IN a world increasingly embracing technology and a cashless culture, are we ready for the digital church collection plate?
It is just one of the many innovations being tried and used by the Church, which still overwhelmingly relies on money being dropped into the collection plate as it passes from pew to pew.
Now digital church collection is being tested in Australia.
The Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn is trialling a technology app known as QKR! designed by MasterCard Labs which gives members of the congregation the option to make their weekend Mass collection contribution electronically.
Two parishes are trialling QKR! with more parishes expected to follow.
The Archdiocesan Catholic Development Fund is the catalyst of the app in partnership with MasterCard and Commonwealth Bank Australia.
QKR! is already being used in a number of schools in the archdiocese and can be downloaded from iPhone, iPad smartphone or android device.
In Woden South – one of the test parishes – Fr Richard Thompson told the archdiocesan newspaper, The Catholic Voice, the new app had drawn some “very positive responses from among parishioners”.
“It is very important that we use the right language and that we support people in the right manner when we are introducing a new product like this,” Fr Thompson said.
“I will speak to many of my brother priests as to how we should best go about informing our parishioners in setting up and using the app.
“I include those with ‘technophobia’.
“We also want to make it very clear that QKR! is not replacing the collection bags.
“The collection bags and QKR!, as I see it, will co-exist for quite some time yet, so people have nothing to worry about whatsoever.”
Fr Thompson will help educate parishioners by putting QKR! download and set-up instructions on the overhead projector screen during collection time.
And he said he would run “15 to 20-minute workshops after Mass if needed, maybe even a quick video”.
The Archdiocesan Development Fund in Brisbane is keen to embrace the use of technology, having already introduced QKR! in more than 40 schools.
The fund’s management team is keeping a close eye on the progress of the pilot in Canberra and, if it is successful, will make it available to parishes in Brisbane archdiocese.
In the United States, electronic giving is already widely used.
In tech-savvy San Francisco, the archdiocese has partnered with a service that lets parishioners donate money, share prayers and more, from their computers or smartphones.
Across America, one app, Tithe.ly – which has a subscriber base of 1000 Christian churches – lets worshippers set up automatic recurring payments.
For instance it can simply be set up to take out 10 per cent of a fortnightly salary.
Tithe.ly is one of a handful of apps leveraging off a new generation, which doesn’t carry cash and has its own spending behaviour.
Pushpay, which is used in about 3000 congregations, works similarly; worshippers decide whether to donate to a general budget or a specific church project.
Another, EasyTithe, features a text-to-give option.
It also provides technology for a credit card-like reader installed for the faithful in church lobbies.
The point of the technology is convenience, something which the co-founder of Tithe.ly Dean Sweetman has called “frictionless giving”.
A former minister at a megachurch called C3 in Atlanta, Mr Sweetman told Bloomberg Businessweek he designed the app with C3’s “wallet-light” clientele in mind.
“We see people giving all times of day and night. Nothing stands in the way,” he said.
Churches using tithing apps report they see more donations, more often, from more people.
Pushpay promises churches a five per cent spike in donations or their money back.
However, tradition is hard to overcome, especially for older parishioners.
“In some churches, if you let the plate go by and you don’t put something in, you feel a little guilty,” Brad Hill, who works in platform services at EasyTithe, told Bloomberg Businessweek.
To combat that, some congregations print out cards that say, “I gave online”.
Extra reporting by The Catholic Voice and Bloomberg Businessweek.