Every week the collection plate passes and the stereotype of churches asking for money increases. But what if a church gave it all away? That’s what Traceway Baptist Church in Clinton, Miss., did for a full year. Their entire offering—100%—went to meet needs in their community. They paid bills, bought groceries, helped with medical bills—even threw together a post-tornado disaster picnic. It wasn’t just a slick marketing idea, it was a re-thinking of the entire purpose of their church.
Founding pastor John Richardson tells the story in the book Giving Away the Collection Plate: ReGifting God’s Love and Money. As he shares with us in a guest post, it’s really about rediscovering the brand of the early church: Generosity.
Richardson takes us through the entire journey, from the initial idea and how they got there, through the practical considerations (How do we decide who gets the money? What do we do if someone abuses it? How do we pay for this?) to what happens next. The logistics of giving away all your money are pretty complicated. They had to cut expenses and then raise additional money to cover the bare bones expenses they couldn’t cut. It was a one-year experiment, and in the end (spoiler alert) it was an idea that couldn’t sustain itself. But in following the biblical model of generosity, it’s a plan they’re going to do on a Sabbath year model: Every seventh year they’ll give away the collection plate for an entire year. In the previous six years they’ll be saving up to pay for the seventh year, but also giving away a portion of that year’s offering as well.
It’s a radical approach to church budgets and offerings. But as we look at the early church in Acts, it’s not that radical.
As you can imagine, the marketing implications are huge:
“For an entire year, we did not have any money designated for a marketing budget and during that time God increased our reach and influence far beyond what we could have imagined. Over the previous two years, we used every marketing scheme available–billboards, Internet, email marketing, handing out doughnuts at local businesses, personalized direct mail, radio spots, and word of mouth. While those things helped people become familiar with our church, they paled in comparison to the influence that God afforded us when we stopped marketing ourselves.”
Or more accurately, “when they stopped paying to market themselves.” Obviously you can’t approach an idea like this as a simple marketing gimmick. It has to go to the core of who your church is. But the simple fact is something like this is remarkable. It gets people talking. It gets people caring. That’s good marketing. And it didn’t cost them a single marketing dollar—instead it cost so much more.