Church meets Technology: Digitalizing One of the World’s Oldest Institutions

Worship podcasts. Text-to-tithe. YouTube sermons. A look at how churches are embracing technology.

Technology has revolutionized the ways churches (i) internally operate, (ii) collect donations and (iii) grow and serve members.

Behind every Sunday sermon is a full-time operation. Church leaders are utilizing technology to operate more efficiently and to improve communication with their congregants.[1]  There are more than 200 dedicated church software platforms that help leaders manage and automate tasks from donor tracking to membership management to payroll[2] [See Figure 1][3].  As a result of this increased efficiency, church leaders can focus on important initiatives like writing sermons and relationship building.  For a per month fee of ~$150-$300[4], churches can access a variety of operation-enhancing features such as[5]:

Figure 1
Figure 1
  • Online and social communication tools
    – Website design and social media management
    – Mass e-mail distributions
    – Small group facilitation
  • Member and donor data analytics
    – Weekly donor and contribution reports
    – Attendance history and demographic reports
  • Administrative essentials
    – Automated background checks
    – Room bookings
    – Volunteer management
  • Financial accounting tools
  • Member services
    – Event registration and management
    – Digital check-in for child-care services

Before the digital age, traditional donation methods consisted of cash envelopes and offering plates during services.  As consumer preferences continue to shift away from paper to online and mobile bill pay (42% of people with smartphones paid at least one bill via mobile), churches have had to adapt to match how congregants want to give[6].

Technology has improved the donation process in several ways:pic1

  • Donor flexibility: Through online, mobile and text options, donors can now choose when and where to give.
  • Donor visibility and retention: Automatic recurring donation options can help smooth out donations spikes typically experienced by non-profits during the holidays[7]. This also helps
    with both forecasting and donor retention.  pic2EasyTithe, a leading online donation platform, conducted customer surveys that indicated clients have seen a 95% retention rate with monthly recurring donors[8].
  • Data for churches: Donor tracking tools and automated contribution reports allow churches to analyze giving patterns and target congregants depending on their giving levels.  These reports can help with budget planning for large investme
    nts like mission trips and new buildings.
  • Potential uplift in giving amounts: The monetary benefits of offering digital giving solutions can be seen in other non-profit cases such as when $43 million was collected using text after the January 2010 Haiti earthquake[9]. According to Blackbaud, a leading non-profit donation platform, organizations that use online tools for fundraising raise six times more than those who use offline tools[10].  EasyTithe’s surveys indicated that churches using their platform see a 32% uplift in donation amounts from utilizing online and mobile solutions[11].

Technology has also enabled churches to engage more worshippers – and more frequently.

  • (i) Engaging the Millennial Worshipper: A key challenge for churches is how to engage millennials and youth.  Millennials are not only more likely to not belong to a faith, but those who belong to a faith are less likely to attend religious services[12] [Figure 2].  Technology has helped churches relate to and communicate with more tech-savvy millennial worshippers.  Congregations that have attracted more young adults tend to use and offer the most technology.[13]
Figure 2
  • (ii) Teaching beyond Sunday services: The digital age has provided new ways for people to worship and learn outside of the church.”   Members can now access live service-streaming, video-based curriculum, online scriptures and even Bible phone applications.  54% of practicing Christian millennials use online videos to learn and 70% of practicing millennials say they read Scripture on a screen[14].  YouVersion, a free Bible phone app, has more than 180 million downloads.[15]


Despite huge technological leaps, churches still lag behind in many ways.  Only 42% of churches offer online giving vs. 70% of non-profits[16].  All churches should make it a priority to invest in quality software programs to help grow and engage their membership bases.  Other potential avenues of digitization include:

  • Re-create biblical stories using virtual reality platforms
  • Attend and host technology workshops and conferences such as
  • Share daily devotionals via wearable technology like smart watches
  • Promote peer-to-peer fundraising through social media posts. Just the act of sharing with your church community that you donated could improve donation rates[17].
  • Increase online uploads to reach worshippers in remote areas that may not have access to churches

Technology clearly offers benefits for both churches and its members.  But are there downsides to this rapid digital expansion into the world of religion?  Is pulling out your phone during services to give a mobile donation appropriate?  Are YouTube sermons the same as in-person services?  Has technology de-humanized religion – or is it helping to facilitate stronger religious ties?


Word Count: 799 excluding citations.


