“Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
For as long as pews have been uncomfortably straight-backed and pastors long-winded, churchgoers have wrestled with boredom during many a Sunday homily.
These days, though thanks to ready access to smartphones, a bowed head may be busy catching up on social media instead of being engaged in devout devotions.
At some technologically forward-thinking churches, however, there's a third explanation for mid-sermon shoegazing: Tithing.
Here are some local congregations where digital offerings are accepted:
› Venue Church: App (iOS/Android/Windows)/credit and debit charge/one-time and recurring bank withdrawal
› Basilica of Saints Peter & Paul: Credit and debit charge/one-time and recurring bank withdrawal
› First Baptist Church: PayPal/credit and debit charge/one-time and recurring bank withdrawal
› Abba’s House: Text/in-church kiosks/app (iOS/Android)/credit and debit charge/one-time and recurring bank withdrawal
› Christ United Methodist Church: Credit and debit charge/in-church kiosks/one-time and recurring bank withdrawal
› Calvary Chapel: Text/in-church kiosks/app (iOS/Android)/credit and debit charge/one-time and recurring bank withdrawal
› Morris Hill Baptist Church: Text/credit and debit charge/one-time and recurring bank withdrawal
› One Accord Community Church: PayPal/credit and debit charge/in-church kiosks/one-time and recurring bank withdrawal
› First Centenary United Methodist Church: Credit and debit charge/one-time and recurring bank withdrawal/app (soon)
› Rock Point Church: App (iOS)/credit and debit charge
› River City Church: PayPal/credit and debit charge/one-time and recurring bank withdrawal
› Brainerd Baptist Church: Credit and debit charge/one-time and recurring bank withdrawal
› Redemption Point Church: Text/credit and debit charge/one-time and recurring bank withdrawal
› Dynamic Church: Credit and debit charge/one-time and recurring bank withdrawal
› First Presbyterian Church: Recurring bank withdrawals
› First Cumberland Presbyterian Church: Credit and debit charge/one-time and recurring bank withdrawals
› Olivet Baptist Church: App (iOS/Android)/credit and debit charge/one-time and recurring bank withdrawals
› Silverdale Baptist Church: Credit and debit charge/one-time and recurring bank withdrawal
› Unitarian Universalist Church of Chattanooga: PayPal/credit and debit charge/one-time and recurring bank withdrawal
The tradition of contributing one-tenth of one's earnings to the church or a charity has been a component of religious worship for millennia, but the days are long past when the offering plate was the only way to donate. Now, local congregations have a host of options for taking care of their religious dues, from smartphone apps and texted donations to automated kiosks and recurring bank withdrawals.
"[Recurring withdrawals] are how I do it because I don't have to think about it," says Lindsey Gallaher, 31, office manager at Christ United Methodist Church in East Brainerd. "It just comes out automatically each month."
Having more options to give conveniently and consistently has increased online donations at Christ United by 27 percent this year, she says.
"I think people are probably doing it because at the beginning of the month, when they get paid, they want to go and give their tithe right off the top," Gallaher says. "It's just easier to do it instead of waiting until Sunday and, if they miss a Sunday, they can go ahead and do it, too, and not miss it or have to bother with a check."
Tithing's origins pre-date Christianity, but Christians are among the most reliable tithers, according to a 2013 poll by California-based religious researcher Barna Group. The poll of more than 1,000 respondents found that more than three-quarters (79 percent) of Christians report donating money during the previous year.
"Evangelicals are not necessarily richer or poorer than are other Americans; they just generally have a more developed sense of financial self-worth," says David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group, in a news release accompanying the poll. "Year after year, this group remains one of the most generous segments and, for evangelicals, it does not seem connected to how much they make."
Despite Christians' stalwartly charitable hearts, their options for donating remain limited at many churches. According to a 2015 study by fundraising and marketing strategists Dunham+Company/Campbell Rinker, less than half (42 percent) of churches offer online donations, compared to 70 percent of all nonprofits.
"People are becoming more and more comfortable with online transactions, both social and commerce," says Rick Dunham, president and CEO of Dunham+Company, in an Aug. 1 interview with Church Executive magazine.
"The barrier for churches is simply the time and resources required to execute on this change in consumer behavior," Dunham adds. "When, as a church, you've had a tried-and-true method for years, it's hard to want to change that overnight."
At some Chattanooga houses of worship, the sentiment is that the convenience of online giving is a double-edged sword. Tithing shouldn't be an automatic; it should be a deliberate, thoughtful act, says Stacy McKinney, church administrator at Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church.
"We've thought about [online giving], but we think that part of your worship is your giving, writing a check and thinking about it instead of using a credit card," she says. "We've thought about it, but for right now, we're keeping the giving the way it is."
Even at churches where the options for giving are more numerous, many congregation members still prefer to tithe by hand and in person.
At Christ United Methodist, parishioners can donate online through one-time and recurring credit charges or bank withdrawals as well as via automated kiosks in the church atrium. These other options are especially popular among the church's younger members, but the offering plates are far from empty every Sunday, says Director of Ministries Becky Hall.
"I see the increase in the online giving, but it doesn't outweigh the checks and cash," she says.
But giving in any form is good for the church, she says. "We battled around the online [but] it's been a step in the right direction for us."
Contact Casey Phillips at email@example.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.