When Churches Get It Right

December 20, 2007 by

by Margaret Pittman, Guest Blogger

Occasionally churches get it right–they do something so significant that it makes you stand back in awe and amazement. And as a critic of the way most churches operate–as self-serving institutions, the event that occurred at my church did just that.

“Give Back Sunday” could have been a cheesy superficial marketing tool–allowing the congregation to take a little money out of the offering plate instead of giving money to the church. Whoopee. I get to take a buck and buy someone a cup of coffee–but oh wait, I can’t even do that with a dollar. I can get someone a stick of gum … maybe. What can I get someone for a dollar?

Anyway, everyone was invited to participate in taking an unmarked envelope out of the offering plate. There was a sense of palpable skepticism, as well as anticipation, in the congregation before we opened the envelopes. When we finally peeked inside, a stunned silence filled the pews. Wow. $20, $50 and $100 bills were in the envelopes–a total of over $13,500, with the instruction that we could not spend it on ourselves. We were told to bless someone this week because you have been richly blessed.

As the 300 or so people filed out after the service, many were crying, humbled and dreaming about how they could use their cash to help someone in need. Many were in need themselves, so the challenge will be for them to release the money to someone else in greater need. Perhaps for a large, well-established congregation this would not be so amazing, but this church is brand new and shares space with a Baptist church. This church is able to give generously because it is not bogged down with building expenses and debt. This church is doing something right–taking the message of Jesus Christ outside the walls of the church and investing in the local community.

Stories of how folks have spent their ‘talents’ are being posted a on web site. The testimonies are pouring in.

This successful effort has made me think about what churches can learn from each other:

  1. Don’t get bogged down in debt.
  2. Give generously.
  3. Take a step back now and then from frenzied ministry activities and ask yourself “Why? Why are we doing this? Why are we spending all this money?”
  4. Make serving the poor a priority–no matter how big you get or how big your budget. It was important to Jesus (it was the topic of his very first sermon), so it should be important to us.
  5. Oh, and yeah–it is more blessed to give than to receive!

Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998, runs the hyperlocal site West St. Paul Reader, and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
Read more posts by | Want to write for us?

9 Responses to “When Churches Get It Right”

  • Akash
    December 21, 2007

    Love it.
    Sounds like something Northpoint did a while ago (http://www.willowcreek.com/news/story.asp?id=WN01062000). More churches should challenge their congregations in a similar way.

     | Permalink
  • Becky
    December 21, 2007

    Our church did something similar a few years ago — right in the middle of a capital campaign. Yes, seriously, while raising money for a facility (our rented space was being torn down), we handed out envelopes during a message about the Parable of the Talents. The stories which came back, just like those linked in this post, were amazing.
    It changed the attitudes of those who got envelopes — frustrating a few (in a good way) and challenging everybody. Especially coming in the middle of the capital-campaign, this helped people realize the church really isn’t after their money.
    And, it was fascinating from a marketing/outreach perspective, too. Most people who got an envelope talked to their unchurched friends about it, shattering opinions that churches are all about money. And, as people gave the money away, they’d explain where it came from and how it was a gift from God, which also positively changed a lot of people’s opinions about church/Christians in general.

     | Permalink
    December 21, 2007

    Because you were willing to “give” us this idea, all of us might be giving back on some upcoming Sundays. Thank you!

     | Permalink
  • Heather
    December 23, 2007

    It IS a nice idea, and we were in a church that did this years ago as well… Or a variation thereof. Unfortunately, this is NOT legal. People giving to the church receive tax deductable receipts. The church cannot just turn around and hand out money back to people that way!
    Plus, consider this: there are people who sacrifice to give to the church. What kind of message does it send when the church takes that money and hands it out to “everyone”? Does this show that the church has a plan for how the money is used? Does it convey a sense of propriety, or does it convey a sense of glibness and irresponsiblity (ie-“the church has so much money, we can just give it away to people without worrying about how it will be spent?)

     | Permalink
  • Gene Mason
    December 23, 2007

    On the surface this seems like a “right” thing… but the more I pray about it, the more it feels a little fishy. First off, how is this teaching the congregation to sacrifice for others if they are just given the money to then give away? Why not encourage them to sacrifice some of their own wants/desires and use their own funds to give to others? How is it a long-term positive object lesson in sacrificial giving if nothing is really sacrificed? I think you gotta look past the symbolism here at the substance and realize that a big handout may not accomplish all that much spiritually and humanitarian-ly, in this instance.
    Second, there are some pretty stringent laws regarding the handling of tax-deductible gifts. If someone gave $100, for instance, and the church randomly gave him back $50 to then give away, the church then can’t turn around and give him credit for the $100 contribution… the ends doesn’t justify the means, legally if the person didn’t actually give $100. There’s a congressional investigation ongoing with several ministries that regularly hide behind a give/receive gift-in-kind mentality that masks some pretty nasty financial trickery. I don’t think that’s the case here, but if I were an auditor, this would really raise some red flags.
    I think this is really symbolism over substance. (1) Everybody is free to give to those in need at any time, but we generally don’t unless there is some personal benefit involved. The church (all of us) needs to learn what sacrifice really is, and (2) though this is an interesting illustration, on reflection, I’m not sure what it’s teaching or that it’s on the up-and-up legally.

     | Permalink
  • michael
    December 24, 2007

    you guys trying to bring tax deductions into this are missing the point.
    first of all, a church can use the contributions of people to do all sorts of ministry – including paying staff, giving to the poor, building a building, handing out cash to homeless people and yes, giving the money to people to be used for serving and ministry.
    secondly, while it’s possible that someone would do this as a publicity stunt, i tend to think that most churches operate out of a sincere concern for the lost, the needy, the oppressed, etc.
    i am proud to be a part of a church who did a similar campaign, and i’m proud to hear the stories of how God’s money is being used to serve people in the name of Christ.

     | Permalink
  • Gene Mason
    December 25, 2007

    Since when did serving the needs of the community have to be a “campaign” for the church? In other words, is a campaign the best way to teach charity? Hmmm.
    And I’m not talking about tax deductions. I’m talking about whether or not it is legal to hand the money back out to folks at random. The issue is whether or not the congregation receiving the money represents what is called a “charitable class.” The concern I have is whether this violates the church’s non-profit status. I think it is at least questionable and bears some investigation.

     | Permalink
  • Terrace Crawford
    December 26, 2007

    I have heard about several churches nationwide that did this at Christmas this year. I think its a great idea. Churches are too inward focused today. This encourages me.

     | Permalink
  • jim
    January 11, 2008

    Is it a publicity stunt? in some ways, yes. Should we be giving back to our neighbors anyway? Of course. But sometimes we get so busy that we don’t think about it. Thus, a church decides to gently remind its people, “hey, you’ve been blessed greatly. now go bless someone else.” Now if a church did this every week, month or maybe even every year, I would question the motivation and maybe even the legality. But once? Nah. It’s pretty much the same as planning a one-day ‘revival’ service and putting that money into a speaker, a soloist, advertising, etc. It’s just another form of reaching the community. Check this out if you don’t believe me. http://www.blessbackproject.com/
    Read some of these stories and tell me that people’s lives weren’t affected. Those giving and those receiving had an opportunity to see what can happen when we give and maybe, just maybe were more likely to make blessing someone a regular occurence.

     | Permalink