In 2011, Pleasant Hope Baptist Church was experiencing a financial crunch. In addition to the turbulence associated with the national economic recession, our discomfort was compounded by the fact that within a 13-month period, seven senior, stalwart members of our congregation died. The impact of their loss to our small-membership church was immediate in their respective places of congregational leadership. What was less clear was the financial impact of their deaths. Their giving represented 7.5 percent of our annual budget. We continued to operate ministry at the same level as before their deaths, but eventually realized that we could not. It became increasingly clear that something had to be done.
When we rolled electronic giving out to the membership, it was not just about convenience, but it was attached to a significant outreach initiative. Seeing electronic giving through the lens of vision helped to infuse the process with great energy.
A part of the strengthening of our financial landscape included adding an electronic giving option for our members. After doing some homework, I first introduced the idea to church leaders in the summer of 2011. One Sunday, members were asked for a show of hands for those who might be interested in learning more about electronic giving at Pleasant Hope. Just under 10 percent of attendees raised their hands.
By September of 2011, we set up a PayPal account for our church linked to our bank account. That got us started; but in the spring of 2012, we moved to Vanco Services, which provides online giving and other electronic donation services for churches and nonprofit organizations. This worked well for us because of its compatibility with our data management system. Vanco allowed us to create a page and link on our church website that would facilitate electronic giving. Members could log on at their convenience to give a one-time gift or create an account so they would be able to give recurring gifts.
This time, however, when we rolled electronic giving out to the membership, it was not just about convenience, but it was attached to a significant outreach initiative. Our church was invited to participate in Baltimore’s African American Heritage Festival in the summer of 2012. This is the largest cultural festival for the city’s African American community. We were allowed not only to have a vending booth at the festival, but also to conduct a worship service before the thousands who were expected to be in attendance. As we prayed and discussed this opportunity, we viewed it through the lens of our church’s vision. Here was our chance to reintroduce our church to a large audience of our neighbors and share a piece of our vision with them related to supporting youth in the city. Electronic giving would allow us to channel the support of the general public toward our goal, but we knew it would be important first to show that our church members were fully committed and invested in it.
This was the frame we used to encourage regular and electronic gifts. The congregation responded. Five percent of our membership signed up to give electronically during this period, and some set up an account to give automatically every two weeks. Seeing electronic giving through the lens of vision and not just convenience helped to infuse the process with great energy.
We have now added the Square mobile card reader for our in-worship electronic giving while continuing to utilize Vanco’s service for website and recurring giving. Square has worked very well because it uses the internet connection that is offered via the data management plan attached to most smartphones. We have a number of new and younger leaders now who are more comfortable with electronic giving, and all of them have smartphones. As long as there is one smartphone through which to use the Square mobile card reader, anyone can make a gift since the device is linked with our church bank account. One of our trustees stands in the front to assist those who wish to give this way.
We registered our Square account and received their mobile card reader device in October 2012. Since mid-October, Pleasant Hope has received nearly $3,000 in worship offerings through Square, with an average of $200 per Sunday. This accounts for 15 percent of our normal Sunday financial offering. The line of people opting to give via a quick swipe of their credit/debit card has increased to the point now where we had to add another station to accommodate them all.
We are pleased with Square; however, entering those gifts into our database must be done manually. We are now looking at moving to a mobile card reader compatible with our data management system.
The electronic giving option promises to be a tremendous avenue of future growth for our small-membership church, as our fastest growing demographic group is people aged 21-40. We plan to augment our stewardship education to emphasize electronic giving for this group. This is the more familiar and maybe less intimidating first-step for them in their journey toward becoming generous givers.
In introducing electronic giving, we learned to approach it through the lens of the church’s vision. The emerging generation of Christians does not need convincing about how easy it is. They need to see how it links with the vision in a tangible way.