[1] Ron Sellers, “Technology and Ministry – Current Trends,” The Clergy Journal., accessed November 2016.
[2] “Church Management Software,” Capterra., accessed November 2016.
[3] “FellowshipOne Go Features,” FellowshipOne,, accessed November 2016.
[4] “Church Management Software Pricing Guide”, Capterra,, accessed November 2016.
[5] “Church Management Software Features,” FellowshipOne,, accessed November 2016.
[6] “Eight Annual Billing Household Survey”, Fiserv,, accessed November 2016.
[7] Chuck McLean, “The Effect of the Economy on the Non-Profit Sector,” GuideStar,, accessed November 2016.
[8] EasyTithe,, accessed November 2016.
[9] Aaron Smith, “Real Time Charitable Giving”, Pew Research Center,, accessed November 2016.
[10] “Making the Most out of Your Online Fundraising Event,” Blackbaud., accessed November 2016.
[11] EasyTithe,, accessed November 2016.
[12] “Religion Among the Millennials,” Pew Research Center,, accessed November 2016.
[13] Kristina Lizardy-Hajbi ,“Engaging Young Adults,” American Congregations 2015,, accessed November 2016.
[14] Ibid.
[16] “Study shows churches lag behind in facilitating online giving,” Dunham & Company., accessed November 2016.
[17] Marco Castillo, “Fundraising through online social networks: A field experiment on peer-to-peer solicitation,” Science Direct., accessed via HOLLIS.


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Student comments on Church meets Technology: Digitalizing One of the World’s Oldest Institutions

  1. Great topic! It is really interesting to see how an ages-old institution has transformed with the times. I wonder though, how the congregation is transforming. Yes, overall, we are becoming a more tech-savvy population, but, in the case of religion, I wonder if people are stuck in their ways. For example, you talk about moving tithes online. In a way, this is great for the Church, because people have been shown to spend more when they’re not using cash [1]. However, at least in the churches I’ve attended, donating is a very public affair. Given that this form of giving is still in transition, I think that people may be hesitant to move to digital (a more private form of giving) for fear of judgment (and not the kind by God). It is something the Church should keep in mind when they invest in a digital infrastructure.


  2. Katherine gets at this a bit, but I do wonder whether churches are missing the broader problem that they have with younger people. You point out that, “Congregations that have attracted more young adults tend to use and offer the most technology,” but I would contend that churches that use technology tend to be more progressive in general, and that’s what is attracting the young adults, not the use of the technology itself.

    Ultimately, church attendance is down because they don’t play as vital a social role in many communities as they did 50 years ago, and because people are becoming less religious. Congregations need to figure out how to stay relevant in a world where both of those things are true — and that’s a tricky proposition. Does that mean focusing less on religion and more on broader morality?

    The problem is that this isn’t just a hobby for people. For the pious, it’s a question of heaven and hell, salvation for damnation. And if you believe there’s only one way there, there can’t be compromise. If you’re interested in growing your base and staying true to your mission and faith, there are almost necessarily some important philosophical trade-offs.

    1. EBS – thanks for this thought-provoking comment. I completely agree with you that churches that use technology tend to be more progressive in general (and thus it is that progressive mentality that drives younger people into the church). But while a progressive mindset may attract younger people, I think a progressive mindset isn’t enough to retain them. Churches need technology. Technology enables churches to communicate with millennials exactly how millennials want to be communicated with. These tech-savvy Millennials may not want to read the physical Bible or to learn about events through flyers on the wall. They want the ability to read a scripture while riding the subway via their iPhone app, to be able to donate $10 via text while waiting in line at the grocery store, and to learn about events via e-mails and Facebook.

      I also agree with you that religion is facing more issues than just adapting to the digital age. Staying relevant will require much more than just technology upgrades. Technology is certainly just a start (and arguably, a prerequisite).

  3. Jessie – Thank you for this interesting post! As someone who attended a fairly traditional church growing up, I had no idea that religious organizations were embracing digital technology in the ways that you described.

    I think this is a wonderful idea to employ technology to encourage donations, and for the church to track donations on a week-to-week basis. I wonder if there is a greater analytical opportunity here—do certain priests/pastors tend to generate stronger revenues? Is the 7:00 service more generous than the 9:00? I’d be curious to see what kind of behavioral changes would occur (from church leaders and congregants) when the leadership has stronger visibility into these data.

    1. Elizabeth — your comments in the second paragraph were exactly what I too had thought immediately after reading the post! While some of the technological changes that Jessie highlights (i.e., sermons on YouTube, online tithes, etc.) are at least tangentially at odds with the Church’s history, some of the more business-driven technological innovations that you’ve highlighted would obviously seem to be a good idea in any revenue-generating setting, yet seem (to me at least) to be at odds with an institution that in mission claims to be solely focused on spreading the good word.

