SALT LAKE CITY — The ancient biblical practice of tithing is going digital.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced Wednesday night that after a successful pilot program, members will be able to pay their tithing and other charitable donations through a new online donation system.
The new system will also have a major new feature for funding missionaries, allowing anyone to create an account and donate to a missionary.
Many Mormons responded gratefully to the news that the "Church Online Donations" website will roll out for use by U.S. congregations throughout 2015. Church headquarters will notify local church leaders when the system is available to their congregation, according to a church press release.
A pilot program developed by the church’s Finance and Records Department found that the online system both simplified donations for members and reduced the workload for bishoprics, branch presidencies and ward and branch clerks who process them.
Those leaders and clerks are volunteers who donate their time.
Today, most members give their tithing to their congregational leaders, who with the help of clerks deposit it in church accounts so church headquarters can allocate the funds.
Tim Milne of the faith's Lakeville First Ward in Lakeville, Minn., said the new system would have saved him a great deal of time when he served as a ward financial clerk and stake auditor.
Milne looks forward to another benefit of the new system. He has two sons serving LDS missions, one in Mexico City and the other in Argentina. Both his father-in-law and mother-in-law contribute to their grandsons' mission finances each month, but it's an unwieldy process. They mail checks to the Milnes each month. The Milnes then give the checks to the ward so the funds can be assigned directly to their sons' mission funds.
"This will make everything easier," Milne said. "They won't have to do that any more. They can just set it up online."
That's still not the best thing about the potential of online contributions, Milne said. He's excited that anyone, church member or not, can set up an LDS Account and donate through the system. He has known people everywhere he has lived, from Boston to Florida to California, who were not Mormon but who had LDS Accounts to access various tools like genealogy research.
He once told an employer that he preferred to make donations to organizations where 100 percent of the donation goes to the cause. His employer, who is not Mormon, claimed no organization did that, so Milne introduced him to the LDS Church's Humanitarian Fund, where overhead is covered by other church funds.
"He started contributing to the church's Humanitarian Aid Fund," Milne said. "In the future, that will be easier still."
Latter-day Saints follow the biblical teaching on tithing. In Genesis, for example, Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek. Mormons believe that everything they have is a gift from the Lord and that they should give back to him by donating 10 percent of their income as tithing.
The amount is based on the honor system; members don't show leaders their income statements, but they do declare each year whether they consider themselves to be full tithepayers.
Full tithepayers who are active and worthy are able to enter and worship in the faith's temples.
Tithing funds are used to help the church construct and maintain meetinghouses and temples, care for the poor and operate church universities, colleges, institutes and seminaries.
Mormons also make other donations. For example, many congregations send priesthood-bearing boys ages 12-18 to the homes of members one Sunday a month to collect fast offerings. The church asks members to fast for two meals on Fast Sundays and donate the cost savings to help the poor.
Members also can donate specifically to missionary, humanitarian and welfare funds. They'll be able to make all of those donations digitally.