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Cultivating ‘radical generosity’ in a crazy economy

When south Florida’s Church by the Glades began to look at building, the booming economy had gone bust.

By David Holland

Nestled in South Florida’s sun-drenched Fort Lauderdale area, Church by the Glades had two problems as it headed into the year 2008. One of the challenges was the kind of issue most pastors would love to face. The other problem was much less desirable.

The happy challenge facing Pastor David Hughes and his congregation was space-related. The young church was growing wildly and seemingly couldn’t add services fast enough to accommodate all the new families and individuals that were choosing to call the church “home.”

Significantly, this boom wasn’t a result of “transfer-growth” in which mature Christian families move to a more appealing church. The vision of the church was to reach unreached and unchurched people, and that was precisely the type of individual that was fueling this church’s membership explosion.

Best way to grow

By the spring of 2008, the church was holding five main services in its 900-seat ministry facility on the weekend and wrestling with a decision about the best way to accommodate the growth and touch more lives. The traditional approach was to simply build a bigger auditorium and expand the educational space for children and youth accordingly. An alternative some media-savvy churches have pursued in recent years is to establish satellite campuses in locations away from the main church and push overflow growth toward those sites.

Ultimately, after much prayer and deliberation, the leadership of Church by the Glades decided to do some of both. They settled on a hybrid approach that called for building a new 2,000-seat worship center and expanding their preschool area, while also funding the establishment of the first of the church’s many anticipated satellite campuses.

Such bold plans tend to come with hefty price tags. In this case, once the architects, planners and builders had their say, the projected need was $16 million. That’s where the other challenge emerges.

By early 2008, the booming South Florida housing market had gone bust. A staggering number of homeowners suddenly found themselves “underwater” where their mortgages were concerned as a massive wave of foreclosures swept over the area. Furthermore, by April, Florida was facing its highest levels of unemployment since 1976. This ethnically diverse church found itself in the heart of one of the hardest hit areas in the entire nation — right along with Detroit, Las Vegas and sections of California.

Daily headlines shouted of economic gloom and consistently predicted additional financial hardships on the horizon. Each evening’s newscast seemed little more than a long litany of dark stories about mortgage defaults, business closings and layoffs.

The leadership of Church by the Glades confronted an obvious question: “Did it make any sense to push forward with a capital campaign in the midst of such widespread economic turmoil and pervasive uneasiness?”

Abundant fruit

Again, after much prayerful deliberation, the consensus answer was “yes.” The need was too great; the fruit being produced among the people of the congregation too abundant, the God they served too powerful to be deterred by fear. The church engaged fundraising consultant The Gage Group for its capital campaign.

Still, for the leaders of Church by the Glades and the team they had assembled, the question became, “In the middle of this crazy environment of fear and scarcity, how can we help move people into a spirit of generosity and trust?”

The church initiated what some call a “reverse offering.” As one local newspaper headline described it after the fact, “Local Church ‘Passes the Plate’ to Give Away the Offering.”

In the weekend services of May 10-11, the church passed out envelopes containing cash to each individual in attendance. Those envelopes contained varying amounts ranging from $5 up to $1,000. The rules of the exercise were that each person was on their honor not to spend the money on themselves. Nor were they allowed to simply give the money back to the church. They were to pray for guidance and use it to meet a need in the life of another person.

The resulting effect on the congregation was nothing short of phenomenal. The church created a special Web site (www.MyGoBigStory.com) in which members could post their thoughts and experiences about the exercise.

When the capital campaign officially launched in the autumn of that year, even as the national recession was intensifying, the response from the congregation was remarkable.

The church has received more than $11 million in pledges from the church body. And an initial offering raised more than a half million in cash.

As a result, the church is moving quickly and confidently forward with its plans for expansion. And not a moment too soon. Church by the Glades recently added a seventh service to its weekend schedule!

David Holland is a freelance writer in Dallas, TX. [www.DavidAHolland.com] [www.churchbytheglades.com]

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