The electronic collection plate

You rush out the door Sunday morning to get to church and make it with a little time to spare. But - oops! - you forgot your checkbook. Maybe you've got a small amount of cash to drop in the collection plate instead.

Or maybe you always pay by cash, and it's just remembering to have enough on hand. "Well, a little less this week; I'll be sure to bring more next Sunday."

Some churchgoers and congregations have found a way to get beyond such vicissitudes of meeting donation obligations. And it's proving a blessing to everybody involved - the church that needs to meet its budget and the member who wants a stronger sense of stewardship.

Simply Giving - the first electronic funds transfer program for an entire religious denomination - has enrolled 1,300 Lutheran congregations nationwide since its introduction last fall.

It was a grass roots idea: Two Pennsylvania churches talked with banks about automated transfer as a way to receive offerings but found it too costly. So they approached Lutheran Brotherhood, a fraternal benefit group that provides financial products and services as well as charitable outreach. They designed the program and offer it at no cost to Lutheran churches.

"The response has been phenomenal," says Royce McEwen, Simply Giving program manager at Lutheran Brotherhood. "It's much more successful than we had envisioned," with churches signing up at more than twice the rate projected.

Members who want to participate choose the frequency of contributions (weekly, semimonthly, or monthly), the amount, and the funds they want to support. They can change the amount at any time.

Pastor Craig Bollinger of Christ the King Lutheran in Charlotte, N.C., says it affects the church's bottom line. "It helps people be consistent. We've found people will sign up for Simply Giving but give over and above to other special ministries and appeals because it's so easy."

Some pastors see the consistent giving helping to balance church cash flow, avoiding the difficulty of those lean summer months when families are on vacation. It also can simplify church finances.

Some churches have signed up more than 100 families, and others, 10. Some people are still keen on placing an offering in the plate, particularly teaching their children the habit of giving. So Simply Giving provides colorful stickers that can be put on an offering envelope.

Most important, perhaps, the program can be a means for members to grow in their sense of giving. At Good Shepherd Lutheran in Irvine, Calif., members annually consider a Covenant of Membership and how they intend to grow in faith and worship. Pastor Jim Hale says, "Simply Giving is a great way to take that next spiritual step and say, 'I want to put God first in my life and in my giving.' "

Lutheran Brotherhood is developing educational materials that encourage such discussion. "Simply Giving on the surface looks like it's just a transactional piece," says Mr. McEwen, "but it's much deeper than that. It's helping generate that dialogue about stewardship."

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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