Holy Start-Up? A Pastor's 'Giving Kiosks' Spread
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
A story in today's Los Angeles Times caught our eye about a common object in an unusual place. ATMs - you've used them at banks, at gas stations, airports and convenience stores. Now they're showing up in churches, not for the purpose of getting fast cash. No, these ATMs provide a convenient way to donate money to the church. Think of them as 21th Century offering plates.
Marty Baker is making a business of these so-called Giving Kiosks. He's the pastor at Stevens Creek Community Church in Augusta, Georgia, and he joins me now. Pastor Baker, good to talk to you.
Pastor MARTY BAKER (Stevens Creek Community Church, Augusta, Georgia): Well, it's great to talk to you today.
NORRIS: Where did this idea come from?
Pastor BAKER: This idea came really about three years ago. Our church was going into a capital campaign, where we were going to add a building to our present campus, and when a pastor goes through those building campaigns, you start to think how can we accomplish the goal. And so I started to look at my own life, and I realized that I don't carry cash and I don't carry a checkbook, but I live my life with a debit card in my hand. And I started thinking I wonder if there are other people in our congregation just like me, and what if God prompts them to give - how would they do it?
And I thought surely this technology's available, and I started calling around to various companies, and they would say, you know, that's a great idea, but we don't offer that. That's a great idea, but we don't offer that. And so we hired a team of developers and went to work.
NORRIS: Pastor Baker, though, did you have any reservations about this? In many churches, there's a great tradition to giving, the ritual of giving, filling out the envelope, passing the basket and the whole sort of communal nature of making an individual gift by putting that cash or that envelope in the basket. Do you lose that if you make this into a transaction?
Pastor BAKER: You know, I would - first of all, I would look at it that giving is a personal decision, and it's a very private worship experience between you and God. But I do understand where the Bible says bring an offering, and we consider these machines in the atrium of our church as a way that you can bring the offering.
But some people in the church still like to physically bring that and place it in the offering basket, because we still pass a basket. And so there have been times where people have taken the receipt from the Giving Kiosk and dropped it in the basket.
NORRIS: You are expressing a great deal of enthusiasm about this idea, but I understand that there has been some discomfort within the congregation about these kiosks. What are people concerned about?
Pastor BAKER: I think people are concerned about possibly just the technology, that you're losing that personal touch. And so, you know, I understand that. Other people are concerned just because the culture is changing so quickly that they want to run to something that never changes, and they look at the church as something that has never changed. And now churches are changing, and it's really unsettling for some.
NORRIS: How much do you take in at the kiosks, and how does that compare with -
Pastor BAKER: I'm not sure about last Sunday, but the Sunday before last, 25 percent of our giving came in through the kiosk.
NORRIS: If the idea takes off and actually becomes profitable, how do you handle the profits? Is that considered personal gain or would all that money flow to the church?
Pastor BAKER: Well, this is something that we felt like could serve congregations but also could make a profit for the company. And since I was a child, I was taught to set aside the first 10 percent of your income to give away to the Lord's work or to charitable causes. And so I've continued that all throughout my life, and having been married now 24 years, we've always practiced that. So we will continue to practice that in our business dealings, too.
NORRIS: Thank you very much, Pastor Baker.
Pastor BAKER: Thank you.
NORRIS: Marty Baker. He's the pastor of Stevens Creek Community Church in Augusta, Georgia. He's also the founder of SecureGive, which so far has put ATMs in seven churches in the South and Midwest.