I sat down with Craig Olson of Highland Park Church in Lakeland, FL the other day to talk about digital giving.

Craig shared his congregation’s experience in, not just digital giving, but with a newly adopted text-to-give strategy.

Here are a few highlights from our discussion:

  1. How he leads his congregation towards “offering as an act of worship”
  2. How text-to-give provided a 10% increase in new givers
  3. How digital giving is an imperative for the millennial generation

You can listen, subscribe or watch my interview with Craig below.


The Generosity Labs Podcast is part of a new resource hub for pastors, providing free resources and information about digital giving. You can find more free resources  here.

Show Notes

In our discussion, Craig mentioned

Contact Craig — craig@hpnaz.org

A full transcription is below

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KENNY: Well, hey there! I’m Kenny Jahng and this is the Generosity Labs podcast where we are interviewing church leaders, across the country, innovating in areas of generosity. Today, we’re going to meet an executive pastor that has a fantastic story of how they are raising the roof in terms of giving and generosity for their community. And, I’m excited to get to it today. We have Craig who is the Executive Pastor of Highland Park Church in Florida. Great place to be. And after a career in sales, Craig had a history of helping startups innovate and get off the ground. Craig joined the staff at Lakeland in 2015, married to wife Barb for over 36 years, three grown children. And, we are glad to have him as a resource, here. Welcome to the show today, Craig.

CRAIG: Thanks Kenny. It’s good to be with you.

KENNY: I gave a little bit of some background. But, tell us a little bit about the Craig story, how you got into this ministry in particular, and why don’t you give us a picture or a snapshot of what Highland Park looks like on a typical Sunday?

CRAIG: Okay. I’d be happy to. Our lead pastor, Brett Rickey and I have been friends for about 15 years. He actually planted the church in Oklahoma, back in 2000. Shortly, after he started that church, we started to attend because our daughters met in the fourth grade, so we got to be family friends. Brett moved down here to Lakeland to become the lead pastor at Highland Park church in 2009 and we kept in touch, you know, talking about college football, you know, whatever our common interest were at that time. And, he called me up and said his executive pastor was retiring and he was looking for somebody to come and help him. We’ve had a history of being in ministry together, as well as a being good friends. So, long story short, we moved down here April of last year, and joined him and his staff. Highland Park Church is a fairly large church in our area. We ran about 2300 in attendance on a given weekend. We have a Celebrate Recovery Service on Friday night. We have a Saturday night service. We have three services on Sunday morning. Our mission is to lead people to love God and to love others. And, so we’re thrilled to be here and excited about what God has in store for Highland Park Church.

KENNY: So, busy weekend for your teams in Lakeland, Friday, Saturday, Sunday Services.

CRAIG: Absolutely!

KENNY: We’re going to talk about a little bit about the giving story at your church. But, you guys, have already been ahead of the curve, I think. Previous to adopting some of the new technologies recently, you already have online giving available for your people, right?

CRAIG: That’s correct. For a number of years, we’ve had giving kiosks in the lobby of our main sanctuary, and also in our family ministries building across the street. And, people were using that for a number of years where they would swipe their credit card or give online through our web page. And, we probably saw 35 to 40% of our giving come through those portals. So, it wasn’t anything really new to people, however, we’ve started to encounter some issues with that particular platform because it ran over Windows XP. And, so we have some security issues as well. So, we’re looking for a better solution. One of the things we wanted to add was the ability for our members and our attendees to give by text.

KENNY: Now, can you tell us a little about the typical age range of the people that attend on a Sunday?

CRAIG: Well, it’s a wide range. We have a very vibrant middle school, youth ministry, kids ministry. We have a strong Millennial and Gen X, really, attendance.

KENNY: You got a wide section of people and families

CRAIG: We have folks — we are a 62-year-old congregation — that attend that were there in the very first service.

KENNY: It’s incredible though that with that type of demographics, you still got 30-40% of digital giving participation. What do you do with those people? Do you have an offering plate that you hand out or even passed in the aisle or a kiosk offering from the back? How does that work?

CRAIG: We want to give people plenty of opportunities to give and not everybody wants to give online. My wife, for example, she feels better writing a check, still. So, we pass a basket down the aisle at every service, and so people have the opportunity to give that way as well.

KENNY: Got you. A lot of churches have just the kiosk in the back or a place or drop a check, etc. That’s an active part of the liturgy on a Sunday morning. And, is there any sense of, if 30%, 50%, at what point do you stop passing the offering basket? Have you guys thought about that? That’s something that I had a recent conversation with another church pastor. They have about 70% of giving that is online, at this point. The question is when does that become obsolete?

