Mark Brooks

Fake News and the Christian Church

Of all the trending topics on the Internet today, you probably did not expect a title of “Fake News and the Christian Church” to pop up. Yet sadly fake news does indeed permeate our spaces without us even knowing it. This is a story of how fake news gets spread.

“How much does online giving increase a church’s overall giving?” That was the question that Stephen Ballard, the president of Online Giving
https://www.onlinegiving.org/ recently asked me. Full disclosure I write for OG. https://www.onlinegiving.org/blog

A church had asked Stephen that question, and he came to me looking for an answer. I told him that, to my knowledge, there was little to no research on this matter. I promised to investigate. What I discovered is alarming.

I Googled it! While Stephen and I were talking, I did what you would do; I started checking into Google. I use Google a lot in my research and writing. I had earlier in the day of Stephen’s call been researching church giving in America for my weekly newsletter, “The Stewardship Coach.” One key source of information was NP Source and their article entitled, “The Ultimate List Of Charitable Giving Statistics For 2018” https://nonprofitssource.com/online-giving-statistics/

“Churches that accept tithing online increase overall donations by 32%.” That fact is listed in the above article under the topic of Charitable Giving For Churches. Yet that statement contained no reference or link to how they arrived at that 32% number. That was curious. I was too busy with my work to probe further. Then Stephen called with his question which caused me to start my Google search.

How much does giving go up for a church that has online giving? Google that. This sentence is what I typed into my Google page. The results immediately came up with these headlines,

  • Churches using NAME OF COMPANY see an average increase in overall donations of 32%.
  • Another link of another company stated, “Our customer data indicates using NAME OF COMPANY can increase giving by up to 32%.”
  • Underneath those two links was the NP Sources article that states, “Churches that accept tithing online increase overall donations by 32%.”

It appears that NP Source has used a similar tactic to gain information for their post. I can find no other link stating any study that confirms their statement that “churches that accept tithing online increase overall donations by 32%.” IF they derived that data from the first two bullet points I listed above, then their data is false and thus fake news.

How can I say that? If you look at the information of the two companies making the 32% increase claim, you will see that is it based upon the experiences they have with their clients. They are giving you limited results of cherry-picked clients. The use of the term average is misleading. I would question the veracity of this claim. In fact if you look closely, the second company I listed above uses the phrase “can increase giving by up to 32%.” The 32% statistic is a marketing ploy to gain your attention and thus potentially drive you to their site.

The truth behind both of these claims is that online giving can increase giving. I do believe that online giving does increase giving. However, it is impossible to project what the average will be. No two churches are alike. No online company should make the kinds of claims they do unless they have verifiable data to support that.

They are using experiential versus data-driven information. Each of these companies has a small share of the over 300,000 churches in America. Any statistics they give you are based upon only upon their experiences with clients that use their platform. Their experience is valuable as far as it goes. However, there is a huge difference between saying a church can see an increase and claiming a 32% increase is the average.

I seriously question that online firms as large as these have seen, on average, a 32% increase in giving after they started using online giving. Using sales-driven experiential data as opposed to verifiable data creates a false narrative that ends up being fake news.

“5 Eye-Opening Church Statistics Every Pastor Should Know,” was a tweet I saw three days later from Fellowship One. It’s a good post. Here is a quote that immediately started my thinking:

Church Statistics: Giving is Plastic and Digital

When it comes to giving, the offering plate is no longer en vogue. Nonprofit Source reports that “49% of all church giving transactions are made with a card.” And perhaps more notable, “Churches that accept tithing online increase overall donations by 32%.” Clearly, it’s more important than ever to offer opportunities to give by kiosk, mobile app, and through text messaging.

It appears, they too Googled for data and came up with what they thought was definitive data from a trusted source. The problem was it was fake news. My guess is that Fellowship One has no clue the data they quoted from Nonprofit Source was based upon what is apparently a sales claim, not verifiable data. My guess is that you will see this 32% number again. Once something is out there it is difficult to ever erase the misinformation.

Here is my take away from this experience. For churches:

  1. Don’t believe everything you read. Do your own fact-checking.
  2. Stop comparing yourself to other churches.
  3. Online giving can increase your giving if you use it alongside a plan of action to increase generosity. Think of it as a tool not the only and ultimate answer to your giving problems.

Now for companies like mine here is my take away for you:

  1. Stop over-inflating your results to make you distinctive from the other firms in your industry.
  2. Be honest and above board in all your communications and presentations with churches. You are, after all, talking to the Bride of Christ!
  3. Don’t be lazy. Do your research as what you write as impact far beyond what you know.

Let’s stop fake news from becoming a problem in the Church world that it is in society today. If we are not careful the results will be that no one will believe anything we say.

Mark Brooks – The Stewardship Coach