December 10, 2006
An ATM for Jesus
Churches are finding new ways to part Christians from their cash:
At the evangelical Stevens Creek Community Church, God takes credit cards.
Debit cards, too.
Two “giving kiosks” sit outside the church’s chapel in East Georgia, high-tech collection plates that allow people to swipe their credit or debit cards and instantly send donations. Marty Baker, the church’s pastor, likes to call the terminals A.T.M.’s: “automatic tithe machines.”
“We’re just trying to connect with the culture,” Mr. Baker said. “And that’s how the culture does business. It’s more than an A.T.M. for Jesus. It’s about erasing barriers.”
Mr. Baker had the idea three years ago when his church was preparing for a fund-raising drive. He realized that, like many in his 1,100-member congregation, he rarely carried cash; he hired developers to find a way for his flock to pay with plastic.
Eventually, they cobbled together a prototype that he set up at his church in early 2005.
Since then, the church has seen an 18 percent bump in donations — and an average gift of more than $100 each time a card is swiped.
The results encouraged Mr. Baker and his wife, Patty, to form a for-profit company, SecureGive, that sells the terminals for $2,000 to $5,000 apiece and charges a $50 monthly subscription fee. By the end of the year, they expect to have terminals in 15 spots across the country.
… At Stephens Creek, where services begin with flashy light shows and a Christian band jams out salvation songs, the embrace of technology has helped build a sense that this congregation is on the cutting edge.
“We’re real. We’re in today,” said Dorna Adams, a church volunteer. “We’re here where society is at.”
… The machines have not signaled an end to traditional collecting.
At Stevens Creek, proceeds from the machines account for only one-fifth of the church’s donations. At a recent Wednesday baptism ceremony, volunteer ushers 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 the most attention.
Amy Forrest, 31, who drives an hour from her South Carolina town on Sundays to attend 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,” Ms. Forrest said.
She added that the machines made it easier for her to chip in her weekly $40. “If you give cash,” she said, “you think about it. And if you swipe a credit card, you don’t. It makes it easier to type that 4-0.”
“And it makes it easier to break down to the Lord,” she said.
Thus proving that even when they try to speak English, evangelicals speak in tongues.
Next: “Fast Faith” at the parish Praystation.
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