CRAIG: You know, I don’t know that it ever does? We were in startup churches where we’ve had bubble gum buckets at the front of the stage and have people get up out of your chair and come and drop their offering in that bucket. The bottomline is that it’s really not a function of how you do it but it’s just that you do it. I mean, giving is an act of worship. We want people to feel comfortable giving in any way, shape or form that they are comfortable in doing.

KENNY: What I’ve loved about the story of your church is that you guys adopted text giving recently. When did that happen?

CRAIG: I think we started it in January/February time frame of this year.

KENNY: So, you have a little bit of time now.

CRAIG: Absolutely, yes.

KENNY: When it first was introduced, was it a quiet rollout? Was it a big splashy rollout? How did you notify people that that’s an option?

CRAIG: Well, we thought was important because it was a new way of giving. It was important for us not to just tell them but actually show them how simple it was to set up text giving on their smartphone. So, during the services, one weekend, we took 5 minutes during the announcement and the offering time in which incidentally we feel it’s just as important as worship or the sermon because if it’s not, then we shouldn’t be doing it. It leads people to an active worship. We took five minutes. And we have our tech team set up the video to where I kind of walkthrough. I have my smartphone in my hand. And they could see on the screen while we were walking through, how simple it was to set up initially the ability to give by text. And, we had people that hold their phones out, right there. Because they can use it anywhere whether they are using a digital version of the Bible or tweeting during the service or whatever. So, it’s not a big deal in our church for people have their phones out. They just followed along. Many people had set up as I was walking them through it.

KENNY: Yeah. I was talking to a seminary student recently, he said that one of the things that they noticing when they’re going to preach or teach is not to be distracted by seeing tons of people having their heads bent down on their phones during service.

CRAIG: Absolutely.

KENNY: You guys really had intentional time during the announcement time. What was the type of results did you see in terms of that? Was there any push back? Was there positive results in terms of adoption? Do you have any sense of the giving go up or down?

CRAIG: Absolutely. Probably, the first month we saw an increase in our digital giving. But, more importantly, we had about 10% of increase in new givers.


CRAIG: People that had never given before in Highland Park Church started to give on a regular basis and using this new portal of text giving.

KENNY: You are actually creating a giving experience for the first timer people. It’s important. Right? Giving is part of our spiritual discipline.

CRAIG: Absolutely.

KENNY: What service are you actually using to implement the text giving?

CRAIG: We partnered with Kindrid. We found out about them because we look to other large churches that are doing things that are maybe a little bit ahead of us. Some of those examples would be Life Church, Craig Groeschel’s church, Saddleback Church, Willowcreek. We glean a lot of leadership and just ideas on how to do ministry from those who are a few sets ahead of us. That’s how we found out about Kindrid as we talk with them. There are other benefits. One is a secure platform as well as integrated with our church management software. We actually save time in our finance department. We went from having to manually enter in all of those digital transactions to one that just exported or imported into our church management software.

KENNY: Which church management system are you guys on?

CRAIG: We use ACS.

KENNY: So, it’s fully integrated system. So, if someone gives via text that shows up in their giving profile in the backend.

CRAIG: Exactly.

KENNY: Perfect. That sounds great. Is the church offering is the only area that you guys are exploring to use the service or is there other applications for this in church life?

CRAIG: People give for a variety of reasons. We’re a very missions oriented church, too. We have a school in Rwanda, and we support many different ministries here locally as well as globally. So, people want to give to that and they do in a regular basis. So, it’s very simple for them to put in the amount. They put in MISSIONS, right next to their amount and send the tect and it goes toward missions. Doing the same thing when they want to send their kid to camp. You know, Kindrid, gives us the ability to set up keywords that they can use to give to specific things.

KENNY: Can you tell me a little bit more about this? There’s keywords that you can actually define in a custom level?

CRAIG: Absolutely. We probably have 8 or so, right now. Whether it’s missions or in Rwanda or when they want to give specifically to that school, HP-YOUTH which is what we use to designated to our youth ministry. If they want to give to camp, they can put YOUTH CAMP, if they want to put kids, they can put KIDS CAMP. They just use those keywords along with the amount that they give and it goes directly to that. And it does account to our tithes and offering, it counts towards those particular ministries.

KENNY: Wow. That’s interesting. And so, how are you communicating those keywords? What’s the typical scenario that those keywords are used or communicated?

CRAIG: Everytime we ask people to give to specific cause, we put up on the screen on the service what that keyword is. Let’s say, if you want to give to support missions, you can use your text-to-give option and just use the keywords MISSIONS, or whichever the keyword is. As long as we communicate it to them, then it’s not a problem.

KENNY: What are your thoughts on 2 or 5 years from now, do you think people will still be writing checks and using cash or is it gonna be via credit card swiping or is it stuff like this as text giving?

