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Churchgoers Now Reach for the Plastic


A minister or priest's toughest job is not always preparing sermons, tending to the sick and dying, or meeting with other clergy. It's raising enough money to pay church salaries and expenses and support missionary work.

Traditionally, church funds came via the collection plate passed around during services each Sunday, and from yearly pledges, called "tithes" from parishioners. But people didn't always show up for church or got behind on their promised payments. And as churchgoers got used to carrying more credit cards than cash, they found themselves leaving less and less in the offering basket. Revenue fell alarmingly.

Pastor Marty Baker at the Stevens Creek Community Church in Augusta, Georgia, came up with a creative solution: In an atrium called the "Giving Kiosk" behind the chapel, he has installed modified versions of ATMs, or automated teller machines. He calls them "Automated Tithing Machines." Before services each Sunday, quite a few members of the congregation now stop at the machines, insert their credit cards, and enter a dollar amount to cover the weekly offering, past-due tithes, and any special donations.

This has worked beautifully! Income at Stevens Creek Church is up 18 percent. One parishioner told a Chicago Sun-Times reporter that she found herself giving a lot more on her credit card than she did when she had to dig into her purse for cash.

Things have gone so well that Pastor Baker has formed a for-profit company and is selling his specially designed ATMs to churches and nonprofit groups, like theaters and ballet companies, all over the country.

They still pass the plate or basket at Stevens Creek Church. But one can only wonder how long will it be before they start passing an electronic card reader instead, so the congregation can swipe their credit cards across it as it's passed down the aisle.