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…