Churches finds early success in advent of e-religion

North American churches looking to deploy automated kiosks to collect donations

As worshippers enter Stevens Creek church, they find a Giving Kiosk near the entrance. People who want to donate to the church electronically merely swipe their debit or credit card on the device and key in the amount they wish to give. Their donations are routed to the church coffers automatically and the machine gives them a receipt.

SecureGive also flashes images on the screen. "The church site shows images that remind people of their faith and hopefully draw them closer to God," said Baker.

The kiosk costs between US$2,289 and US$5,724, there is a US$286 set up fee and a US$57 dollar monthly hosting and licensing fee. A card processing company also gets 1.9 percent of each transaction.

The system does have its detractors such as church leaders who deem the machine as crass. "Some people are dead against it and would not hesitate calling me the Devil himself," said Baker.

At least one Canadian church inquired about the system but recently decided it was not for them. Tim Williams, pastor of the Northview Community Church said he had some reservations about the fees they had to pay Baker and the card processing company.

"It would provide a great deal of convenience, but the fees we have to pay mean money taken away from our church," said Williams.

Like most churches, Northview solicits donations by passing the basket at the pews. The church, however, also uses an electronic PIN-based debit and credit card point of sales system for receiving payment for other functions.

The system is located at a desk in the church office and used by people who want to pay for programs offered by the church.

A New York-based professor, who investigates how technology and religion interact, says he sees Baker's and similar systems being adopted by churches in the near future.

"It will look weird in the beginning but people will get use to it," said Robert Geraci, assistant professor, religious studies, Manhattan College.

Geraci said if automated kiosks encounter any resistance, it will be based on economics rather that religion. "Some organizations will probably be constrained by the fees financial companies and the developer will demand."

Geraci noted that in the past other technologies had encountered some opposition in church but were later accepted. For instance, conservative institutions forbade amplified music and electronic musical instruments.

"Today is not too uncommon to hear rock music played on an electric guitar in church," said Geraci.

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