The $100 Challenge

A young man came up to me the other day and led off with the line, “You probably don’t remember me, but…”  Having worked for the national church for almost 15 years, I have met an awful lot of people, and I must confess that I don’t remember too many of them, but this young man went back even further to my days in New Jersey.  He said, “We only attended your church one time when I was like fifteen, but I still remember you.”  I don’t think there is anything a preacher likes hearing more than that he or she said something to a teenager 22 years ago that made a lasting impression.  Most of what we say seems to be forgotten before the majority of people exit the sanctuary…  Anyway, what he remembered was “the $100 challenge.”

I haven’t thought of this in years.  I went to two small churches that had a terrible track record paying their apportionments.  (Apportionments being the “fair share” of missional and denominational support each congregation gives through the annual conference to support the work of the church.)  The combined apportionment for the two churches was no more than $8,000, but generally each congregation only paid in the hundreds.  Leaders in the congregations were fuzzy about what apportionments were and did.  Paying apportionments in full was one of my top priorities, but the skeptical leadership didn’t share my commitment.  I remember the chair of Trustees telling me, “if you can think of some way to raise the money, we’ll gladly pay them.”  I took the dare and came up with the $100 challenge.

I listed out twenty of the missions and causes supported by apportionments in our conference.  I asked people for a few weeks if they would be willing to donate just one dime to each of them to see that these ministries could continue.  Just $2 per week per person could support not just these twenty, but dozens others as well.  I challenged every person — man, woman, and child — to commit to raise and/or give $100 over the year.  I also issued the challenge to the UMW, UMYF, UMM, each of our committees, classes, study groups, etc., thinking if we could just get about half the congregation to commit, we would more than cover our apportionments.  That year, we ended up paying 121% — our best giving ever.

We never had problems paying our apportionments from that day forward.  It simply became part of what we did.  Most people waste more than $2 per week, so for the vast majority of people it was no hardship at all.  The young man who approached me told me that he never forgot the basic message: it doesn’t take a lot to do good, but it requires that many people are needed to do a little on a regular basis.  In a lump sum, an apportionment might seem like a large amount, but when it is broken down to a manageable level, virtually no church can’t rise to the challenge.  When we first issued the challenge, most people paid their money right away, or over a very short period of time.  UMW held a fund-raiser and paid $1,000 to help cover the challenge for those in our congregation struggling financially.  The UMYF had a candy sale and gave $350.  Two Sunday school classes dedicated their weekly offering to apportionments once they understood the local missions they helped support.  We even had nominally active members send us checks to cover “their share.”

What comes to mind with this challenge was that it was simple, fairly easy for almost everyone, optional — no one was forced to “pay up,” and it was tied into telling the story of what apportionments actually do, instead of approaching them as “church taxes” or “membership fees.”  People liked paying their apportionments.  People felt good about their simple gifts.  People were happy to be doing good.  I wonder how often we inadvertently make apportionments — and giving in general — harder than it needs to be?

People want to do good.  Most people wish they could give more.  It makes great sense to help people feel better about the giving they can actually do, instead of making people feel guilty for what they aren’t doing.  In 1988, the per member apportionment was approximately $69.  Today it is in the $85-90 range most places.  The $100 challenge can still work.  It still covers the membership.  And almost everyone can find a way to free up a couple bucks a week for good causes.  I’m talking movement here.  I would love to see churches across the country struggling to meet apportionments to issue the $100 challenge.  See what happens.  The worst outcome is nothing changes.  The best case?  We fund our church at a 100% level and take pressure off the system so that we can worry less about money and get our focus back on mission.  Help people do a little, and we might just change the world.

22 replies

  1. @Joel – Thanks for the help! I’ll dig.

    I find it amusing that two people cite the same factor – “social justice” – for their love or hate of apportionments, respectively. Love it.

  2. The larger organizations become, the less efficient the use of funds becomes. The national UMC needs to be lean and concentrate on the Great Commission. If more people throughout the world were saved by the power of the death burial and resurrection of Christ, “social justice” would follow. Therefore, our resources should be focused on spreading the good news rather than trying to bring about “social justice” on our own. I have been told that John Wesley was involved in the elimination of slavery in England, and therefore the church should be involved in all of these issues. Well, we should, as INDIVIDUALS. Wesley was a great man, and the founder of Methodism, but we are to be followers of JESUS, not John Wesley, and Jesus said to go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

  3. Ken, Jesus also said the nations (not individuals) would be judged by how we treat “the least of these.” We have our marching orders from Jesus, and they are varied and challenging.

    • Look at the US vs any other nation in the world. The US is the most generous and just nation in the world, not to mention the most prosperous. 80% plus of people in the nation profess belief in god. I do not believe that it will do any good for this nation or the world for the UMC to support policies of the government which will send this nation into unsustainable debt. People came here in generations past to take advantage of the freedoms offered by our system of government, not to try to flaunt our laws. The constitution of the US used to be revered by the majority of the population, now few know what it says. The UMC needs to stick to spiritual matters, not political matters. Perhaps if more people were true followers of Jesus, the social causes would fall into place.

