CROCKETT'S BLUFF, AR – In a startling collision of modern technology and ministry, Crockett's Bluff Community Church is the first known church in America to use Logitech's biochip technology to receive its weekly tithes and offerings.
According to last year's church theme - "Be ID'd With CBCC in '03" - the congregation of 15,782 outfitted each member of its flock with a subdermal microchip in the right hand. The device, smaller than a mustard seed, contains the banking information of each worshipper and is scanned by an usher as he or she enters the sanctuary.
Pastor Bud Caldwell readily admits news of the action is sure to send end times specialists scrambling to rewrite their works of eschatological punditry. "Oh there'll be a buzz for a while. Especially from the Van Impe's. Forgive me for saying this, but it doesn't take much for Rexella to get her prophetic panties in a bunch. If those two were halfway to heaven when credit cards came out, I can only imagine."
According to Caldwell, CBCC's corps of greeters have arrived at a simple formula for deducting funds from each worshipper. "Ten percent off the top for tithe, obviously. When it comes to offering, we just let the Spirit lead. If that doesn't work, we try to see what kind of car they drive."
Some church members were admittedly unnerved when Caldwelll cast the vision for the ambitious plan. Three years ago, Allison and Randy Peavey left their sputtering church of 1,500 in Little Rock to attend the suburban fellowship. Said 27 year old homemaker Allison, "I was really shocked, like, 'is my pastor Nicolae Carpathia or something?' But when Pastor Bud told us our contributions were still tax deductible, I was reassured."
"I just figured anybody who runs a church this big has to know what he's doing," said Randy, a 42 year old CFO. "Besides, we prayed and felt a peace about it."
Terry Whisnant, 32, is pragmatic about the whole thing. "I do all my banking online anyway. The chip is just another convenience for me - it's one less thing to think about at church. Besides, Jesus tells us when we give we shouldn't let the left hand know what the right hand is doing. I can't think of a more perfect application of that verse."
Still, the 51-year-old pastor tries to alleviate the fears of newcomers, often employing lighthearted humor. "Before my message I ask the visitors to give us a "hand" in the work God is doing at CBCC. Get it? Hand..."
What may not be a laughing matter to some newcomers at CBCC is the foyer fellowship policy. In the church's official welcome brochure, Visitors Pastor Hugh Dowd makes it clear that if you are not chipped, you cannot partake in post-service coffee and donuts. "There is a flipside however," said Dowd. "Once chipped, you not only get food and fellowship, but you also get a ten percent discount at our bookstore/Starbucks for a year."
For his part, Lead Deacon Ralph Phillips is just happy to be getting home earlier on Sundays. "By not taking an offering, we're saving 20 minutes per service. Also, I don't have to count money afterwards. That's another half hour. Now I'm home for the 1 o'clock game. How 'bout them Cowboys!"
Though he's sure to face a firestorm from pre-millennials, the affable Caldwell seems unfazed by the technology's semblance to what eschatologists such as Hal Lindsay and Chuck Missler refer to as the mark of the beast in Revelation 13. "Look, I'm a classic dispensationalist myself, but I see it as a win-win situation. We either continue at the cutting edge of contemporary ministry, or we trigger the rapture and bada bing, we're outta here, brother!"