CRAIG: I really see this as kind of the way of the future. Again, we’ve had kiosks for a long time and now we use essentially giving everyone kiosk in their pocket. So, that they can give via their smartphone. I have three grown children. I ask them if we have the text-to-give option, will you give to this church? Absolutely, we would use that portal. They don’t carry cash. They don’t even have checks. And so, they give everything through digital, whether it’s through Venmo, whether transacting to other people, whatever. That’s their culture.

KENNY: Yes, it is. Venmo is how people give each other money these days. And so, the people that have adopted text giving, do you have any sense? Is it just the millennials and the young ones? Or are there people across the spectrum that are actually using this mode of giving at this point.

CRAIG: It’s across the spectrum. I was talking to a gentleman just a few weeks ago. He is my age and he has teenage children. So, he’s a little younger than I am. He stopped me and said, “Man, I need to send in a payment for youth camp, and I used Kindrid for that and it was so easy.” He got an immediate response back. “We received your payment, bla bla bla.” So, he was thrilled with it. It just makes life so much easier. When you can take away the obstacles from people in giving, then they’re going to give.

KENNY: Kindrid, their product is called Smart Giving, I think? Is that the name of it?

CRAIG: That’s the brand name they use.

KENNY: Is that the brand name they use? Are you literally communicating Kindrid and  smart giving, renaming it or changing to something else highly friendly or something like that?

CRAIG: No, we use smart giving, but, typically, when we receive the offering, during our weekend service, we put a little graphic on the lower third of the screens that has a picture of the smartphone and it just says text GIVE to and then the number that they designated for us and typically, the folks that have done it before they know what to do. They don’t need to do GIVE. They just give the amount. But, for the first-timers, they can just text the word GIVE and it will respond back to them and will go through the easy set-up process so that they can do it from then on.

KENNY: The average church in America is much smaller than yours, right? And don’t necessary have all the resources. I can sense there’s probably a lot of church leaders or pastors that saying, “Nah, that’s for big churches, etc”. Can you talk about just how difficult the process within the time from start to end of the integration or set up? You know, what did that look like from a very practical basis? Did you have a committee? What was the process?

CRAIG: I was actually very shocked at how simple it was. When we contacted Kim to do this, they set us graphic for our worship folder, for our digital forms of communication. They gave us a script. They gave us everything that we really needed and so we decided to use all that in addition to the walkthrough video for rolling it out. And then, we put that in a form of an email and send it to all of our members the following week. That had it embedded the video of the walkthrough that we did on the previous weekend. They are very thorough, always helpful.

KENNY: How long did it take effect?

CRAIG: Within the day, we had it setup. It was not difficult at all. The interface ACS was very simple. Our finance director was involved with that. She would comment at how easy that was to set up so, even small churches can do it. They don’t have a large staff. It doesn’t take much time at all. I think the benefits far outway the time that it takes to get it setup. I want to encourage anybody to use it.

KENNY: Let’s take a look at some of the downsides. You know, I’m sure there has some pushback or some grumblings or something. What are some of the things that you’ve heard, or you’ve felt or even a friction in any of the process?

CRAIG: With any kind of a change, there’s always some resistance. We used our giving kiosk,s for example, for a long time. People would walk into the lobby. As they’re walking and they’re plugging out their credit card or debit card, and they walk over and they slide it through and any kind of change to that process, creates a little bit of confusion. So, for the first couple of weeks, we would have one of our first impressions folks, standing over there by the kiosk to help people use this Smart Giving system or kiosk. We don’t even need that anymore but because people are accustomed to walking over to a stand kiosk and giving that way, we’ve kept iPads set up in the lobbies for people to give that way. Slowly but surely they’re are adopting the new system. And it really hasn’t caused much trouble, other than that. The resistance to change.

KENNY: Basically the kiosks have it removed effectively from the system?

CRAIG: Well, the old computers Windows XP kiosks were. We decided to keep a space some form of kiosks in the lobby just for those who are used to seeing something to help them navigate, okay, you can do this now on your cellphone.

KENNY: Mobile, I guess, it’s like an iPad stand that you have?

CRAIG: Correct.

KENNY: And is it just the mobile version of the the giving?

CRAIG: It’s the same version that we have interfaced with our website now. Every form of digital giving goes through Kindrid, now. We benefit in that way because it all feeds directly into our church management software. And there’s only one thing we want to interface with and that is Kindrid. That’s awesome.

KENNY: What about branding, colors, customization, what’s your sense on how much flexibility there is?

CRAIG: Very simple. We sent them our logo. We told them exactly how we wanted them to set it up and they showed us how we can change it and that’s very, the colors. There are plenty of colors to choose from, so our web portals matches exactly what our branding is.

KENNY: What would be the number one downside, number one upside of this transition of  smart giving with Kindrid?

