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Closeup of hand holding credit cardThe Old Ways

Back in the day (I’m talking about 20+ years ago) EVERY responsible adult had a checking account.

We carried our checkbook with us everywhere we went because that was how we paid for all our stuff… groceries, our purchases at Target, even our food at our local restaurant.

Once a month, we’d get our statement from the bank or credit union, and we would sit down with our statement (which sometimes included our “canceled checks”) and our check register, and we would reconcile our account. WHAT IN THE WORLD?!?!

Every responsible adult carried real actual cash with them. All the time! Because sometimes a store wouldn’t accept checks (small mom and pop business for instance).

SOME people also had credit cards, which they used sparingly.

Donate Today ConceptThe New Ways People Handle Money

My, how times have changed.

I bet if you asked a group of millennials, you would find that many of them do not even have a checking account. And if they do, they don’t use it in the traditional way.

In fact, a recent study from MFour Mobile Research’s Millennial Insights Project shows that although 87% of millennials have a checking account, 61.2% of them prefer to use a mobile app for their banking. This is true across all racial and ethnic groups, as well as income brackets.

This study also showed that only 17% had written a check during the past week. AND, 24% had NEVER used a check.

Another study, released by CreditCards.com, shows that while 77% of people over age 50 prefer to use cash (for small purchases), only 48% of millennials will use cash. They prefer debit or credit cards.

The habits and preferences of the millennial generation seem to be spilling over to the rest of our population. A 2013 Gallup study revealed that all generations seem to prefer using online and mobile banking and are using those methods more and more frequently. In fact, 71% of baby boomers bank online every week.

How will this affect Churches?

Now let’s think for a minute about the way the offering is taken at most churches. Are you picturing it in your mind? In the most traditional churches, it’s still common for the congregation to be assigned tithe envelopes to use each week. The plate is passed at some point during the service and people put in their tithe envelopes, or they write a check (if they happened to remember to bring their checkbook) or they scrounge in their pockets or the bottom of their purses to see if they have any actual money.

Some, a little more progressive churches, might have decided not to pass the plate anymore. Instead, they have buckets or baskets at the back of the church for people to give on their way out the door. (But they still have to bring a check or cash with them.)

The faithful and prepared givers are ready with their money. They’ve thought about it ahead of time, and they know that giving to their church is one of their spiritual acts of worship.

Meanwhile, the visitors, the “new to the church”, and the millennials, merely watch as the plate goes by, because they have no means to give, even if they want to. Or no understanding of why they should.

The word TITHE written in vintage lead letterpress typeDigital Giving for Churches

Many churches now realize that giving needs to be easier. So they do provide a way to give digitally—usually via a “donate” button on their website. They might even put a blurb in their bulletin, saying that giving online is an option, or they make a slide, even showing a graphic to point out how easy it is to give that way.

However, more could be done to make it easier and more natural for ALL the congregation to participate. Even in the church that passes the plate—and there’s absolutely NOTHING wrong with that—why not take the time from the pulpit or the stage to describe other ways to give?

If the church has an online giving tool, such as DigiGiv, the speaker could easily take a minute to give the congregation a minute to use their mobile app on their phone to give along with everyone else. Think of it this way: Smartphones have replaced the wallet.

Some churches may not like the idea of changing tradition to cater to the young folks. After all, isn’t it the older generation that typically is the main support for the church anyway? And millennials don’t have any money anyway, do they? And if they do, they’re sure not going to give it to the church, are they? Or aren’t they?!

One of the many generalizations about millennials is that they’re selfish with their money. After all, they’ve been tagged the “me” generation—especially considering their obsession with their smartphones and posting selfies on social media.

In contrast to that, it was found by the Nielsen Company that “75% of millennials made a financial gift to a non-profit in 2011.” Along with that, “63% count it as their responsibility to care for an elderly parent, compared with only 55% of baby boomers.” So there is really no cause to consider them selfish.

But there does need to be a way to give millennials the opportunity to participate in giving to their church. If the church does not provide a mobile app or other form of digital giving, they are automatically disregarding a large segment of their potential congregation.

And after all, who IS the future congregation of our churches today? Millennials (born between 1981 and 2005) are the biggest generation in history. Surpassing even the baby boomers. There are currently 80 million millennials in America, compared to 77 million boomers. And millennials are the first completely digital generation—relying on their smartphones for everything you can think of.

Not only are they the largest age group, they also controlled $2 trillion in liquid assets in 2014, and that figure is expected to rise to $7 trillion by 2020. They are forecast to generate 46% of all U.S. income by 2025. Now THAT is a large segment of the population to disregard!

If the church in America desires to reach “all” people for Christ, then that includes millennials too. Churches may need to adapt somewhat and follow the lead of the next generation. Make it as natural for them to give as it is for the older generation. Include them in the idea that giving IS a spiritual act of worship, by allowing them to participate in that part of the service.

If you don’t already have digital giving as an option, consider talking to some providers, such as digi.giv, or tithe.ly, and you will discover it’s very easy to set that up and also that your giving will increase.

If you do offer an option for digital giving, consider making that option more of a focus. Instruct your congregation in using it and make time for it during your worship service. Make it the “new normal.”

You will find that your giving will increase also, not just from a new generation, but from all age groups, following the lead of the millennials.