A Year of Contagious Generosity
By Jim Miller
Excerpt from an article originally published in Giving Magazine Vol. 22, No. 4 in 2019. You can access the full issue here.
What happens when churches ask their members to give even more? Is there a resounding thud as the idea falls flat, or do people open their hearts and wallets? Leaders of a church in Pennsylvania launched a Year of Contagious Generosity and what happened next surprised a lot of people. Money raised benefited the local fire department, school district, and helped rebuild a community playground.
Planning for the Year of Contagious Generosity started in the spring of 2014, when Mount Joy Mennonite Church paid off its mortgage. “We wanted some way to mark that,” noted Pastor Karl Landis. “We talked about continuing to raise building fund-type money—a capital campaign—but give the money away to organizations in the community that could benefit from it.”
First, “We adopted a three-part challenge for our congregation, from mid-November 2014 to mid-November 2015.” The challenge included contributing money (known as the Giving Project), volunteering time for community organizations (the Compassion Project), and figuring out ways to help in members’ own neighborhoods (Adventures in Generosity).
For Adventures in Generosity, “We encouraged people as families, as small groups, to listen to the Holy Spirit in their neighborhoods. To say, ‘This is an opportunity for me to be generous—let me step into that,’” said Karl. “We would measure the impact by storytelling, not money…. We invited people to write on cards what other members of the congregation had done, and we got a huge response.” The goal for the Giving Project was $100,000, or “the approximate amount of annual giving to the building project in the latter stages,” Karl said.
Karl talked with members of a local pastor’s association. “I said it would be great if we could give money away and say it was from the churches of Mount Joy, rather than just our congregation.” Other congregations contributed to the effort: Brethren in Christ, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and United Methodist.
Cross Roads Church (Brethren in Christ) got involved after paying off a debt of its own. Doug Bender, Cross Roads lead pastor, invited Karl and Marshall Meador, the lay champions for the Year of Contagious Generosity at Mount Joy Mennonite, to present information to the Cross Roads board. In spite of the short time frame, the board surprised Doug—and Karl and Marshall of Mount Joy Mennonite—by setting a lofty fundraising goal.
“I had no clue how we could ever pull that off,” said Doug. He said the idea of raising money to give away in the community was new to his congregation. In the past, any year-end surplus likely would have gone to mission work or debt reduction. Cross Roads ended up raising about $55,000. The total was slightly short of the goal, but “still way beyond my expectations,” Bender noted.
When all was said and done, the Giving Project generated well over $100,000. “From all of the participating congregations, the total we gave away was $185,075,” Karl said.
Some of that went to help rebuild the Kids Joy Land playground that was destroyed by an arson fire in 2012. Volunteers from the community, including a number from Mount Joy Mennonite, built new play structures. “We challenged people to give away time as well as money,” said Karl. “We wanted to put our labor where our money is.”
As for the fire department and school system, “We went to them and asked if they had any items on their wish lists of around $20,000 to $50,000,” said Karl. “We were guessing at how much we might be able to raise.” School officials used the funds to help with a stadium project and the fire department was able to complete a much-needed building renovation. Mount Joy Mennonite Church also helped pay down the mortgage of a sister congregation composed mostly of immigrants.
Ultimately, the Mount Joy generosity campaign should be measured by more than how many dollars went where. New relationships have been formed and nurtured—and that can lead to empathy and mutual understanding that strengthen a community. Doug is grateful for the experience, which he believes expanded his congregation’s horizons.
Giving Magazine was a premier stewardship resource published by the Ecumenical Stewardship Center (ESC) from 1999 until 2020. The magazine served Christian faith communities throughout North America, providing thoughtful, practical, and inspirational content on faith and giving from thought leaders and practitioners alike. Giving was published annually from 1999 until 2018 (volumes 1-20), and then quarterly in 2019 and 2020 (volumes 21-28) in digital form only. In 2021 ESC closed its doors and committed its archives to the care of Lake Institute on Faith & Giving. For further information on ESC or its archives, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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