CRAIG: The downside is just the resistance to change particularly from the older generation that maybe have a concern about using their cellphone, maybe they don’t even have a smartphone but have a cellphone. You know, that’s probably the downside. The upside is that it’s all integrated in any form of digital giving and it’s simple. It’s the type of technology people or younger generation are accustomed to using now. It makes it far easier for them to give when they want to give, whether it’s at home, whether they’re sitting on the service, wherever they are, they could give. It really helped.

KENNY: Now, what I found very interesting, you know, it surprised me earlier, you said that you said it lit up brand new first time givers in your community. It’s just interesting. It’s just the change of the mode of transaction will actually call someone to take that last step to do it. I’m wondering, I guess, this is a little bit early. But, do you anticipate that you’ll raise more money to the offering plate or all the giving solutions like this at the end of this year that you anticipated earlier or is it just a change of mode of giving or is there something else going on with it?

CRAIG: No, I think it’s just the ease of giving. As a church, last year, we have document over 750 newcomers that came to our church the very first time. And so, those are the types of people that especially the younger generation, if they wanna give on impulse, right there, doing it, they can pull out their smartphone and do so. They don’t have to have their checkbook with them if they even have one. Again, we’ve talked about, not everybody carries cash anymore. It just makes easier mode for people to use to give on the spot. I think that’s critical and that’s where we’ll see our growth. You make it convenient? People will use it.

KENNY: And your preaching pastor, didn’t have any concern? Do you do your offering before or after the sermon?

CRAIG: We do it before.

KENNY: Is there any concern from your preaching pastor, you’re asking to take out their cellphones and then you go into the sermon, you know, there’s distraction. This thing is distracting. Is that a concern at all?

CRAIG: No, not at all. I am the executive pastor and I use my smartphone to follow along. He incites the Scripture and I’m pulling it up in my new version app on my smartphone. It’s very typical to see that and that’s just part of the culture to where we are. If you’re not comfortable with that then, you need to get comfortable because it’s gonna happen. You want people in the word, right? How they can get it that’s how you want to use.

KENNY: That’s awesome. Are you ready for our lightning round of questions as we close up this interview?

CRAIG: Absolutely.

KENNY: The first question is, especially as an executive pastor, you’re looking, I’m sure, at leadership development all the time of yourself and your teams. what’s a good resource that you can share with our audience today that has caught your eyes recently, whether it’s a book, a conference, a speaker, something that our audience today can partake in.

CRAIG: Coming up in August is Willowcreek’s Global Leadership Summit and last year, we were a host site for the global leadership summit and it made a world of difference just for our staff as well as anybody that considers themselves a leader of a church. So, we’re hosting that again and I want to encourage anybody to go to Willowcreek’s website and navigate through their global leadership summit site and find out where the whole site is nearest to them. It’s an awesome summit. They have probably a dozen or so, speakers. Some are ministers. Many are business leaders that are well known. I want to encourage people to do that. That’s what we’ve done. We also go through a leadership book with our pastoral staff every week. We go through a chapter. We’ve gone through the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell. We’ve gone through Courageous Leadership by Bill Hybels. We’re going through a book called Finishing Strong by Steve Farrar, right now. So, those types of things are available to anybody.

KENNY: Awesome. Great list of resources for anybody here to pick up if you haven’t gotten those books especially.

24:46 In terms of mentoring and leadership from afar, outside of Willowcreek, who do you have your eyes on ministries in terms of learning from and soaking from other ministries or leaders of churches in the ministry space?

CRAIG: Rick Warren at Saddleback is somebody we constantly go to. We send teams up there on a regular basis, just to get a sense of a bigger picture to think outside the box of what we typically get caught doing here in our own little world. So, that’s one. I read Dan Reiland’s blog almost daily. He is an executive pastor of 12Stone Church and that’s been a valuable resource for me, personally, as an executive pastor.

KENNY: Awesome. Great resources. Thanks for sharing it with us. The last question is, if people here today are watching or listening and want to get in touch with you, what’s the best method for them to do that?

CRAIG: I want to encourage people to e-mail me. My e-mail address is craigo@hpnaz.org

KENNY: Thank you. This is Craig Olson from Highland Park Church. It’s been a pleasure talking to you and experiencing going through that experience of converting over to text giving. Really appreciate you sharing your wisdom and your experiences today.

CRAIG: Thanks Kenny, I appreciate the opportunity.

KENNY: Thank you everybody for listening. And, in this next episode of the Generosity Labs podcast, we’re going to interview another church leader that’s going through a similar transition, and I think you’ll be surprised in terms of the response and the results that they’ve gotten. I’m Kenny Jahng, host of the Generosity Labs podcast. Find out more details and resources at generositylabs.org.