What e-tithing means for the future of church giving in America might surprise you

I wrote a post a week ago about a dude who likes to say "dude" a lot.

Speaking of which, a Bloomberg Businessweek feature out this week has a "How's it going, dude?" feel about it. That's not to say the piece about electronic giving isn't timely — and fascinating.

From the "skinny jeans" in the lede to the "Hell, yeah" quote at the end, this spritely, 645-word report is not your grandfather's religion trend story.

Then again, that's precisely the point, I guess.

The dude (sorry, couldn't resist) featured up high is a 25-year-old megachurch attendee named Dylan Ciamacco. The news peg is that Ciamacco reaches not for his wallet — but for his phone — when the collection plate is passed:

Ciamacco gives each week, using the Tithe.ly app. It takes fewer than five taps, and built-in geolocation means he can contribute at any of the 1,000 churches that subscribe—a feature that’s especially useful around holidays like Easter, when many people travel. Tithe.ly lets worshipers set up automatic recurring payments, but because Ciamacco’s paycheck fluctuates with his work as a freelance video producer, he tithes on demand—usually about 10 percent of whatever he’s brought in.

"E-tithing," of course, isn't a brand-new concept. I wrote about the trend for The Associated Press in 2003:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — For Sally Hanneman, church giving has gone high-tech.
The 47-year-old physical therapist used to scramble to write a check as the collection plate approached on Sunday mornings. Not anymore.
Now, she contributes through an automatic withdrawal from her bank account.
"It just makes life a lot easier," said Hanneman, a member of St. John's Lutheran Church.
In an era when an estimated 60 percent of Americans get their paychecks through direct deposit and half of U.S. households pay at least one bill electronically, some religious leaders see "e-tithing" as a logical step.
It works like this: Members fill out a form providing a bank or savings account number and the amount they want the church to withdraw weekly, semimonthly or monthly.

At that time — 13 years ago — some said e-tithing sold out the concept of taking a gift to God:

"It's a way to be out of sight, out of mind," said Jack Wilkerson, the Southern Baptist Convention's vice president for business and finance. "Mainline denominations are using it today because . . . they're looking for any way to prop up sagging giving."

So what's new?

For one thing, "there really is an app for everything" these days, as Bloomberg puts it. Which means there's no need to fill out a paper form to give electronically. Just pull out your phone.

But still, the faithful don't universally accept this approach:

Churches using tithing apps report they see more donations, more often, from more people. (Subscribing establishments either pay a monthly fee or allow the app to collect a cut of each gift. Tithe.ly lets donators cover this; Pushpay promises churches a 5 percent spike in donations or their money back.) But getting parishes with pastors and members older than 40 to sign on has been more Job-like. Tradition is hard to overcome. “In some churches, if you let the plate go by and you don’t put something in, you feel a little guilty,” says Brad Hill, who works in platform services at EasyTithe. To combat that, some congregations print out cards that say, “I gave online.”

I don't get the "Job-like" reference. I really don't. How are older people not signing on to giving apps being like the man in the land of Uz who lost everything? What am I missing? Help me out here, dude.

But give credit to Bloomberg Businessweek for a crisp take on a timely topic.

At the same time, this report is more of an outline than a full accounting of how various congregations and religious groups handle e-tithing — both practically and theologically. I'd love to read much more. 

This seems like fertile ground for some of my favorite religion writers to plow.

Take it away, Godbeat pros.

Please respect our Commenting Policy