  4. This post was so cool, Jessie! The role that technology plays in places of “reverence” – some would argue museums are a similar, albeit more secular, place – is fascinating, because it pulls at the direct tension between modernity and the past.

    The last two lines in your post are particularly interesting (“Are YouTube sermons the same as in-person services? Has technology de-humanized religion – or is it helping to facilitate stronger religious ties?”): for example, do online “versions” even need to mimic in-person sermons? Perhaps the role of technology in religion isn’t to create something that will replace the old, but rather to supplement OR radically change it. In the case of virtual payments, the role of technology is complementary to current payment methods. But I am thinking that maybe technology could radically change the whole system, say through telecasting.

    For some reason, that vision of a complete technological overhaul to religious institutions is frightening. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that way. And I think that it’s because of this feeling – that that which is sacred must be “protected” from technology – that the radical innovation that can occur will be limited.

  5. Great topic. I see similar things happening in Hindu temples. During a typical visit to a Hindu temple, the devotees would offer a few sweets and donations to the temple. In order to present these to the Gods, the priest is supposed to chant some prayers on your behalf while offering your sweets / donations. This used to be a very sequential process. The priest has to chant prayers for each temple visitor and hence on important Hindu festivals, temples used to experience long queues. However, one of the biggest Hindu temples – Vaishno Devi has now started offering e-visits to the temple. You can make your donations online – the priests will bundle all the donations received and then offer them to the Gods together. Moreover, you can see the video of the priest doing this on the temple’s website – they are also developing a mobile app!

  6. What a fantastic post! Thanks, Jessie!

    Don’t judge me, but whenever I move to a new town/city, in deciding which church I should go to, I usually start off with all the churches in the area, and I then narrow down my selection based on the “quality” of sermons given in each church, the community events that the churches organize, and the fellowship among the church-goers. With technology, it becomes much easier and faster for me to go through examples of sermons taught in the churches, and understand the mission and outreach programs organized by the churches. Thus, greatly helping my selection process.

    I also agree with your point of churches engaging with the worshipper. Whenever I find myself confused about a particular passage of Scripture, I have an app that has sermons by some of my favorite preachers based on the passage. So it’s definitely helpful to those who are interested to do a serious read/study of Scripture.

    Personally, I don’t think worshipping through an app is the same as going to church. Part of the reason of going to church is meeting face-to-face and fellowshipping with other believers, so in my mind there is little risk for churches to adopt technology.

  7. Awesome topic, Jess. I grew up in a household where we only went to services on special holidays. My synagogue has been slowly losing membership as the ‘old guard’ has been passing away and they struggle to sign up new families with young children as they move into town. They have tried many different methods to attract these younger families, such as the playing of instruments during Friday night services (gasp!). Sermons during the High Holidays constantly remind us to put our phones down and log off social media – clearly the rabbi is trying to connect with the younger members of our community.

    Though my synagogue has not yet entered the digital space (and it may be too far gone to do so at this point), it is clear that there are many advantages to doing so. Collecting money is an easy benefit to realize, but I especially like the use of technology to continue education. Though it seems like our generation is too busy and overcommitted, it always amazes me that we always find ways to consume more content and spend more time doing so. I think an interesting discussion could be had over streaming services, where I see people’s opinions varying greatly on whether or not it is appropriate.

  8. Really great post, Jessie. Very interesting stuff. It seems to me that technology can (and should) be used in ways within our religious communities. There simply are very few reasons why thing such as giving, communications, and other organizational engagement should not be at pace with other for profit or non-profit standards. That said, I do think there is a risk that others have also highlighted above. That risk is the consumption of content as a substitute for attendance. For most of time, the church, temple, etc have been a gathering place for like-minded individuals. This sense of community is core to most religions and is also a much needed human need. I would argue that in an age where we are incredibly (digitally) connected, we are at the same time one of the most relationally disconnected generations in human history. This reality, supported by a Cornell research study [1], is a bit shocking and concerning. I would argue that for churchgoers, reinvesting in this community is a potential solution to this growing problem. To that end, I believe that religious communities should focus on how technology can bring people through the doors to engage with others as opposed to encouraging them to consume content from their own homes.

    [1] Cornell Study:

  9. Hi Jessie, really interesting post!

    I would be really curious to understand the sales process behind companies like FellowshipOne. I’m specifically thinking about the profiles of the church leaders that I have met in the past. For example, as the Catholic Church worldwide has seem dwindling numbers of new pastors, most church leaders in the Catholic Church tend to be older, and less tech savvy than the millenials and younger parishers towards which these services are targeted.

    How do they convince these older preists (Avg age of priests in America went from 35 in 1970 to 63 in 2010) to sign up?

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