Is Your Parish APP to Do This?

A paperless society is certainly great for the environment. More and more items are being sent electronically. Invitations are no longer being printed for the simple gathering and the not-so-simple gathering.

Paper money too will soon be a thing of the past. People buy a $1.89 cup of coffee at the local 7/11 with a plastic credit or debit card, not with two one-dollar bills. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing in the last 10 years has cut its annual production of one-dollar bills in half from 3.7 billion bills to 1.8 billion bills. The number of coins in circulation can be lessened as those two nickels and the penny you would have received buying that cup of coffee at the 7/11 are no longer necessary. You don’t need them anymore; when was the last time you used a pay phone or put money in a meter for a downtown parking spot? Those little kiosks where you swipe your credit card to get two hours of parking are taking the place of coin meters.

The “no change” in your pocket or “no bills” in your wallet has an effect in many other places. The income even for beggars on city streets is down considerably according to some social trend statistics since fewer people even have a dollar bill in their wallet or change in their pocket to hand to them.

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The electronic users, who by credit card or online banking, also give faithfully and generously like their envelope counterparts. As years unfold and the banking industry changes, these will become the new bread-and-butter givers. Parishes will need to adapt to this new way of giving. Shutterstock photo

Now take this phenomenon from the city street to the church foyer. What impact does this have on the poor boxes in the back of our churches? There has been a considerable decline in poor-box income over the last few years in my parishes (though the attendance has remained steady) as more and more people have less and less “toss-able” money in their pockets. Earlier in the summer, The Little Sisters of the Poor were begging at the front doors of the church as people were leaving. It was announced in the bulletin and on the parish website for several weeks prior. Even still, so many walked past giving nothing and saying sheepishly, “Sorry, Sister, I have no money on me.” Recently, we widened the slot from coin-size on our poor box for parishioners to toss in their dollar bills. The hope and thinking was, if it was easier to toss it in as you go by, maybe a few more bucks. But people cannot toss in what they don’t have with them.

How people handle money and its use as currency has shifted so significantly in the past few years that, if the Church does not shift with it, there will be a loss of significant income in those things that once were the icing on the cake of parish budgets. Those votive candles, once 50 cents and then going up to a $1 for the small ones or $5 for the seven-day candles, are now just sitting in the racks waiting to be lit. The people coming through have no dollar bills in their wallets to put into the little offering slot (they have no coins either).

Obviously, the mainstay of all parishes’ income and budget is the weekly offering. The other little line items on the diocesan “standard of accounts” are not so little when you start adding them all together. All of a sudden there is loss in the bottom line. The extra collection that might get added during the hot summer months or cold winter months to help with utilities is not as lucrative anymore. The flower memorial envelopes stapled in the bulletins during Advent and Lent to help defray the cost of Christmas and Easter flowers go unused to the point that we wonder if it is even worth the expense of printing the special envelopes!

The traditional practice of parishioners having a packet of offertory envelopes mailed to their home every other month from the “envelope company” is unfortunately becoming extinct. These envelope users have been the bread and butter of parish coffers for decades. They tend to be faithful and generous. If the parish adds an extra envelope for a specific cause (winter oil bill, school tuition assistance, etc.) that envelope will get a dollar or two placed within it to toss into the collection basket. These traditional parishioners who give in the traditional way don’t let an envelope go unused. These are the people who have loose bills and coins in the wallets and purses waiting to be used. These many “widow’s mites” add up, keeping us in the black (or closer to it). Another decade or two, this way of meeting the bottom line will be gone.

The electronic users, who by credit card or online banking or electronic fund transfer, also give faithfully and generously like their envelope counterparts. As years unfold and the banking industry changes, these will become the new bread-and-butter givers. Parishes will need to adapt to this new way of giving. It has become easier for the Monday morning money counters as there are increasingly fewer bills and checks in the basket to count. More and more virtual money is deposited electronically into the parish coffers.

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Maybe it is time to let the new way to bank, the new way to give, the new way to communicate work for “the new way.” Shutterstock photo

The downside in this up-and-coming new tradition is the adding of the extra envelope in the packet. Most electronic givers have set up an automatic recurring credit card donation or a standard on-line check that arrives the last day of the month or on the 15th day of each month. The parish bookkeeper accesses the accounts of all those who give established electronic fund transfers. Seldom will these givers log in to their banking website to amend their contribution for that one month. They are not going to call in and grant permission for the parish to retrieve an extra $50 for this month to help the rising utility bill. It is not that they are not generous or caring. But automatic offering gives permission for the giver to tune out the special request as they made their conscious decision months ago as to what they want to give and are fulfilling that commitment. The mentality of “I gave at the office” clicks in, so when they hear the plea from the pulpit for a special need or even see the envelope stapled to the bulletin, it does not register. They have taken care of their offering to the Church. The challenge is how to remind them quarterly, semiannually, annually to amend their giving for those unexpected needs.

The banking industry is changing. Passing the collection basket in the middle of Mass is becoming obsolete since tithing just happens automatically for many, and no one has real money in their pocket or purse anymore. What each person does have in their pocket, besides their empty wallet, is access to their bank and to their money. They are checking their iPhones while the collection basket is being passed, so maybe it is time to let the new way to bank, the new way to give, the new way to communicate work for “the new way.”

Imagine if the parish had an app created for it so that when the ushers start walking up the aisle and the cantor is announcing the hymn for the presentation of the gifts, the folks in the pews can reach for either their envelopes or their iPhones. Both are making an offering in their chosen way. When the parish has special needs to help with a colder winter than usual, and the pastor makes his heartfelt plea, instead of asking the people to remember that next week there will be a second collection for the cause, give them permission to reach into their pocket and make that donation now. If the Little Sisters of the Poor are going to be at the front door as we exit Mass today, ask the parishioners to click on the parish app and then click on Poor Box. The parish will send the money to the Little Sisters. If not an app, make it easy to access the parish website right then and there to make a donation. What difference does it make at the rack of votive candles whether there is a little box where a dollar bill is inserted or a little electronic reader where a card is swiped? Are not both just two different means to the same end? The parishioner gets to light a candle, and the parish receives the donation to pay for that candle. Neither parishioner nor parish is disappointed.

FATHER CARRION is pastor of Holy Cross, Our Lady of Good Counsel, St. Mary, Star of the Sea in Baltimore, Md., and is director of the Deacon Formation Program for the Archdiocese. pcarrion@archbalt.org