      • Ken,

        Do you really believe that Christians can compartmentalize their lives? As citizens in community — whether that be Christian community or national community — do we not have responsibility for one another? Does being 100% Christian mean one cannot also be an American? Is our world so clearly sacred and secular? I find that many Christians want all the blessings of their faith and to enjoy all the blessings of the culture, but are willing to pay the costs of neither.

      • I am thankful every day that I had the great and unmerited fortune to be born in this country, to middle class parents, who raised me in faith, emphasized the importance of a good education, and supported me in ways that prepared me to be the person I am today. I cannot compartmentalize my life as faith separate from politics, commerce and social interactions. Everything I say, do, stand for and pray for is influenced by my faith. I want to be part of a Church where the same is true.

  4. Cindy,
    I hear what you are saying. However scripture supports Ken’s comments above on the role of the church and you and I. We need to quit watering down the gospel and preach the truth no matter how uncomfortable or unpopular. The UMC has only one crayon in the box, “it’s gray”. Tell me the last time your preacher talked about sin, hell, and repentance. I hear week after week “God is love”. It’s not true. Love is an attribute of God, but He is also just, jealous, almighty, infinite, and will in the end exercise His perfect will. Until people wake up and realize that God is not “our buddy” and start glorifying His name, our church, our nation, and our families will experience His wrath. It is my prayer for us that Jesus will save us from the death and punishment we deserve.

    • Our obligation to the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick and imprisoned is not a watered down Gospel. I take all of Scripture seriously, and much of it seriously challenges our casual indifference to the needs of people around us. If some churches are preaching and teaching too much feel good and others are preaching only wrath, neither relieves us of our obligation to the widows and orphans, the alien in our land, or any of the others highlighted in scripture as those we are called to serve with compassion.

  5. Our church as always paid 100% of apportionments, but not much longer. When you list only the non-controversial activities funded through apportionments everyone cheers; when you finally show everyone all of the liberal-non-Christian positions and activities of the corporate UMC people start asking if we, our church, should be part of this thing that has left the teachings of Christ.

    If you wonder why the UMC has lost members down to the level we were in 1968, it’s because we are ignoring the commands of God for political/social expediency – AND GOD WILL NOT BLESS THAT!!

    • The problem is, the line blurred by anger-rhetoric and name-calling. Our church is being torn apart by people getting upset that their own personal beliefs are not being endorsed by their denomination, and when the church does something with which they personally disagree, they bluff and bluster and try to make it a “theological” issue, when it is nothing more than they don’t like what they see. We were political long before 1968 in all our previous manifestations and denominational splinters. There have always been those who are angry that we care for the poor and marginalized, that we defend the defenseless, that we minister to “the undeserving” (a favorite EUB bromide used to attack “liberals”). Our interpretations trump our common sense and our Christian heart, that’s for sure. And as long as our nation is defined by “what’s in it for ME” people will use their politics thinly disguised as religion to avoid paying their apportionments. Christian disciples don’t take their ball and go home, but they step up and work to change the system for the better. Yet, you make a good point. Others, once they decide their church isn’t doing what they want, check out and find one that will.

  6. Cindy,
    You are absolutely right. We do have that obligation. Something that has been on my heart over the last few years is, “it’s easy to give someone a can of beans. But it takes commitment to show them how to earn their own”. I know it’s not always that easy and I realize the world does not have the same resources as we enjoy. I just think the UMC has lost it’s way I really believe God has removed His hand from us due to our falling away from ENTIRE truth of the bible which in part does command us to feeding the hungry and clothe the naked. But you didn’t answer my question, when was the last time you heard your pastor talk about sin, hell, and repetance? Both of us have highlighted biblical reference, wouldn’t it be awesome to have a church that “hits it all”? God is an awesome God and our church should reflect and preach the entire truth of scripture. Blessings.

  7. I am a pastor. I use all of scripture and do not shrink from the challenges and even condemnation found throughout, as well as the abundant grace. I often remind myself and those with whom I serve that Jesus harshest words are for the good religious folk, and his compassion is most often shown to those who those same good religious folk have already deemed unworthy. My current appointment is actually to a United Methodist social service agency (umcs-wi.org). We both give out cans of beans (along with other items equivalent to three meals a day for three days) in our emergency food pantry, and work on the very time intensive relationship building required to help participants in our transitional living program progress toward their individualized goals to make the changes they need in their lives. We have families living in our Washington Park Apartments for whom profound mental illness contributes to their poverty in ways where they will never be able to “earn their own”. I appreciate your continued engagement in this conversation.

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