Last November, Christianity Today asked me to write a short piece that answered the question, “Which new technologies hold the most promise—and the most peril—for use in church ministries?”
I believe that the technology that has the most promise in the church is not the latest thing that comes off the assembly line. Rather, it is the technology—any technology—that church leaders openly discuss with other leaders and with their congregations. Conversely, the technology that is most perilous for a church is the one that leaders immediately adopt without thinking through and addressing how it will subtly reshape our spiritual lives.
I went on to give the example of how a seemingly unimportant technology like online giving is worth thinking through spiritually:
For years my wife and I would spend the final minutes before leaving for church frantically searching for our checkbook. So when our church announced that we could set up automatic draft payments, we jumped at the chance to streamline our life and give more consistently.
After a little while, though, we noticed that our new plan was changing our giving in ways we hadn’t expected. Every week, when the person next to me passed the offering plate, I started to wish secretly that I had an “I give online” token so that he or she would know we were faithfully paying customers. A few months later, when our pastor gave a sermon on the joy of giving, I started wondering if we were missing out on the intimacy with God that can come through repetitive acts of devotion. Instead of worshiping through sacrifice, I seemed to be sacrificing the chance to worship for a little convenience.
The point isn’t that there is a problem with online giving itself. The problem was with my approach to the technology. I didn’t think it through spiritually or communally. Instead, I simply decided that convenience was the only criteria I would use to evaluate the technology.
With online giving, the dollar amount I give is the same (or more since I never miss a payment) and yet Jesus himself argued that the amount we give is irrelevant. It’s how we give that matters to him (Luke 21:1-4). Back when we used checks, I kind of liked the idea that people would see me pulling out my checkbook and trying to write the numbers down before the plate arrived. Now that we use automatic draft, I wonder what the people around me are thinking when I don’t put anything in the plate. In addition, I feel as though we are missing out on a regular, sacrificial act of worship since giving is not a conscious act for us.
[Update: Just to clarify, we ultimately choose to keep using online giving, but we did so after thinking it through more carefully. My encouragement is to make your choice with more thoughtful criteria than just what’s newer or more convenient. Some of the commenters below offer some great suggestions.]
Again, the point is not that one technology – cash, checks, or automatic draft – is better than the other. It’s that the technology we use is never spiritually neutral. Rather, each technology presents us with a different set of spiritual choices. This means that when we neglect to think about our technology, we are neglecting to think spiritually.
Though we ultimately chose to stick with automatic draft, here’s a letter from someone who read the article and decided she needed to do something about it:
I thought you might enjoy knowing how you had influenced me. Today I decided to set up my tithe on a weekly basis instead of the automatic credit card draw as had been the case for the last two years. When I read your article pertaining to the issue, several weeks ago, it hit a strong chord in me. I knew it was the answer to that niggling angst I’d been experiencing every time the collection plate was passed. I hadn’t given it any thought once I sent in my commitment. It was automatic; it wasn’t a decision. Decisions are far better. It calls for an interaction between me and God. What a concept!
How about you? What technology do you use to give? How does your technological choice help you grow in intimacy with God and maximally glorify him?