When retirees at Lakeside Baptist Church in Granbury, Texas, embarked on their after-Christmas vacations, the church missed their physical presence but not their offerings.

Seniors are the most avid participants in Lakeside's two-year-old automated giving program, which encourages systematic checkbook withdrawals. "A good percentage of these folks travel a lot, and it guarantees consistent giving," says administrative minister Brian Hill.

Only a tiny number of Christians nationwide give through an electronic transfer of funds. The practice may accelerate, though, as more people become more skilled in using the technology.

Dick Schulte is overseeing a pilot project for the 2.6 million-member Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. "This is something for the future, and that's the way we're billing it," Schulte says.

Just how many congregations use such fund transfers is unclear. Len Thiede, a manager for Vanco Services in Minneapolis—which processes electronic payments for more than 3,300 congregations and 1,000 businesses—says many churches establish plans with local banks, making an accurate national count difficult.

Nevertheless, Thiede sees a trend, reflected by a business upswing last fall during 2001 stewardship campaigns. "The momentum is clearly there," Thiede says. "We're getting contracts every day."

The Lutheran Brotherhood, an insurance and investment services firm that markets solely to Lutherans, is one of the most active supporters of fund transfers. It encourages automated checkbook withdrawals as part of its mission of supporting Lutheran churches.

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