What the Decline in Check Writing Will Mean for Your Church

The article below, published by Mark Brooks, Founding Partner and President of The Charis Group, is relevant to churches – large and small – all across the country. Pastors and church leaders, please take the time to read and consider this valuable article. 


What the Decline in Check Writing will Mean for Your Church

Americans have changed the way they do commerce. Sit at your local Starbucks or McDonalds and you can see it. When was the last time you saw somebody writing a check? For that matter how often do you see anyone paying with cash? More and more Americans are turning away from the traditional means of payment towards plastic and digital commerce.

The Decline of Paper Checks

How many paper checks a month do you write in your family?  You probably write few of any. The younger you are the fewer you write. In the last decade check writing has declined significantly. Consider the following facts from the Federal Reserve…

  • Paper check usage declined from 61% of all payments in 2000 to just 26% by 2010.
  • In 2011, the number of checks processed by the Federal Reserve fell at its steepest rate yet, down 17, a third of the volume processed 20 years ago.
  • The average check size has approximately doubled, rising from an average of $879 in 2001 to $1,460 in 2011, as many smaller-value payments are transacted with debit cards or have been automated.
  • Reserve Banks estimate that check volumes will have declined another 14 percent in 2012, to about 5.5 billion items.

The Federal Reserve summary of why check writing is in decline stated, “One key reason for the decline in check writing is the public’s rapid adoption of new and convenient payments service technologies. Today’s payment technologies allow households and businesses to pay by cash, checks, automated payments through automated clearinghouse (ACH) payments networks, debit cards, credit cards, and prepaid cards.”

Commerce today is more digital than ever before and this trend is only going to continue.

How The Church Has Responded to This Change

For the most part the church has NOT responded. In a 2011 study done by Lifeway Research only 14% of those churches surveyed offered online giving. For the past few months I have been conducting a survey of churches and their online giving activity. You can take that survey by going here. While the results of our survey shows a higher percentage of online usage by churches, 58% of respondents say they offer online giving, none the less it reveals some startling facts.

  • 42% of churches that do offer online giving take in less than 10% of their incomes through online gifts. Even churches providing this tool have a ways to go towards effective use.
  • We don’t feel our people will use it. That was the number one response of churches that did not provide online giving.
  • The cost is too much, was the second reason for not offering online giving followed close behind by, We don’t understand how it works.

Clearly the Church has a long ways to go to catch up with the rest of how society is doing commerce! Many that have online giving are not using the tool effectively. Those that feel their members will not use it should ask how many have automatic bill payments set up. As for costing too much, would WalMart or McDonalds offer plastic options if in the long run it did not pay for itself? Transaction rates are fractional and providing ease of use will increase giving which will more than pay for any costs. As for not understanding how this technology works did that stop you from buying a computer? It is the 21st century after all.

When we do not offer online giving then we are forcing those who attend our churches to adapt to our 20th century means of collecting money. Fewer of your attendees come to church with their checkbooks and they have little cash on their person. Could this be one reason why giving to the church continues to decline?

What the Decline in Check Writing Will Mean for Your Church

This technological and cultural shift if not meet will have drastic implications for The Church including Your church. As your congregation gets younger by attrition you will see check writing become more infrequently used. If we do not change our process for collecting the offering we will see our offerings decline! The reason is simple. The harder we make it for people to give the less likely they will give. If our only means of collection remains the traditional offering plate, people will put in the few dollars they have on their person. The percentage of what you collect will decline if it has not already.

The Bible teaches us that we must give it does not say how. The offering plate came into wide acceptance in the U.S. only in the late 1800′s to early 1900′s. It is not the 11th commandment that gifts be put in a basket or plate. The offering plate is a tool. It will remain for some time an effective tool for collecting gifts. However if it is your only tool and the demise of paper checks continues then you are in trouble.

Smart churches provide multiple ways for people to give thus increasing their ability to receive funds. Since check writing is in decline isn’t it time you offered online giving?

Photo Mark Brooks

Founding Partner and President
The Charis Group and Charis Giving Solutions