How will the LCMS adapt when checkbooks rest in museums?

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by Mark Hofman

Growing up, in the hallway of our home (a parsonage), we had one telephone for the entire family. The phone had a cord to the wall and a dial with holes over each number.

Remember those? Maybe not. After all, you are reading a Blog on the World Wide Web, perhaps on your smartphone.

How would my 7-year-old son call a friend on a device he’s never seen and wouldn’t know how to operate? And, if he did get that friend to answer, how would he react if he walked toward his room and was stopped by a stretched-out cord? How would he react when the call was disconnected after the cord was pulled out of the wall socket?

The truth is, technologies change and our lives change as a result. In days of yore, people paid with salt, then gold or silver coins, then paper currency. Somewhere along the line, the idea of a check (or cheque) came along, followed shortly by bound stacks of checks – the checkbook.

All that, like the party line phone or the rotary dial phone, is fading into history. Someday, people will look at a checkbook in a museum display.

Today, we have bank debit cards, credit cards, online bill pay, electronic deposit, and even cutting-edge services like ApplePay and PayPal – wave your smartphone over a reader and you’ve paid for your groceries or gasoline.

How is this affecting your congregation? How does it affect your favorite charity or charities? When the offering plate is passed are the young adults reaching for their wallet or purse, their checkbook, or their smartphone? Or are they forced to just pass the plate along to the next person, losing in the process that week’s opportunity to be joyfully generous?

Are we asking – even expecting – an increasing number of people to use the financial equivalent of a rotary-dial phone in an era of smart phones and chip-enabled debit cards?

One afternoon, I answered a phone call from a young woman who wanted to donate to a particular aspect of LCMS mission work.

When I gave her instructions for mailing a check, she said (probably embarrassed more for me than herself), “I … I … I don’t have a checkbook. I don’t use checks.”

Because the mission of the Church is moving, if we fail to adapt to changes in how people’s finances are handled, we risk impeding mission both at the local level and beyond the walls of each congregation. With that young lady, I was forced to adapt to her situation, not ask or expect her to fit my situation.

I see this, though, as a God-given opportunity. He is dropping into our laps the potential to involve our young people – teens, single adults, young families – in how we adapt to this particular kind of change. They have much to teach us about what can be done to make this particular aspect of Christian discipleship – joyful generosity – simple and convenient for them using today’s technologies.

We will have to decide if giving through other means fits within the life and ministry of the church.

  • How will the church speak about using the bank or credit union’s “bill pay” feature to give worship offerings or to make donations for mission efforts?
  • Will our ushers pass tablets equipped with credit/debit card readers?
  • Will we supply new members with automatic electronic funds transfer forms?
  • Will the bulletin or weekly newsletter include instructions to donate by sending a text message, or will we provide directions to donate online via PayPal?
  • How will the congregation or our organizations record and receipt those kinds of gifts, and how will we report the impact those kinds of contributions have on our mission and ministry?

There are more questions right now than solid answers.

Our younger members can (and probably should) be sitting at the table for those conversations. They know the landscape of this particular transition. We will be giving them the opportunity to lead and invest themselves in how the Church adapts.

If you see or experience this issue in your own life, feel free to print this article and give it to your congregation’s leadership.

In the meantime, the LCMS will risk testing and implementing electronic giving options and opportunities to support a mission that is on the move, perhaps elevating those options above printed instructions for writing out a check.

And we will be looking for a few young, brave souls willing to help us learn how to do all that well – in a way that brings a smile to the face of our Lord and Savior.

Mark Hofman, CFRE, MBA, is the executive director of LCMS Mission Advancement.

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Note: LCMS leader blog articles express the personal experiences and views of our ministry staff and have not been subjected to the LCMS doctrinal review process. Readers are encouraged to leave questions in the comment section or consult their pastor with any queries related to this content.

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