Since January, about the time Altoona Alliance Church introduced online giving, contributions to the church have increased 18 percent.
Pastor Tim McGarvey isn't sure the increase is solely because of the availability of online giving, but it has certainly helped.
"There seems to be an increase in giving, but I can't put my finger on it and say that's the only reason. It could be because they really love their pastor here. He's such a great guy," McGarvey said jokingly.
(Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec) Most church members still place their donations in the offering plate, but more churches are making online giving available.
Attendance has increased slightly in recent months, which also could account for the increase in donations.
Online givers are still a minority at Altoona Alliance, but McGarvey suspects the service will catch on because a number of church members requested the option of online or electronic donations. Donations can be made directly through the website, and donors can designate exactly where the money is spent - general fund, building fund, mission fund or a combination of all funds.
"I think it benefits the church. People like the option," McGarvey said.
Altoona Alliance seems to be among a small number of local churches that give contributors the option to donate electronically.
On a national level, however, a significant number of churches offer the service. While larger churches are usually first to adopt such options, even smaller churches are catching on.
"There's just a big shift going on in America about how people handle money. That impacts how they do their giving. More people are looking for online giving options," said Brian Kluth, author of "40 Day Journey to a More Generous Life."
Kluth also conducts research and compiles information on donations and churches for www.stateoftheplate
.info which tracks giving trends in America.
"The biggest trend is more churches are doing electronic options for people. We are just on the cusp of change," he said.
For those churches wanting to offer electronic giving, there are several options - from providing a kiosk (like an ATM) in the church lobby to allowing church-goers to donate on the church's website or encouraging members to set up automatic withdrawals from their bank accounts.
One of the downsides of online giving is the awkwardness when the collection plate is passed around. To address that issue, some churches provide slips for online givers to place in the plate.
The offering plate is still the most popular mode of collecting donations with 92 percent of churches continuing this practice, according to the state of the plate website --which surveys 1,360 churches nationwide from every Christian denomination.
First Baptist Church in Altoona prefers the offering plate, said Pastor Tyler Pepper, and they don't intend to go the way of online donations any time soon. Traditional giving is an important part of worship at First Baptist Church, and Pepper said he feels something might be lost if donations move online.
"Giving is a major part of worship. It's wonderful to do it together, instead of giving online," Pepper said.
"From our perspective, it's a time to reflect on what God has blessed us with. There's something unique and wonderful about corporate giving and worship. It's more than just giving money. It's really about worshipping and being thankful for what we have."
Many churches, especially those with older congregations, are of the same mindset.
In the next few years, however, Kluth said, more churches will offer electronic giving than donation envelope packets.
In 2011, 45 percent of churches provided annual envelope packets, 42 percent of churches gave church-goers the option for automatic bank withdrawal and online website giving was 41 percent. A small number or churches, about 7 percent, offered a smart phone giving application and 3 percent of churches set up kiosks in their church lobbies for giving.
The availability of electronic giving has a direct correlation to an increase in overall donations, Kluth said.
According to www.state
oftheplate.info, 51 percent of Christian churches in the U.S. saw giving increases in 2011, compared with 43 percent in 2010 and 36 percent in 2009.
"You do get more income from the church. It will happen 100 percent for sure," Kluth said.
The Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown started online giving options for its annual Catholic Appeal- which is a campaign encouraging local parishioners to donate annually to the diocese. This year, overall donations for the appeal are steady, but the amount of online donations has tripled over last year, although online donations are only about 2 percent of the overall donations.
About 10 percent of the 88 parishes in the diocese offer electronic giving options, and the diocese is encouraging all the parishes to consider the option, said Chris Ringcamp, director of development for the diocese.
Ringcamp, who attends St. John Catholic Church in Lakemont, began giving online after it was introduced at the church about four years ago.
"It is a marvelous tool that has allowed us to practice sacrificial giving and reach our personal goals of giving," Ringcamp said, explaining he is still able to give to the church when he is away on vacation or unable to attend church for various reasons.
Consistency of donations is one of the major effects of electronic giving for churches. Faithful church members will find it easier and more convenient to donate, and the church can depend on their donations even if they are unable to attend church or forget their checkbook.
Pastor Dennis Derr of First Methodist Church of Hollidaysburg has noticed this consistency as a result of allowing direct debit for donations.
"A lot of folks have that for all their normal kind of bills. It's just a convenience," Derr said, explaining the church is exploring the possibility of adding a contribution section to the church website, which would help fund missions outreach.
"Technology is changing and you just try to stay current," Derr said. "We wanted it up and running like three months ago."