Online Giving: The Best Way to Level Up Church Giving
It’s no secret to anyone that church giving is in decline. All the metrics show it. The typical US Protestant who attends church donates about $17 a week. On average, Christians give 2.5% of their income compared to 3.3% during the Great Depression, and only 5% of Christians tithe.
All of those numbers were calculated before the global COVID-19 pandemic shuttered church buildings worldwide. About two-thirds of churches reported a drop in giving during that period.
It’s not just Christians; Americans, in general, give less than they did just a decade ago. In fact, charitable giving grew from 2000–2008 and was hit hard by the great recession but has never fully rebounded.
But look a little closer at the numbers, and you’ll see the real problem. It’s not that people are less generous today. It’s that fewer people are generous. The Giving USA Foundation notes that a smaller percentage of people are giving to charitable causes than in decades past. While the average giver today donates more than he or she did in 2002, fewer people are giving overall.
What does that mean for churches? A few things. But one thing is for certain: giving must be easy if you want to see more people giving consistently.
That’s where online giving comes in. The digital revolution of the past 20 years—and the mobile revolution of the last 10—transformed the expectations of the people in your church. In fact, online giving is growing much faster than overall giving.
The solution for the church giving crisis isn’t just more effective teaching on the tithe or generosity in general. And it isn’t just more transparency about where the money is going. While both of these things are certainly important, there’s one more very simple but occasionally overlooked element at play here: finding a giving mode that meets (or beats) the expectations of the people sitting in your pews (or on your live stream). Online giving does that.
Let’s look further into the following topics:
- Words to Know about Online Giving
- Benefits of Online Giving
- 5 Common Myths about Online Giving
- 4 Kinds of Online Giving
- 8 Online Giving Features Your Givers Want
- Back-End Online Giving Features That Make Admins Smile
- How to Optimize Your Online Giving
- Implementing Online Giving for Churches: Next Steps
- Resources about Online Giving
Feel free to jump around to the sections that interest you most, or read the page straight through from the top.
Common Terms to Know about Online Giving for Churches
Text to Give
Benefits of Online Giving for Churches
1. People can give wherever they are and whenever they feel led.
For the vast 2,000-year history of the Christian church, the hub of church activity has been the church building. If, as a church leader, you wanted to minister to people, you generally had to get them inside the four walls of your church. Even the act of giving required people to be in a building (or buy a stamp—but that’s another story). But with the invention of the internet, smartphones, and tablets, that’s no longer true.
With online giving, your congregation can give wherever they are—whether in a pew at church or at a child’s soccer game. With many churchgoers attending less frequently than in the past, giving can continue regardless of whether people are attending in-person services.
Online giving also allows your attendees to give whenever God prompts them to give. Generosity shouldn’t be limited to a couple hours a week. With online giving, people can give at any time of day and any day of the week.
2. People don’t need cash on hand.
Your church members don’t carry nearly as much cash as they did years ago. During an average week, only 3 in 10 adults made ZERO purchases using cash. Those who do carry cash have it in their wallets less than half the time. More than three-quarters of respondents to one 2019 poll say they typically carry less than $50 at a time.
Odds are good that your church members don’t carry cash, either. A handful of attendees might bring a checkbook. Some of your longtime givers may bring cash especially to put in the offering.
But if you’re in a giving rut or want to grow your giving, you’ll need to allow people to make gifts in the same way they make purchases or payments—from their mobile devices or personal computers.
Much of this is a generational challenge. As digital natives, millennials and Gen Z Christians (all those born after 1980) grew up in an era where cash was an afterthought.
Unless churches learn to make it easier for young Christians to give online, they risk missing an entire generation of givers.
3. You will grow generosity.
When you make church giving easier, people give more. Churches that allow parishioners to give online increase donations by an average of 32%.
Online giving isn’t about being relevant or cool. It’s about making giving easier so more people can contribute in the way that works for them.
Your giving shortfalls aren’t a foregone conclusion. Online giving will get more people involved in giving—particularly younger givers who might not already be tithing regularly.
