Zech says the IRS rules change may push more congregations -- and congregants -- to opt for electronic methods of giving, such as automatic withdrawals from bank accounts and credit cards.
Many of the 175 people attending the typical service of Mount Olive Holy Evangelistic Church in Edmondson Village pay by credit card or electronic fund withdrawal, says the church's executive pastor, the Rev. Thomasina M. Wharton.
For about four years, ushers have handed out envelopes for worshipers to fill with cash or enter their credit card or account information, she says. Members can also contribute online with a credit card.
"Normally, I don't carry around a lot of cash, and it's easier for me to carry a card," Wharton says. "We can miss offerings or miss opportunities to give when we don't offer those options."
Credit card companies charge about 2 percent to 3 percent for those transactions, but many religious leaders say the convenience is worth it.
"While there is a cost for using credit cards, there's also a reduction in the time it takes to process things by hand," says Martha Knight, director of stewardship at the Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church. "We hope that will reduce their administrative tasks at the local church so they can spend more time in ministry."
Churches need to become more comfortable with the way society is changing, Knight says. "If you're not ready to move that way with the population, then you quickly become out of step with parishioners."
Companies that help facilitate electronic church donations are even finding ways to relieve the peer pressure that comes with the weekly collection basket. Zech has consulted for one company, ParishPay, which gives its customers coupons to toss into the collection basket. And Zech says some envelope suppliers print a check box on theirs to indicate an electronic gift.
Not all religious leaders are comfortable about electronic donations, worried that their members might be going into credit card debt to make contributions. "For many parishioners it does not `feel right' to use a credit card, possibly incurring debt, for church donations," wrote Ellen Chatard, director of development and communications for the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, in an e-mail.
"I am a proponent of less credit," says Brown of Shiloh Baptist.
"We all recognize within our society the temptation is to overuse and abuse credit," he says. "We find that it would not be consistent in trying to empower people and get them out of poverty and struggling Friday to Friday" to encourage them to pay with something they don't have.
According to the Internal Revenue Service, if you plan to itemize monetary contributions to a religious or charitable organization when you file your taxes next year, you'll need to keep one of the following:
Bank or credit union statements that state the name of the charity, the amount paid and the date of the gift.
Credit card statements that show the nonprofit's name and the posting date of the transaction.
A pay stub, W-2 form or other document indicating the total amount withheld through automatic payroll deductions, along with a pledge card for the organization.
A written letter or e-mail from the charity with its name, the date of each contribution and the amount of each.
The IRS states that for most taxpayers who file on a calendar-year basis, these changes apply to all donations made after Jan. 1, 2007.
The IRS still requires acknowledgment of individual gifts of $250 or more as in previous years, but one letter that details all gifts will suffice.