by Bishop Stephen Hale

Bishop Stephen Hale has been the Lead Minister at St Hilary’s since 2009. A recent media focus has been on the growing number of people who no longer carry any cash with them as they go about their daily lives. In this article Bishop Hale discusses the implications for us and for our churches

For the first time, cards account for more of our purchases than cash. Whether it’s payWave or myki, Opal or MyWay for the small things, or Visa, MasterCard and debit cards for the big ones, we are using cards more often than ever before and taking less cash out of ATMs than at any time in the past 15 years.

A new Reserve Bank report released last week finds that an astonishing one-fifth of Australians carried no cash whatsoever on the day they were surveyed, up from 8 per cent three years before. The typical amount carried fell from $55 to $40. The typical amount secreted away around the home (such as in bedrooms and under fruit bowls) is $100.

Only for payments of less than $10 did cash still hold its own, and predominantly among older and poorer Australians.

Ironically there has been a jump in the number of people using $100 notes. This applies for people, it seems, who only pay cash!!

Traditionally in churches people put money – cash – in the plate. The Offertory was an act of devotion during public worship having been reverently collected and then received by the minister with a prayer of thanks and offering. In the 70’s and 80’s this was partly altered as people used envelopes to put cash/cheques in the envelope and put them in the plate. The next evolution in the 90’s was the introduction of Direct Debit/Credit Card Authorisations. At our church we’ve been at the upper end of the percentage of people who give electronically – 85% to 90%. In other churches it may be more like 60 – 70%. Research indicates that most churches that rely heavily on traditional forms of electronic giving have static offertory incomes because most people do not adjust (i.e. increase) their giving from one year to the next. The critical thing these days is to eliminate the steps. If you’re relying on people to take home a form and complete it, chances are you’ll get a limited response.

At present in the church I lead we’re going through another revolution as more and more people give via the Push Pay App. Approximately 43% of our current giving now comes via PushPay. Given we only introduced this less than two years ago this is a major shift. The huge advantage of PushPay is that people can manage their own giving and can adjust it instantly. Your information is loaded in the App and it is a two-step process to give or manage your regular giving. People can spontaneously give to particular appeals or other appeals via the App. With an App like PushPay people can manage their giving in the same way as most people now manage their other financial transactions by having it pre- set and digitised. There is also the challenge that if they’re not happy with something they can act immediately!

These changes have significant implications for us and for all churches. We still have offertories but as we all know only a small amount is given by a small number of people. In 2016 we introduced an offertory at each of our Sunday Schools because some parents became aware that their children had never seen them give any money at church! Some people still use envelopes and many still have Direct Debit arrangements or Credit Card transfer authorisations. As indicated a growing number of people are choosing to use PushPay. Recently I was told that a Pentecostal Church nearby has the standard two offertories (tithes and then another after the giving appeal). They have volunteers who stand in the aisles with tap and pay machines!

It would be true to say that for a range of people these sorts of innovations are personally challenging as they impact the sense of piety and expectation they have around the idea of making an offering to God.

Our church is on a journey in this space. Most of us are evolving how we mange our finances and make payments. We don’t have all the answers and we are currently checking out what other leading churches are doing in this space. I recently spoke at the Diocesan Training Program for new Incumbents. None of them had heard of PushPay!

In one sense that’s not surprising as most of them are leading smaller churches which rely on fairly traditional approaches. Unfortunately the traditional approaches are being surpassed by contemporary  technology.

Many of you I’m sure will be wondering, has this worked? Has your giving gone up?

The answer is yes. Last year our giving grew by 6% and it has grown again in 2017. Is this due to the new technology? It’s probably too early to know. We’ve also grown numerically. I’ll let you be the judge on that one. I would suggest that with 43% uptake in less than two years it has been an important shift to be a part of, especially for younger people.

N.B. There are no fees for the individuals who give, but PushPay charges organisations an annual service fee that may vary based on certain factors.