill payers:

  • Automated monthly electronic funds transfers
  • Online giving options that accept credit cards
  • Giving kiosks

They have been less likely to take up the newest smartphone based options for giving (and there is a clear divide between large and small churches in embracing these tech-based options):

  • Mobile giving through text
  • Mobile payment systems like Square
  • Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and GoFundMe

Some of this is a factor of age differences.  We older folks are later adopters, but a congregation with younger people is going to have expectations that the church world reflects their experience with monetary logistics in the rest of the world.  It’s hard for somebody who literally has no cash on them to put something in a plate as it’s passing by.

Meanwhile, though, aside from the logistics, there is a whole side of this conversation that has to do with the opportunities to use these technological tools as a way to build stronger connections and relationships.  Adam J. Copeland, the director of Luther Seminary’s Center for Stewardship Leaders, offers his insights in this interview in Faith and Leadership.  He covers the usual territory of embracing cultural norms in the use of cutting edge tools for giving.  But then he offers this additional observation:

First, the church can learn by looking at successful campaigns and appreciating what gets folks engaged and excited to give. Crowdfunding campaigns have an incredible relational quality to them. Folks share their ideas and open their hearts and invite others to give to projects that they’re passionate about.

Stewardship in the church can become overly intellectual,crowdfunding-1-002 divorced from actual relationships and mission. Crowdfunding campaigns, when done well, have a delightful relational, personal quality.

Even in the area of giving (stewardship), everything circles back around to making connections.  (That’s the central theme of our recent publications Connect! and Connect! for Individuals and Small Groups.)  Congregational leadership often thinks of budget challenges as a business problem to be solved or financial strategy to be managed, but as part of a healthy community of disciples living out Jesus’ call to ministry, giving becomes just one more avenue by which we explore our relationships and can build meaningful ones.

People like to be generous.  People like to give to causes that feel relevant to them.  They like to be part of effective ministries.  They feel empowered and purposeful in taking a tangible role in changing their communities and changing the world.  At no time in history have we had more options (via social media and technology) to engage people in our stories and give them options to be a part of those stories regardless of their physical location or the quirks of their schedule.

And at no time in history have we been better positioned to link narrative to action.  Now we can tell a ministry story in ways that people can respond to instantaneously and without limitations of geography.  Think about this: when I was a teenager, way back in the 70s, we had a missionary come to church and speak to us in person, at the end of which we were asked to make a ‘love offering’, and we responded by pulling bills out of wallets and change from our pockets.  Now, that same missionary can easily craft a video that shows with images and interviews the important work she is doing, and a person linked to our church community can watch it on a device they carry in their pocket at any time from any place.  Not only that, after they’ve heard this ministry story and been moved to action, they can click an icon and donate to the cause immediately.  They can get more info, engage in conversation, volunteer, send words of encouragement . . . all in the moment, as an immediate and multi-faceted response.

It is a bold new ministry world, based on connections, and unlimited by walls.

How is your faith community embracing technology to build relationships and give people more opportunities to serve and give?  Share your stories in the comments section as well as any follow-up questions you might have.