By David Girdwood
Each summer, as temperatures rise and the daylight expands, our children begin dreaming of a commercial enterprise: “Mom, Dad, can we pleeease do a lemonade stand?”
Personally, spending hours in the blazing sun selling just enough lemonade to cover the cost of the Crystal Light isn’t very appealing. We allow our kids to do it anyway. Why? Is it a rite of passage, a way to kill a few hours, an opportunity to teach an economics lesson? Or is it ultimately a chance for them to be creative, resourceful, and even to experience the generosity of others?
Whether we call it “commercial enterprise” or “creative fund-raising” or a “special offering,” generosity in any form is an expression of who we are and how we are designed. Each of us is a reflection of our creator God, hard-wired by him with a thirst for creativity and resourcefulness. It’s innate, built-in, part of our DNA.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light (Genesis 1:1-3).
Not Crystal Light, but actual light. From emptiness, God created light!
God created human beings; he created them godlike, reflecting God’s nature. He created them male and female. God blessed them: “Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge! Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air, for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth” (Genesis 1:27, 28, The Message).
It’s in our very nature to be generous, creative, and resourceful!
At Community Christian Church, Naperville, Illinois, our mission is “helping people find their way back to God.” You probably have a similar mission in your church. We call this the “Jesus mission,” and we accomplish it through the three Rs:
REACH—reaching those who are far from God
RESTORE—restoring God’s dream for the world both locally and globally
REPRODUCE—reproducing the Jesus mission in others
Everything we do and every dollar we invest at Community is about helping people find their way back to God, so we count people who are taking their next steps in generosity. Our staff and leaders encourage attenders to continue taking steps in honoring God with their finances; our teaching team schedules regular series on generosity and stewardship. In fact, the “big idea” for one of our recent series focused on three types of givers:
Surrendered giver: We say to those who give consistently and intentionally, “God may be calling you to increase your generosity above 10 percent or to give sacrificially for a season.”
Intentional giver: To those who have been giving for a while, we say, “What does it look like for you to make giving a priority and to start tithing consistently?”
Initial giver: To those who have never given before, “We encourage you to take your first step and begin by giving something.”
How does this translate into creative fund-raising? Two specific examples of creative fund-raisers at Community come to mind: Celebration Generosity and Giftmart. These events appeal to initial givers because they are relatively low-touch, cause-based activities where people can give for the first time. The beauty is that they also connect with intentional and surrendered givers who feel called to expand their generosity.
Ten years ago, our church was at a financial crossroads. Dave Ferguson, our lead pastor, asked our staff to spend time in prayer and fasting. When we broke our fast together, it became clear God was not calling us to shrink our vision but to be resourceful and take a creative risk. The result was a special offering called Celebration Generosity.
Community now gives away the entire offering it collects during the first week of each fiscal year. This week provides a unique opportunity for attenders to designate their giving to the team(s) of their choice. We build our budget based on the remaining 51 weeks so we can dedicate this first offering to four teams, partner organizations that align with the Jesus mission.
We just celebrated our 10th year of Celebration Generosity and during that time 1,821 people have given for the very first time and more than $5.2 million has been given to the four teams!
Team Compassion releases children around the world from poverty by partnering with Compassion International to plant churches where sponsored children receive physical and spiritual care. Compassion’s child sponsorship program has been recognized as the best long-term strategy to alleviate poverty. Today, through Celebration Generosity, more than 800 children have received sponsors, and churches being planted in Haiti and throughout Central and South America are seeing 450 people every day making decisions for Christ.
Team NewThing is a catalyst for a movement of reproducing churches around the globe. NewThing provides a framework for churches to shoulder the work of church planting as a team. Churches network together to share best practices and resources, train future leaders, and accelerate the church-planting process. God continues to bless NewThing with incredible opportunities to help start new churches. With Celebration Generosity’s help, by 2020 NewThing will include 10,000 reproducing churches that are changing the spiritual landscape of cities, towns, villages, and countries around the world!
Team Philippines partners with Philippine Frontline Ministries, a nationwide network of reproducing churches, ministry centers, Christian schools, and social enterprise initiatives reaching and helping people find their way back to God. PFM rescues abandoned children from Philippine streets. The children exchange a life of extreme poverty for a life with a home, medical care, a faith-based education, and a bright future. Many of these kids grow up and give back by working at Frontline.
Team Community 4:12 unites people to restore communities by mobilizing Christ followers to be agents of compassion, justice, and love. This team makes a long-term commitment to a community and focuses on meeting immediate needs, building relationships, developing people, and addressing systemic issues within that community. By uniting with others across cultural, racial, and economic divides, we learn, grow, and better reflect the heart of Jesus.
See how each team aligns with the Jesus mission? See how God has led us to be creative, resourceful, and generous?
Giftmart was born when Kirsten Strand, Community 4:12’s director, began to reimagine the holiday charity model. She envisioned a way to harness the generosity of local communities to not only place toys under the tree in low-income neighborhoods, but to create a win for everyone involved.
Giftmart works with businesses and churches to collect thousands of new toys each year. People can contribute financially at any level or shop for gifts to donate. As a parent, this offers me the chance to teach my children about how God calls us to be generous givers and not greedy consumers.
Giftmart partners with schools in under-resourced neighborhoods. Parents can shop at these schools for significantly discounted gifts for their children. Toys are sold for $2 each. Parents can thus provide Christmas for their families, instead of receiving a handout, and this preserves their dignity. While parents shop, volunteers serve them cheerfully in a variety of roles: parking cars, serving hot cocoa, stocking shelves, wrapping gifts, and praying with them. The proceeds from toy sales are reinvested into the schools, so parents are effectively funding the purchase of books, computers, musical instruments, and other much-needed supplies.
Can you count the number of wins in this creative fund-raiser? Local businesses, the local church, the community, parents, children, schools, teachers, and event volunteers . . . they all win!
Remember, it’s in our nature to be generous, creative, and resourceful. It’s how God designed us, so let’s dream big.
David Girdwood oversees the day-to-day business operations of all 11 locations of Community Christian Church, Naperville, Illinois. He also provides financial administration and support for NewThing and Community 4:12.