But it’s not just younger givers—older people (who have long provided the backbone of church giving) are increasingly online. One Pew Research Center report says the fastest-growing age group of Facebook users are 65+. More than half of nonprofit donors who participate in online giving are over the age of 55.
4. It smooths giving slumps.
It’s common for church giving patterns to ebb and flow throughout the year. Most people involved in church ministry have encountered the summer slump, where church participation of all kinds drops over the summer—but particularly giving.
Because online giving makes it easier for donors to plan their giving, it helps level out the lean months. If a church’s giving is reliant on cash and checks, its income takes a dip because people take vacations or plan fun weekend activities. But with online giving, your church community can set up recurring giving, so they never forget a donation. Or they can give from the beach or their mountain lodge—anywhere they can find a cell phone signal.
5. It can disaster-proof a church.
Churches saw firsthand in 2020 how quickly natural disasters can impact church giving. Some suggest that 1 in 5 churches may close in the aftermath of their buildings shuttering during the COVID-19 pandemic. Part of the reason for those fears comes from a drop in church giving.
However, many church leaders believe that 2020 could mark a transformative period in church giving. According to a summer 2020 survey of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (EFCA), 64% of churches saw an increase in online giving from January to April 2020.
'We didn’t anticipate a time where in our country nearly every church’s doors are closed. That was unthinkable. It’s like there’s an ark being built, and we didn’t know it would rain' Bobby Gruenewald at Life.Church told Christianity Today, describing how online giving helped churches through the COVID-19 pandemic. —Bobby Gruenewald at Life Church
6. You get new opportunities for pastoral care and discipleship.
Picture this: when you’re processing your weekly offering, you find a large check from an unfamiliar name. You don’t know anything about them, and short of googling them or sending some old-fashioned snail mail, it’s difficult to find out who they are and connect them to discipleship opportunities at your church.
But when you use online giving, you can easily follow up with new givers, thank your faithful givers, and find out who stops giving.
While giving can be an incredibly personal and spiritual matter, having this kind of data on your givers can open up ministry opportunities for your church. People often stop giving because of a major life situation (loss of job, illness, etc.). When you get a good look at the people who have stopped giving, you can reach out to them with meaningful ministry.
7. You save administrative time.
Once your church’s online giving is set up (takes only a few minutes with Faithlife Giving), you don’t need to do anything else to process gifts made online. That means no manually inputting every donation, no bank runs, and no reconciliations to find why the bank statement doesn’t match your stack of checks. (Now, if your church currently accepts physical gifts, you should keep doing it. But don’t be surprised if your weekly offering goes down and your online giving goes way up.)
One of the biggest differentiators between excellent and average online giving solutions is that better solutions save your team more time.
Discover how online giving for churches can help you disciple new givers.Get started
Faithlife Giving is available in the United States only.
5 Common Myths about Online Giving
Myth #1: Online giving is less worshipful.
But the Bible never prescribes a specific place or mode of church giving. Neither the Israelites of the Old Testament or the growing churches of the New Testament dropped money in an offering plate. In fact, “passing the plate” is a relatively new development in global Christianity.
Encouraging giving outside of a church worship service reminds everyone that all of life is worship, not just the songs or the service (see Rom 12:1).
Also, churches that want to include online giving within the worship service have plenty of options. Our favorite: reminding people that they can pull out their phones to give during the offering time. Churches can also include the link to give (or even the text-to-give number) on pre-service slides, briefly explain on printed bulletins, and post online giving instructions near the offering box.
Myth #2: Online giving isn’t secure.
Online giving is actually more secure than check and cash gifts. When people online, they get to see when their donation is processed and deposited into the church’s account. Online giving touches far fewer human hands and is subject to much less human error than dropping cash and checks into an offering plate.
Also, online giving with PCI-compliant solutions leans on world-class security to move money from givers to churches. You simply can’t get that kind of confidence when your church is passing cash and checks from an offering plate to volunteers to staff to the bank.
Myth #3: Online giving costs too much.
After all, online giving is an investment. Your support of online giving pays for your provider’s ability to develop a high-quality platform. You’re investing in the security and ease-of-use of your giving experience. You’re also saving your staff time (and money) in the process.
