By Blake McKinney
I’d like to tell you the story of a church that is making a difference.
I tell the story with some trepidation, because I know that Jesus cautioned against announcing our giving with trumpets. But right before that warning about tooting our own horns he told us to let our light shine so folks would have a chance to see God more clearly.
And I think he would want you to know what some folks who love God and love their neighbors have been up to this week. And honestly I’m just too stinking proud of the people of my church to be able to keep my mouth shut about it.
I also think generosity inspires generosity, so I’m hoping that hearing this story might prompt you to do something.
I’m the pastor of First Baptist Church on the edge of downtown Lee’s Summit, Missouri. Like the rest of the planet, our church and community have been thrown for a loop by the spread of the Coronavirus and its accompanying limitations on public gatherings. Two weeks ago, while I was still absorbing the disorientation I feel trying to serve and lead a church in this new world, I had three worries bouncing around in my head (Jesus also cautioned against worry, but sometimes I find it hard to take his advice on that subject):
1. Worry about the financial health of my church in light of an extended season with no gatherings
2. Worry about the unease I feel asking people to give to the church in a time when many of them are losing income and watching their retirement accounts evaporate
3. Worry about the fact that I was hearing cool stories about athletes and celebrities stepping up to do really generous things in a time of huge need, but I wasn’t hearing stories of churches making an impact
Those three worries collided and morphed into an audacious idea. I shared the idea with the rest of the staff at my church, and it got bigger. I shared it with the volunteers serving on the church finance team, and it got even bigger.
On Sunday, March 22, our second week of online-only worship, I announced that the church would be giving away half of everything we received for the next week to our neighbors who had been impacted by Coronavirus restrictions. Instead of wringing our hands and being extra careful with our money, we would take the counter-intuitive step of being extra generous. 25% of our total receipts would go to Lee’s Summit Social Services, a helping agency that does heroic work with people in need in our community. Another 25% of our total receipts would be given directly to employees of restaurants, bars, salons, and shops in downtown Lee’s Summit who had lost jobs or lost income because of the restrictions.
The people of the church responded with remarkable generosity. By the end of the day Sunday, we had seen more online contributions that we had ever received in a month. Monday and Tuesday saw more than I could count of the church’s faithful senior adults coming out of isolation to drop off contributions at the church, risking their own health so they could be a part of blessing others. In Wednesday’s mail we started getting checks of all sizes from church members. Later in the week the mail brought gifts from people a long way from Lee’s Summit who watched the service online and were inspired to give. Still more online contributions came in.
By the end of the week, after a Sunday on which no offering plate could be passed, the generous people of the church had given more than three times the amount of our usual weekly offering!
This week will be one of my favorite weeks I’ve ever had as a pastor, even if there is a pandemic. I get to deliver a check for over $22,000 to Lee’s Summit Social Services to help in their vital work in our community’s recovery from the current crisis. And I get to deliver over $22,000 worth of Hy-vee gift cards to downtown workers who aren’t getting paid right now (gift cards that will go even further because Hy-vee graciously agreed to sell them to us with a 3% discount to help with the cause). Our downtown neighbors can use the cards to buy groceries or gas or whatever they need. I’ve spent much of today having wonderful phone conversations and email exchanges with downtown business owners expressing their shock and gratitude at learning about our plan.
I love it when steps of faith are rewarded. I love it when the church gets to be a conduit for God’s blessing to people outside its walls. I love it when church members who have amazed me for ten years with their love of God and neighbor raise the bar once again. I love it when Satan’s plans to bring despair to an unemployed bartender get thwarted by an 85 year old Baptist lady who is not going to let some virus stop her from bringing her tithe check up to the church.
God is good. And his people at First Baptist Church Lee’s Summit are generous!
Blake McKinney serves as the lead pastor of First Baptist Church, Lee’s Summit, Mo.