Christmas Bonus

I read the article yesterday about two homeless Hungarian men who stand to inherit $6.6 billion dollars from their grandmother — of course they have to split it with a sister, but what’s a couple billion between family?  Beyond it being one of those “made-for-holiday-TV” type fairy stories, it simply raises the simple, personal question:  What would I do with a couple billion dollars?  First of all, I truly cannot comprehend a billion anything.  I am capable of handling “hundreds” and even “thousands” but things get a little fuzzier at the “hundreds of thousands” level and beyond.  I have just never dealt with such vast amounts — of anything.  I could give 25 cents to everyone on the planet and still have a chunk of change, but that doesn’t seem very helpful.  I am not being disingenuous to say I would want to give most of it away, but I must confess, I wouldn’t know where to begin to do the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people.  I know that one place I would commit a sizeable chunk would be a foundation for education for young people showing great potential, but with the odds stacked against them.  I also think I would like to endow the good works of others.  I look at some of the phenomenal work done in my own annual conference (Wisconsin) and I would love to fund Harbor House and Northcott Center and Children’s Services of Wisconsin so that the leadership of those organizations didn’t have to worry so much about resources.  I also know we can do a better job in most of our churches serving and engaging with the poor and marginalized.  I would love to give funds to help those things happen.

I also have a passion for literacy — I believe that it is a primary key to succeeding in our world today.  I also believe computer competency is essential, and there are a signficant number of young people who have little or no access to necessary equipment.  There are many things I would do… if I had the money.

But see, that’s the rub.  I don’t have a couple billion dollars… but I know where I could get it.  At last estimate, there are 2 billion Christians in the world.  Now, granted, 65% of those live below the poverty line, so it wouldn’t work to have every Christian pony up a dollar, but if the 35% who have the cash could kick in $3-5 dollars, we would have a boatload of cash to do some incredible work!  Yes, I am aware that this isn’t likely to happen.  Most of our churches are not paying their apportionments this year.  If we can’t kick in the minimum $3-5/member to cover this, what chance do we have to get another $3-5?  I think the chance is pretty good, actually.  The reason our membership doesn’t cover apportionments is that the good they do is invisible all too often.  Apportionments feel like paying taxes — we send off the check and only hear that good things are being done with the money.  When we give directly to missional service and relief, we can see what our dollars do.  People like this.  We are a cause-and-effect bunch of folk.  If my dollar goes into a collection plate, gets carried away, and I never see a direct result — what’s the fun in that?  But if I plop down a dollar that buys a can of soup that feeds a hungry person — there’s a good value in that.

On Christmas Eve, we will have the best attendance of the year — a three-year analysis in the late 1990s indicates that we have approximately 212% more people on Christmas Eve than on an average Sunday nationwide.  If we made a very specific direct appeal — every man, woman, and child make a Christmas “Bonus” offering of $3 — we could easily raise $7 million dollars in one evening for missions and outreach.  ($7 million is an arbitrary and made up number based on nothing other than “it sounds good” and on an equally made up formula of 32,000 congregations averaging 71 participants giving $3 each.  See how easy it is to make things sound statistical?)

The point is, $3 spread across many people can make a difference.  In the vast majority of our churches, there are few people who could not reorder their lives in such a way that they could give $3 more EACH WEEK to their church.  Do with a few less soft drinks, one less burger, a couple less cookies, a big bag of chips, a pack of cigarettes — just a slight sacrifice could more than cover the cost.  And the result over the course of a year?  Literally millions of dollars available for the work of Christ in the world.

An interesting aside to this idea:  I did it once in a church I served.  This was a small church with very few “wealthy” people.  Most claimed they were “giving all they could.”  The economy was bad.  We wanted to raise some money to host a dinner for the poor in the community.  We made a very specific appeal for $2 from everyone in attendance.  This came AFTER the normal offering — a “bonus” appeal.  There were 121 people in attendance at the service.  Our normal offering that night came in at $550.  Our asking for $2 from everyone came in at just over $600.  Do the math — we asked for 2 and got — on average — 5.  People want to give, and they love to be asked (except for two or three who will gripe no matter what) to do good.  What could we do with $6 billion or $1 billion or even $7 million.  I don’t know, but let’s find out…

6 replies

  1. The Christmas Eve statistics don’t (or haven’t) held up in our congregation, where attendance is lower than most Sunday mornings. (We sometimes have a nice bump on the Sunday after Christmas). Until this year, we have received a special Christmas offering which was split between a specific mission project (alternating between national/international) and apportionments. In our new church, the Christmas offering will go 100% to apportionments. I see part of my job (as church secretary) as spreading the good news about what that money makes possible in our conference and around the world.

  2. More money, more troops, more bailouts…”more of everything.”

    If only the solution was “more” American ingenuity and Methodist generosity. That is, reduction of the gospel to abstract principle.

    If we could legislate a Wesleyan rule…

    But then there would be slackers, deceitful dodgers, hypocrites, and insolent contrarians, too. Just as now infest our churches!

    Something “more” potent that moral law or enthusiasms on steroids is needed to resolve this condition. Something in which our whole being participates. Something…ah…ontological…that establishes us and “sets our hearts on fire” without extinguishing our humanity. Now what might that be?

  3. Dan, thanks for the mention of the three United Methodist related social service agencies in Wisconsin. Remember, only the church calls us “Children’s Services”. Our clients, refering social workers and area leaders always call us “United Methodist”.

    You are absolutely right that people like to be invited to participate in and support specific ministries where they can make an impact. As pastors we fail much too often to ask out of the misguided fear that it will come out of what people would otherwise give to the local church general budget. That fear is almost never realized, and even if it is, we are only the Church when we see and serve beyond ourselves. Otherwise we are just another institution out to perpetuate ourselves.

    Cindy Thompson
    United Methodist Children’s Services

  4. It’s funny. There are one or two really self-righteous people who read your blog — Don and Gary come immediately to mind — who seem to go out of their way to misunderstand what you say and focus on one or two things to get all bent out of shape about. One guy says you are immoral and the other says you moralize, and you are neither. The one who criticizes your morality is much more immoral and intolerant, and the one who accuses of moralizing is the one who moralizes. I find it interesting that either one keeps reading you, since neither one have a clue what you’re saying.

  5. For the record…I chimed in on this blog because I am waiting for the coming of Christ. “Christ will come again”–that’s in the liturgy, right?

    So there’s really “Someone” to wait for…which gives the world real hope.

    I also assumed we are practicing “mutual invitation” here…and that diversity (“difference”) in is respected.

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