Churches finds early success in advent of e-religion

North American churches looking to deploy automated kiosks to collect donations

In a bid to gain greater relevance within an increasingly young and tech-savvy congregation, some churches in North America are looking to deploy automated kiosks to collect donations from the faithful.

The image of a parishioner swiping a debit or credit card in church might strike some as incongruous -- the intrusion of consumerism into the domain of the sacred.

Pastor Marty Baker, however, dismisses such notions.

Baker, of the Stevens Creek Community Church, a Pentecostal church, says the device merely serves to facilitate a religious tradition in an increasingly digital world.

"It's just like an ATM [automated teller machine] for Jesus," said Baker, who together with Eric Bradley, a Stevens Creek churchgoer and programmer, began work on the Giving Kiosk back in 2004.

The first unit was beta tested and deployed in 2005 and since then 1,100-member congregation of mostly upper-middle class families has learned to accept the kiosk's sleek pedestal and computer screen that is not much different from those seen in commercial establishments.

Electronic kiosks are widely used in a variety of industries to facilitate processes such as registration and payment. Stevens Creek appears to be the first church to use the technology to accept donations.

The three 'Giving Kiosk' units in Stevens Creek accounted for more than US$274,000 or roughly 15 percent of the church's total donations for this year.

Reports of the machines' success have resulted in various churches around North America inquiring about the Giving Kiosk and SecureGive, a proprietary application developed by Bradley and Baker that handles electronic transactions.

"By the end of 2006, we will be in 14 churches and one nonprofit organization in 10 different states," said Baker.

Baker said the idea of installing kiosks in his church came to him when he noticed the increasing reliance of people on their debit and credit cards. "What would these people do if God prompted them to give, but somehow they didn't have cash in their pockets?"

Bradley wrote the program for SecureGive, while software developer and e-commerce firm Ingenux Corp. of Edmund, Ok. hosted the application.

Another software company, Q1-Technology, developed a secure personal identification number (PIN) debit system that integrated with Bradley's application.

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