I remember as a child seeing the large red Santa standing by the large black kettle. Santa rang a bell, inviting people to throw money into the big pot. I didn’t know anything about the Salvation Army then. I had never been to church except on one or two Easters. So I always wondered why anyone would throw money into a pot tended by a perfect stranger dressed up like Santa (you’ll notice I knew who Santa was).
Later, when I became a Christian and received a Call to preach, I dealt with the Salvation Army a lot because I did a lot of street and mission preaching. Still, my earlier experiences as a child stuck with me. What I learned as a child helped me years later as a pastor. I learned then that at Christmas, people are looking for places to throw money away. They even buy presents for people who have everything! Our culture calls this phenomenon the “Christmas spirit.” Hmmm, does that give you any ideas?
The Best of Times to Raise Money
Christmas is one of the best times of the year to raise additional money for things that would not otherwise get done. The sad thing is that too many churches tinker with the Christmas spirit, raising a pittance of what they could raise if they really tried. Even sadder, churches seldom challenge the validity of the Christmas spirit. Let me explain what I mean.
Many churches ask people to bring new or used toys to the church to be given out to needy children. This ministry is obviously a good one that needs to be continued. However, it is nowhere near what most congregations could do if challenged. Some churches have programs like Angel Trees. This program is also worthy of doing, but it too is only a token of the potential that lies untapped in most congregations.
My denomination encourages congregations at Christmas to take special offerings for a denominational project that most of the congregation couldn’t care less about. Those congregations that feel obligated to follow the party line see a paltry amount of resources donated to the cause. Therefore, they waste the best time of the year. They could take the denominational offering anytime of the year and receive the same amount of funds. Of course, we see exceptions to this rule, as in the case of the Lottie Moon offering taken at Christmas by the Southern Baptists.
Too many churches envision December as the time to push their members to finish their yearend giving to support a failing budget. I call such a push “loading the gun one more time.” And of course, the old-timers know it’s coming and they come through. More blood out of the same turnips! The newer people, however, don’t know the drill so they don’t give. Budgets aren’t very sexy issues to new Christians.
Well, you get my drift. While these are excellent ministries or needed approaches to finance, they just scratch the surface of what most churches could do. I call these “starter ministries” that are for churches just beginning to reach out, as well as reach in, to the financial potential of their members/attenders.
Turning the Christmas spirit into the Christmas Spirit
So, back to my original assertion about Christmas as the best time of the year to raise additional money for ministry. Notice the emphasis on additional and ministry. I’m talking here about raising money for a ministry that many in the congregation are passionate about but don’t feel as if it can be funded within the confines of their present giving standard. Unfortunately, most churches work within the limitations of a budget that is far too small.
The key is to turn the Christmas spirit into the Christmas Spirit. You do this by thinking BIG. I first stumbled onto this years ago when the church I pastored for twenty-four years decided to build a Habitat for Humanity house. To do so we would have to raise the money outside the budget. So we picked December to do it. To our amazement we raised all of the funds within the month!
The following year we decided to make the Christmas offering a regular event. To make it an annual success, we did the following:
· Choose a project or projects that would have wide appeal throughout the congregation. We found that three projects worked the best. During the spring of the year we did some informal polling to determine what mission projects would catch our leaders’ imagination. This polling helped us decide which projects to include in the offering.
· Choose a name in line with our DNA. We decided on “the Christ Child Offering.”
· Plan a strategy. We tied the Christ Child Offering to our regular “hanging of the greens” service on the first Sunday night in Advent when we sang carols while decorating a huge tree. The parents were asked to kick off the Christ Child Offering by bringing a financial gift for the projects that year. We involved everyone in the evening: the children made the ornaments; the youth put up the tree and did the actual hanging of the ornaments on the parts of the tree that the children couldn’t reach; the key adult leaders were present that night to greet the parents and children as they came forward to place their financial gifts under the tree and to assist their children in hanging their ornaments (we always had extra ornaments for children who didn’t have any). We also included three or four of our choirs in the program. In all it would take over 150 people to pull off the evening.
· Decide on a time frame. We decided to take the Christ Child Offering the entire month of December and culminate at the Christmas Eve services, which would allow us to invite our guests to share with us in the Christmas Spirit.
· Design appropriate promotional material. We designed our own logo and letterhead, which was a multicolored tree with gifts underneath it and “Christ Child Offering” at the top. Each year we did two mailings for the offering. The first mailing, sent out the second week in November, informed the congregation of the various projects included in the offering. (Today, I would include the website address of each project so people could learn more about the projects if they desired.) The second mailing came the week after the Christ Child Tree and informed everyone of the success of the kick-off offering at the Christ Child Tree evening.
· Every week in the worship services we continued receiving gifts to the Christ Child in addition to the normal giving. We also included the amount of the offering, updated each week, in the Worship Folder.
· The first Sunday in December we started lighting the tree at the bottom (lights were prestrung). Each Sunday we continued lighting the tree from the bottom to the top, based on the amount of money that had been given since the previous Sunday—until the final light of the tree-top star shone brightly during the last Christmas Eve service.
Was It Worth the Effort?
So, how did the Christ Child Offering turn out?
Ask the people who benefited from the three projects that we helped fund. We came to know some of them over the years and were blessed by their lives.
Ask the people who gave the money and experienced the joy of the true Christmas Spirit.
Some of them will never be the same.
Ask our business manager. He would tell you that by the end of the fourth year, this offering usually equaled an additional two-thirds of a month’s total income. The highest Christ Child Offering totaled over $150,000.