Tithing and the Square credit card reader

If you don’t own a smartphone, this post might not interest you. If you do, you should head over to Square and pick up one of their free smartphone credit card readers for free. Or if you’re an Apple fan and are in one of their stores, you can now pick one up for $9.95. Sounds like a scam, right? Lots of people are confused / upset with Apple over this, but they didn’t take the time to read further on the product page and realize that you actually get a $10 credit with the purchase of the reader (you earn a nickel by making the purchase).

I was able to finally put my reader to use this past week, selling crafts with my wife and kids – raising money to return to Cambodia (and take our 3 girls). The transaction went through without a hitch. I read further (after being curious about how it worked) and it appears that the microphone picks up the audio, sends it through the processors and then is routed to Square’s software application on the device (encrypted and no data is stored locally).

So, here’s my question. Is your church going to be the first to get rid of their tithing baskets and start accepting gifts via smartphones (with Square reader attached)? Dave Ramsey might not think this is a great idea, but the number of families who don’t carry cash are growing almost as fast as the families cancelling their cable / satellite and going with web-based or over-the-air digital television.

Maybe churches could have a few of the devices available in their lobby for accepting tithing before or after the service. Would this kind of tithing work for you / your church?

EDIT: After reading through the comments, I am now curious if Square will find a way for the reader to work with apps of NPO’s or other charities? Wouldn’t it be great to open up the site / app of an organization you’d like to make a donation and donate using the reader?

  1. I asked this question some weeks back (MMM Post: http://mobileministrymagazine.com/2011/03/11/collecting-money-via-iphone-at-concerts/) at a few places, and you know something, it was met more with fear than with consideration to ease of collection or ease of stewardship for those giving. Really a shame IMO, and a huge missed opportunity for the Body to teach on both digital and stewardship at the same time.

    Personally, if a church did this, I’d smile as all get out. But, I’m also crazy enough to make sure that I get an SMS *and* email receipt of the transaction if I’m not well associated with the church.

    Same discussion will come in time with NFC-related transactions, same fears, but hopefully, not the same missed opportunity.

    • The email receipts for this Square device showed up within moments, was great to watch. Thanks for sharing your article Antoine!

  2. I have no problem with it. Tithing is a personal thing between an individual and the Lord, and as such the avenue for how we tithe is far less important than our motivation to tithe.

    I could go on as to how important it is not to use credit to tithe but to tithe from a debit card only, but I think my previous statement sums it up.

    That all being said I would probably not use it if it was available because my tithe is one of the few checks I write all week, so it feels special when I do tithe with a check.

    • Makes sense. I’m sure there would be some people that would be up for it, and some that wouldn’t. Thanks for sharing David!

  3. Good post! Saw this device on TUAW.com the other day and didn’t connect the dots to this sort of application.

    My initial thought is, yeah this could work. But I see 2 HUGE hurdles that I think exist in most worship/tithing contexts:

    Hurdle 1: Tithing is a private thing
    Of all the issues in the church we keep the most private, money is at the top of the list. When I’m sitting in worship the tithing experience is relatively private (in our case, the lights are even turned down). If I have to got to an appointed place to “swipe my card” everyone knows what I’m up to. That may be more public than most people would want to be.

    Hurdle 2: A response outside of worship
    Personally, tithing is a response to God in the context of worship (which I know is kind of old school). So to take it out of that context would be strange to me. Not necessarily bad, but strange.

    Can these hurdles be overcome? Yep, but I think the hurdles are more sociological than anything.

  4. Craig

    I have more of a problem calling Christian giving a Jewish “tithe” than I do collecting it by credit card. Our church allows you to give via ACH, which saves the fees.

    • Are there any fees with ACH at all? The word tithe simply means a tenth of something, not sure there’s really any link to it being a Jewish word these days. Thanks Craig!

