AUGUSTA, Ga. — Passing the plate for the weekly church offering may soon become passé.

With the advent of ATM-style “giving kiosks,” an increasing number of churches are moving into the age of electronic donations.

So far, though, only one Catholic church in the country uses one.

Evangelical pastor Marty Baker of Augusta’s Stevens Creek Community Church, who created the “giving kiosks,” describes it as the latest evolution in the exchange of money.

“In the Old Testament, people brought in animals and grain,” said Baker. “Later, it was coins, then paper money, then checks. It just makes sense to help the church move into this new generation.”

Baker first installed the kiosks in the 6,000-square-foot lobby of his church in March of 2005. The first year, the kiosks generated $100,000 in donations. The second year, they generated $200,000. This year, he expects that the three kiosks will generate close to $250,000.

Baker’s wife, Patty, markets the devices through their for-profit company, Automated Giving Solutions.

The machines feature a touch-screen monitor, magnetic card reader, receipt printer and PIN (personal identification number) pad. Donors can either register or give anonymously through a credit card or debit card.

Members of the church like the option for its convenience.

“I’m a big fan of the kiosk,” said Amy Forrest, an entrepreneur and member of the church. “I don’t carry cash. It’s a generational thing. If I’m going to give, it has to happen through the debit card.”

Todd and Stacy Lewer use the kiosks exclusively for tithing.

“That’s how we operate — with our debit card,” said Stacy, who serves as an assistant to the pastor. “It’s cheaper for us, whereas writing checks costs us money.”

It’s not just churches that are attracted by the idea. Nonprofit organizations, such as the Oregon Ballet Theater of Portland, Metro Health Foundation of Grand Rapids, Mich., and the Pearl Harbor Memorial Foundation of Hawaii have all requested the kiosks.

Self-service kiosks are widespread in the airline industry, grocery stores and for photography development. David Drain, executive director of the Self-Service & Kiosk Association in Fort Worth, Texas, said that while the use among churches isn’t widespread yet, he expects it to increase.

“Churches are all about tradition,” said Drain. “Progressive churches would probably be the type to have one.”

Summit Research estimates that there are 800,000 kiosks, not counting ATMs, currently in deployment. IHL Consulting Group estimates that $1.3 trillion will be transacted through kiosks by 2011.

A recent Dallas Morning News poll discovered that 55% of 200 local churches did accept credit cards or debit cards for tithing.

Catholic Connection?

By September, the Bakers will have placed 40 of the kiosks in churches and nonprofits across the country. While evangelical communities and nonprofits have picked up on the concept, Catholic churches have been slower to embrace it, relying more heavily on automatic withdrawals from parishioner’s bank and checking accounts.

Administrators at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Baton Rouge, La., decided against the idea.

“The cathedral is more of a historical church and the current rector is not too anxious to incorporate ATMs,” a diocesan staff member told Time magazine.

In fact, the only Catholic church in the country utilizing the system is St. Anthony’s Shrine and Ministry Center in Boston. The urban ministry center installed a kiosk in its street-level lobby the first week of December.

The church receives a great deal of traffic with its nine Sunday Masses, eight weekday Masses and daily confessions.

“Part of the reason we did this is that more and more people have been asking to donate with a credit card,” said Franciscan Father David Convertino, executive director for the shrine. “They tell us they would like to give but don’t have cash.”

The kiosk allows donors to specify their donation to one of four categories: their annual Franciscan campaign, bread for the poor, offertory or other. Father Convertino said that the majority give to the annual campaign.

To date, the largest single donation using the kiosk has been $1,000. While Father Convertino didn’t want to say how much the kiosk has generated he did say that the $5,000 machine has paid for itself multiple times.

“Our Franciscan campaign is way up this year,” said Father Convertino. “But it’s too early to say if that’s due to the kiosk. I would say there’s been a lot of interest in it.”

Common criticisms of the ATM-style kiosks include that it’s somehow “tacky” and that it could encourage debt. Others have wondered whether Christ would “overturn” the kiosks.

“I don’t see it as any more tacky than if I used it at a grocery store,” said Stacy Lewer. “It’s a great convenience.”

Baker explained that the machine can be tucked into a corner and placed into a housing to give it a subtle look. He also explained that the machines can be set up to accept only debit cards. He cited Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church in Tipp City, Ohio, as one that chooses not to accept credit cards, but only debit cards, to prevent people from going into debt.

“We’ve been very surprised,” said Father Convertino. “We really didn’t know how it would be accepted. To the best of my knowledge we haven’t had one person criticize it.”

For the Franciscans, it’s simply another way to reach potential donors.

“It’s just another part of our whole fundraising strategy,” said Father Convertino. “We want to provide multiple ways for donors to give.”

Tim Drake is based in

St. Joseph, Minnesota.