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. Okay, if it was this simple, we would all be doing it. I serve a small, poor, rural community church where we struggle to make our budget and we haven’t paid our apportionments in full in a decade, but there is no one in my parish who couldn’t raise or give an extra hundred dollars over the course of a year. This sounds too easy. This makes too much sense. This is a solution to a long standing probelm in our church, and anyone can do it. Therefore, something must be wrong with it. I haven’t figured out how this won’t work yet, but I am sure I will come up with it. Now if I can only figure out how to fund the rest of the budget I will be all set.

    • @Kevin K., I love your response. It’s funny because its true. One of the most frustrating things I deal with are folks who automatically reject a possible solution because “it just won’t work.” Thankfully, there are plenty of folks in our congregations who are willing to give just about anything a try. Thanks for a good laugh this evening.

  2. @Kevin
    @Joel

    I also serve a rural church that has not paid full apportionments (or anything close) in years. I’ve also run into the “it just won’t work” attitude.

    But, we did a stewardship campaign here this year for the first time…ever(?). We projected significant increases in giving. We went from about 5% apportionments paid in 2008 to 56% in 2009 – not perfect but a good start. I make it a point to talk about money in positive ways on a regular basis, including to potential new members.

    I like this. Think I’ll try it.

    Dan – where can I find that list of information you mentioned describing the various apportionment-supported ministries, how much goes where, etc.?

    • Casey-The website of the General Council on Finance and Administration is a good place to start. It took a little digging, but the reports are there. I’m not sure if this is what Dan was talking about, but it is helpful.
      http://www.gcfa.org/fs_Resources.html
      On the UMC Giving website, http://www.umcgiving.org , you can find the Together We Can DVD that tells the stories of how approtioned funds actually do help. Despite the negative comments below, apportioned funds accomplish much more good than we could each possibly manage on our own. I encourage you took look around both websites and share the stories with you church. Peace.

  3. Very well said!! I am visiting your annual conference this summer and congratulate Wisconsin on your full commitment to apportionment in 2009. I look forward to meeting you.

  4. Dan:

    I think you are an “hour by hour” genius. Not all at once, but over time it all adds up. Thanks for the good word. And for what it is worth one termite cannot do much damage, but put a passel of them together and the infrastructure comes tumbling down!–dnm

  5. I do not give to apportionments and I encourage others not to as well. The global church is too invloved with social justice issues rather then preaching the truth of the bible. It also employs people like Mr. Winkler. Wake up and realize God is justice and will hold us all accoutable for our sins. Start preaching salvation, redemption, and repentance. If this would happen I would make it a point to give. The church should exsist for the lost. Quit watering down the gospel to fit the typical Kum-by-Ya attitude of the UMC. What did Christ say about the lukewarm?

    • I’m sad you feel that way, and paint the entire denomination based on one or two issues. For me, the hundreds of thousands saved physically and spiritually more than balance the few offended by politics or positions. Having the opportunity to travel the globe as an ambassador of United Methodism, I celebrate the fantastic work we are doing and the fact that millions know Christ through our ministry. Certainly I disagree with a few things, but my own comfort pales in comparison with the good of the whole.

  6. Our conference is rolling out an large, top-notch communications campaign with videos, sunday school lessons, etc. etc. etc. on “connectional giving” aka apportionments.

    So our apportionments are paying for expensive, classy marketing materials on the need to pay more apportionments.

    My main issue with apportionments is that they don’t go to social justice issues like feeding the poor or providing health care to the uninsured, but on overhead and administration. The bureaucracy of the UMC is incredibly slow, large and cumbersome, and the irony is that the people who have to deal with that bureaucracy are also expected to pay for it.

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