      • Craig

        I don’t know about ACH charges. I think there’s a one-time fee for the church to set it up (not one time per donor but one time for the church’s account). And I think maybe it varies depending on the type of account you have. I think there are some low-end accounts that pay per ACH transaction and some business accounts that pay a monthly fee to enable ACH, period. Not sure, though.

        And I’ll modify my statement to say I have more of a problem calling Christian giving a “tenth” (in the spirit of the Jewish tithe) than I do collecting it by credit card. 🙂

          • Craig

            Glad you asked.

            Referring to Christian giving as “tithing” connects it to the Jewish tithe, which simply isn’t a Christian concept. Christians are never instructed to follow the tithing laws in the New Testament, nor are they told to use 10% as a goal, guideline, or rule for their giving. In fact, the NT gives NO instruction as to how the church is to be supported financially. We are instructed to give to those who dedicate themselves to preaching and serving, but there are no particular instructions as to how to finance the local church as an organization.

            Furthermore, the Jewish tithe is not “10% of gross income” as most Christians teach it. The tithe only applied to crops and livestock. Once you realize this, you see that the tithe was a recognition of God’s role of giving life. Farmers and ranchers paid God 10% for his part in their business. They could plant the seed and feed the livestock, but only God could give life.

            There were no Jewish bankers in the OT who gave 10% of their income under the Law. There was no requirement for them to do so. Even when Jesus chided the Pharisees for their keeping of the law of the tithe, he didn’t say they were giving 10% of their income, but rather that they were tithing from their vegetable gardens. The tithe was never on income; always on crops and livestock.

            So the point is that it’s an incorrect term that feeds into incorrect doctrine and incorrect practice in the church. In some places, tithing is taught as a rule to force Christians to give. In others, 10% is taught as a guideline. Even though that’s less offensive than teaching it as a rule, it encourages bad exegesis and the idea that we can just pull verses and concepts out of context and call them “biblical”.

            So please don’t tithe. Give generously to all who are in need. Don’t worry about whether that works out to 9%, 10%, 50%, or 1%. The numbers are irrelevant.

  5. Once upon a time check were a new from a money exchange, and that seems pretty normal to put a check into the plate.
    Happily giving into the storehouse is the important thing. Let’s just hope our churches take the effort to make sure these electronic payments go quick and secure.

    • Interesting point. I wish I were a fly on the wall the first time someone left a check in the offering plate, LOL.

  6. Many churches I know of have been resisting the idea of taking tithes and offerings through PayPal, 1) because of the charges and 2) because we live in a debt culture and they struggle with the idea of people borrowing money to tithe.

    Many of those churches though have now given in and a large portion of the congregation give by PayPal.

    I’m in two minds over credit card giving and a lot of that has to do with me getting hotel points for every penny I spend on my card… So if I tithe by card, the Church has to pay a fee whilst I get rewarded for it…. somehow that seems wrong.

    Maybe Square will make little wireless devices that can be attached to the backs of every chair and you can just wave your card over them to tithe?


    • The fees are a bit odd, but they’re a necessity for the convenience I guess.

      I’m sure in 10 years (maybe 5…..or 1) we’ll be looking back at this discussion and laughing. Thankfully the faith doesn’t change like the technology does!

  7. That is a really neat application of today’s technology within the church. I’ll keep my eyes open to see just how churches or other groups will use that in the future. I imagine it will take time for people to trust, just like making payments online did…

  8. Good posting. We have been using the Square app for a number of things at our foundation:
    – merchandise sales at events
    – general contributions at events or other promotions

    You can even use the app without the card reader, but you pay more fees to do this (3.5% + .15).

    We don’t like to pay additional fees with our non-profit, but having the ability to process payments this way has increased sales and contributions that we wouldn’t of been able to generate.


  9. Bonnie

    I see that people use it for a tithe, but when I look at the reporting I don’t see any place where peoples names come up. I need the peoples name to appear so I can give them credit in my church bookkeeping.

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