Home SPARK: 'Excuse Me, Do You Take Checks?'

SPARK: 'Excuse Me, Do You Take Checks?'

By Ken Sloane

Stock pen writing on paper check

I can clearly remember my anxiety at the grocery store checkout (especially on the express line) when I heard someone three carts ahead ask this question.

It’s been a long time since I’ve even seen anyone with a checkbook at the grocery store. I guess we have made the transition to digital. I show the cashier a QR code on my phone; I put the phone in my pocket, and the register knows what card I want to use to pay. My wallet never comes out.

What’s happening at your church?

Several years ago, I was in Vermont at a lovely United Methodist church on a Saturday morning, preparing to lead a stewardship workshop. I was at the sound table in the back of the sanctuary getting set up with a wireless microphone, when I pointed out to the pastor that someone had left their checkbook behind.

“Oh, I bet that’s Matt’s, the young man who does our sound work. I can’t believe that it’s been here all week, and he hasn’t noticed it and come by to pick it up,” the pastor commented.

My response was, “I bet I can tell you why he hasn’t noticed. I bet the only check he writes any more is the check for his Sunday offering.” I know that was true for a lot of folks, and I was one of them. Maybe you as well.

It seems that more and more churches are making the move to digital giving; the onset of the pandemic made that argument convincingly. In my view, online recurring giving is still the goal to which we should try to move people. It is the most reliable form of giving for having available financial support for the mission and ministry of your church.

Many people have told me that they enjoy writing their checks and putting them in the plate. “It is intentional, deliberate, and I have to think about it.” I understand that, and I’m grateful not just for the generosity of the giving but for the intentionality.

Many people have told me that they enjoy writing their checks and putting them in the plate. 'It is intentional, deliberate, and I have to think about it.'

The reality is that paper checks are dying – they are near death. Every year, we write 1.8 billion fewer checks. The diagnosis for the death of checks came on a day that all of us remember: September 11, 2001.

Before that dark day, all the checks we wrote had to be moved and processed in their original state. The business that received your check deposited it at their bank, which might have been across the country, and then that physical check had to be transported by air and truck to your bank to be paid and then processed to be included in your monthly statement. About $4 billion in checks were in transit on any given day.

After the attacks of 9/11, $46 billion in paper checks were unaccounted for, and businesses were unsure whether the checks had been vaporized or buried in the buildings in lower Manhattan. This crisis moved Congress to quickly pass the Check 21 Act, which said that a facsimile or a digital image of a check could be processed – the actual check you signed doesn’t need to be used or returned to you.

From that point, check usage has steadily declined. In a 2012 report, the Federal Reserve predicted that checks would be gone by 2026. (You can read the report here).

Is your church ready for the day when checks are no more?

  • Do you have an electronic giving option?
  • Just as important, do you explain to your folks how to enroll and use electronic giving in a way that is clear and easy to grasp?
  • Do you have information from your online vendor about the security of people’s financial information that is submitted?
  • Do you have a way to satisfy folks who want their giving to be a thoughtful and deliberate experience (text to give or a QR code for folks to scan while in their pews?)?
  • Do you have an E-Giver card for people to use when they want to put something in the plate?

Whether checks go away in 2026 (as predicted) or later, we all need to get ready for the days when checks are nostalgic—like phone booths and eight-track tapes.

Ken Sloane is the Director of Stewardship & Generosity for Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church.

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