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The future of communal and intentional giving

In a world where the donation of cash in the moment becomes consigned to history, how do we maintain that giving moment that is both communal and intentional - and do we even need to? By David Lynch 


As a young boy in our local Baptist church, I always enjoyed the part of the service where we would drop our coins into the Sunday School collection bag.

I recall with affection my mother trusting that the coins she had given me would find their way into the collection bag. I also recall the excitement as the Sunday School would join the main service for the collection. The expectation was palpable as one of us, the chosen one, would walk to the front and present the class offering together with the main grown up collection.

What a sight it was for a young boy to see all these people, young and old giving together, and I recall how mesmerising it was to stand at the altar and see the vast swathe of notes and coins in the various plates. It gave rise to my belief that grown ups not only had a lot of money, but were also extremely generous.

This was a foundational part of the life journey I took, the sight of every person within our community, reaching into their pockets and giving, established within me that giving was communal, generous and intentional.

Fast forward 50 years to a packed Edinburgh church where I was a guest. The smell of freshly brewed coffee as you entered, the professional worship band, plush carpets, fully cushioned seats, TV screens abounded, youth leaders and ushers moved busily around the sanctuary, and there was a tangible sense of oneness as we came together, this was a modern church in a busy city, everything about the service had moved into the 21st century. That is until the offering, and the appearance of the plate being passed along the rows, it caused me to think back 50 years to the memory of hard pews, piped organs, hymn books and wooden floors.

I waited nervously for the plate to reach me, wishing I had visited the cash machine prior to arriving. The many scams and uncleanliness of cash machines had curbed my use some years earlier. I had a £1 coin for my bus home, and resigned myself to giving my meagre bus fare and accepting the 3 mile walk after church. Yet it was Catch 22, I felt embarrassed putting in my ‘widow's mite’, though I knew it was not all I possessed financially.

I was on a row that would be the end of the collection plate journey, so hoped that my lack of cash would not be noticeable amongst all the many notes and coins in the offering, but to my horror, as the plate reached me I noticed one single pound coin in the plate. 

One gold and shiny object piece of nickel brass isolated on a carpet of red velvet, from where the Queen looked up, ready to cast disapproval upon my lack of generosity. I sheepishly alleviated the loneliness of the coin by adding a partner to keep it company for the remaining journey.

Putting the coin in I looked up apologetically, shook my head, patted my pocket and passed the plate, hoping the usher would work out that I had no more cash than that one coin. 

I was keen to make amends, and point out that my offering was not a reflection of my lack of generosity, but more a failing of that particular community to not support my needs as I giver. I found the pastor and was informed that I could give via the website. I asked if they planned a system in place that would facilitate my need to give via my mobile phone, only to be told that nobody would use that in their church, which was not entirely accurate as I was one of possibly many more that did have that need. 

Sitting in the quiet of my lounge that day, I went to the website preparing to give, yet it was vastly different from the Sunday School experience of 50 years ago. I could not not feel that sense of community, neither did it feel intentional, as the moment of invitation to share the joy of giving had passed. The £50 I would have given, which in real terms would have been £59.86 with Gift Aid applied less transaction fees, found its way to another worthy cause on my giving app.

The church website also requested too much personal data for me to give with a sense of safety, especially as I had started a personal crusade months earlier to reclaim my online anonymity. 

I know I am not the only one who has suffered the ‘I have no cash’ moment, one only has to officiate or attend a baptism to see how many people not accustomed to church life do not carry cash. I wonder how many regular church attendees even carry cash? 

The church has by and large moved giving to the convenience of the banking system. The free giving of the communal offering, the classroom for lifetime giving, is now located in a world of Direct Debits and Standing Orders. Young people are increasingly distanced from the physical act of giving. We may still have a giving moment in our services, but increasingly this simply functions as symbolic, the Queen passing lonely along the pews.

The world is changing, this was evident recently at Kings Cross station where I took the chance between trains to grab an oat latte from Cafe Nero. The sign was clear, ‘We Are Now A Cashless Store’, Later that day, buying a small beer from the Euston Tap as I awaited the Caledonian Sleeper train back to Inverness, I was directed to a table where I would find a QR code to scan, download the app and order my drink. The craft beer was delivered to my table, my only surprise being that the glass did not carry the Amazon logo, yet without a phone I would not have been able to sit and reflect on these issues with a cold beer in my hand.

So in a world where the donation of cash in the moment becomes consigned to history, how do we maintain that giving moment that is both communal and intentional? Do we even need to?

According to the Blackbaud Institute for Philanthropic Impact, 68 per cent of younger donors engage with causes and charities through their mobile devices. Young people increasingly do not use cash, standing orders or direct debits to give, and live increasingly through a smartphone screen. 

A recent Guardian article revealed that just seven percent of in-store purchases in the UK could be made in cash by 2024, a report has forecast, after the coronavirus pandemic fuelled the switch to cards and mobile payments.

While cash accounted for 27 per cent of in-store transactions in 2019, the latest global payments report from processing company Worldpay found that had fallen to 13 per cent last year. The report predicts usage will continue to drop over the next three years.

International figures showed that in several other countries, including Sweden, Canada and Australia, already less than one in 10 shop payments are made in cash. It predicted Sweden would be “almost cashless” by 2024, with 0.4 per cent of transactions paid for with money, down from 15.2 per cent in 2019 and 8.8 per cent last year.

Faced with this knowledge, any church or charity without a simple means that allows donors to give without cash will face a difficult future, and undoubtedly have to install something sooner or later, and when demand increases, so will the price. 

There is an urgent need for our churches to support the needs of the giver, and supporting that need is not as complex as we may think. With Jesus nothing changes, he is an anchor for our soul, whereas in the world, nothing stays the same. The church needs not be passive subjects of change, but should instead be active agents of change. That change activity would be better if it began today.

Image | Chad Madden | Unsplash

David Lynch is a former Baptist elder, Railway Mission Chaplain, youth worker and Church of Scotland Head of Stewardship. He is currently working as UK Strategic Relationships and Growth Director for Givt UK.

David has created a website for churches seeking to explore this area: beyondgiving.co.uk 

It was also covered briefly in this Baptists Together webinar in early 2020.



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Baptist Times, 02/09/2021
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