Giving It Away
By Darrel Rowland
Mounting a successful fund-raising drive is challenging enough for any church, especially in these difficult economic times.
But two churches not only carried out smashing one-day giving campaigns earlier this year, they turned around and gave it away—all $176,000 of it. In fact, most of the money went to places not even associated with the church.
Leaders of both churches say your congregation should try it, too.
Launched in 2005, Forefront Church in Manhattan began an annual giving event called Celebration Generosity in 2009. That first year, members chipped in about $27,000 for various social service organizations around New York City.
This year, the church collected more than $145,000, including $61,000 for a Forefront plant in Brooklyn slated to open in late September.
Why hold a big special offering and give most of it away?
“Our vision at Forefront is to see God’s kingdom restored,” said Jonathan Williams, pastor of the new Brooklyn church. “This goes beyond us. It goes beyond the church and allows us to see what others are doing in the city as being God’s hands and feet.
“This year we gave to a group that feeds and educates the city’s homeless and a ministry that saves women from sex trafficking. Even though they’re not associated with our church, we see them as part of the larger vision to see the kingdom restored through the power of Christ.”
At about the same time, more than 300 miles to the northeast, eight-year-old EastPoint Christian Church in Portland, Maine, was putting together its first Hope Now celebration on Easter Sunday in one of the city’s biggest meeting places, historic Merrill Auditorium.
“We were trying to prayerfully figure out how we could break into downtown Portland and give something back to the city, no strings attached, just to show that we are a church that wants to be part of the community,” said EastPoint’s pastor, Scott Taube.
“Another focus point was for us to be able to make connections and build relationships with the people in the community to further extend our reach with the gospel of Jesus.”
The goal of $20,000 was crushed by the 1,300 who attended and gave an offering of more than $31,000. The money went to Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital, the only such facility in the state.
The idea sprang from a staff vision/planning retreat. The leaders not only wanted to hold a community Easter celebration, but to make a gift to the community as well.
“We could have given a park bench or tree or something like that, but our goal became one of connecting with as many people as possible,” Taube said. “A gift to Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital surfaced as what we believe was a Spirit-led idea.
“We determined that we could connect with physicians, hospital administrators, nurses, custodians, etc. as well as hurting families with children in need of the services offered by the hospital. We also believed this effort would connect us with the community, which would see this as a very positive investment.”
Considering the Impact
While it’s difficult to measure the impact of Forefront’s gifts on a city as large as New York, Williams remarked, “We have been incredibly impacted by the stories from the organizations and churches we’ve helped. The Father’s Heart ministry that we gave to this year told us they were in a financial crisis and were looking at having to make changes to a ministry they’ve had since 1984. This money allowed them to continue their operation in serving thousands of our city’s homeless.”
In Portland, Taube said, “We heard many stories of people being amazed and encouraged with the gift. I was on a plane a few weeks before Easter and sat next to a traveling nurse from our community. I shared our vision with her to get her response and she immediately burst into tears. She was very touched. Her son was in children’s hospital years ago. She said she would come on Easter. Not only that, her whole family came the week before Easter, came to the Easter celebration, and have been coming ever since.
“We also had a 10-year-old little girl, who is an active patient at the hospital having two open heart surgeries, as our spokesperson for the hospital on Easter Sunday. She and her mother came to church the next Sunday and have also been coming ever since, and they have brought others to EastPoint as well.”
So have the special offerings cut into the churches’ regular offerings?
“The congregation by and large has seen the positive effects their giving has on these organizations and our city and are truly excited about giving. Our community’s regular giving has also remained above average, which I think is a result of our vision to use our resources for the good of the kingdom,” Williams said.
“I think it shows us that we as a community do not give because we expect blessing in return. Often those of us who give to Celebration Generosity will ‘struggle’ a bit more during that month. But rather, we see that these resources aren’t ours, that God is doing something amazing, and by not giving we get in the way of what God is trying to do.”
“God blessed us significantly,” he said. “We not only saw a $31,000 offering given in one Sunday, but we saw increased giving the week that followed. Since that time our offerings have increased.”
Taube said EastPoint’s Hope Now offering may become an annual event.
Williams said he already is looking forward to which community groups can be impacted next spring by the Brooklyn church’s first Celebration Generosity.
“This has strengthened the church body and has allowed us to see God at work in the most tangible of ways,” he said.
Taube also urged other churches to consider giving away an offering, “as long as the church family can embrace the purposes of such an event or gift.”
“To our knowledge, no church in Portland has ever had a Community Easter Celebration or rented an auditorium for such an event. Some of the workers at the auditorium said they had never heard of a church ever using the building, or having such an event. They also couldn’t believe how well everyone got along. . . . No one had ever heard of a church giving a Sunday offering to Children’s Hospital, or to anything for that matter.
“Our average attendance was around 600. We have grown by more than 100 people since that time. [We’re] not sure if it’s all related, but we pray God is glorified no matter what, and that people hear the gospel of Jesus as we continue the mission he has given us.”
Darrel Rowland is public affairs editor of The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch and an adult Bible fellowship teacher at Worthington Christian Church.