Some giving solutions (including Faithlife Giving’s platform) allow your donors to pick up the processing fees associated with their gifts (called donor-covered fees). Many will choose to do so as an additional way to support your ministry.
Finally, since online giving often inspires people to begin giving (or give more frequently), the increase in giving often covers the transaction fees you incur.
Myth #4: Only tech-savvy people will give online.
Today, five billion people in the world own a mobile device. A whopping 93% of millennials use smartphones (and 68% of baby boomers do). We’re rapidly moving into a time when more people know how to give online than fill out a check (if we aren’t already there). The distinction between tech-savvy and everyone else isn’t what it has been in the past.
Most of your church community uses technology for just about every facet of their lives—from communicating with family to planning vacations to paying their bills. Any easy-to-use online giving platform that incorporates text to give and other mobile giving features will provide a smoother giving experience even for technological novices.
Myth #5: Online giving automatically grows generosity.
Plus, even a strong online giving platform can’t salvage a poor culture of generosity. Growing church giving depends on how well your church understands the biblical imperative to support God’s work in your community and around the world—and sees your church as a vehicle to do so.
Bonus Resources about Online Giving
Generosity Sermon Kit
Help your church grow in generosity with a sermon series on the topic. Check out these done-for-you resources to give you a head start on this important series.Download
4 Tips for an Epic Church Giving Campaign
Church giving campaigns are hard work, but this guide will help you through it.Download
7 Critical Reasons Every Church Must Have Mobile Giving
Most people spend an average of five hours a day on mobile devices. Learn how you can help your church community become better stewards through their smartphones.Download
Products Related to Generosity
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Giving to God: The Bible’s Good News about Living a Generous Life
Common Terms to Know about Online Giving for Churches
Text to Give
8 Online Giving Features Your Givers Want
That’s not a pipe dream. As the global fintech industry has grown in recent years, enterprise-level technology has become widely available to churches of all sizes.
Here are a few online giving features that will take your givers’ experience to the next level—and multiply generosity in the process.
Text to Give
Multiple Giving Methods
Quick Access to Giving Records
Back-End Giving Features That Make Admins Smile
Cash and Check Recording
Secure Access for Multiple People
Customizable Email Receipts
How to Optimize Your Online Giving
Develop a church-wide culture of generosity.
Your culture will determine the level of generosity at your church. Telling stories about the impact of charitable giving and connecting ministry highlights to the generosity of donors are a couple of ways to begin building this kind of culture. You can find some other strategies in this blog post. It takes time to develop a generous culture. Work on it slowly and be patient. Once you’ve built it, you’ll find your culture is the single most important part of growing generosity.
Train tech mentors to help people use the tools.
Most online giving tools are easy to use (like the ones available with Faithlife Giving), but you’ll still have some people who need time to adjust. Fortunately, nearly every church has early adopters who are more than willing to help. Ask some of these early adopters to serve as a “Geek Squad” before and after worship to help people with any online giving questions.
Build online giving into your stewardship training.
You likely teach people about giving in several different places (weekend messages, Sunday School/small groups, membership classes, etc.). Make sure online giving is worked into all of those teaching times. Don’t just tell people about online giving—teach people how to do it. Depending on the venue, consider walking people through it. And of course, be sure to communicate its importance.
Repeatedly explain how to give.
Recurring giving is the highest-reward, lowest-effort component of your church giving plan. Help new recurring givers get started, and they’ll likely give to your ministry for an extended period of time (people generally don’t cancel recurring giving unless they’re experiencing a major life change). It’s a win-win situation for everyone—you get consistent giving, and your givers don’t need to remember to donate each month. Church leaders should model (and talk about) recurring giving as much as possible.
Implementing Online Giving for Churches: Next Steps?
1. Gather a team to help you evaluate online giving options.
2. Conduct a survey to find out your church’s interest in different features.
Don’t simply focus your questions around church giving solutions. For many of your best givers, your current giving solution is likely their only experience. Expand your inquiry to look into how they engage with other financial technology, like online banking and shopping.