Welcome to religious giving in the 21st century.

No longer do Americans have to write checks or dig into their wallets for crumpled dollar bills when it comes time to make donations. These days, churchgoers and those of other faiths increasingly are wiring contributions via the Internet or making them with the swipe of a credit or debit card.

The trend, which allows members to give at any time and without attending a service, is not without controversy. Some religious denominations, for example, have strict limits on credit-card usage and require that they be paid off every month. Others don’t want donors to go into debt to make contributions.

Still, many groups say credit, debit and electronic payments are handy tools that reflect consumer preferences.

“It’s a matter of convenience,” said Natalie Hearn, bookstore director at Radiant Church in Surprise, which allows members to make donations or buy books or other merchandise with either a credit or debit card. “A growing percentage of the population doesn’t carry cash or checks.”

Credit and debit transactions at religious organizations rose 21 percent in 2006 over the prior year’s level, card-sponsor Visa reports.

“It’s a growing category for us,” said Bill Dobbins, Visa’s vice president for merchant relations in Wilmington, Del.

Religious groups enjoy streamlined record keeping and don’t have to mess with envelopes, process checks or handle cash, though they do face transaction fees.

Donors, meanwhile, receive records of giving that are handy for income-tax purposes and can arrange for payments on a regular schedule, if they want. Plus, they can earn rewards. . .

The trend isn’t limited to Christians. For instance, Jews can make donations with credit and debit cards to support Jewish organizations and charities, and even Muslims use credit cards for religious purposes despite Islam’s prohibition on interest.

“We pay off our credit cards every month, so we don’t pay interest,” said Mohammed AbuHannoud, a director at the Arizona chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Phoenix. “Credit cards are allowed; interest is prohibited.”


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