Senior Pastor Doug Ripley looked at Decatur Baptist Church’s books and quickly realized the annual budget was totally out of whack. But he knew exactly what to do next: he gave away $10,000.
“August and September were two of our biggest financial months,” said Ripley. “We were $13,000 over.” So he packaged $10,000 in envelopes of $5, $10, $20, and a few $100 bills and put the piles of envelopes into the offering baskets. He included directions: The money was to be used to bless someone else. Recipients could not return it to the offering plate. And they had to report on what happened.
It was the longest offertory in his career, Ripley said with a laugh.
Some members knew exactly how they would use their money. Others prayed for a week or more. Some chose simple gestures, such as taking flowers to an elderly woman. Many members pooled their money with family members to make one big gesture: helping someone with medical bills, buying baskets of groceries for the community food pantry, sending a gift directly to missionaries, helping a teacher buy workbooks or school supplies for needy students.
And most recipients added dollars to the money they’d received in their envelopes. One teenager went house-to-house to begin a collection to help buy a cow for a girl in Africa that she has been sponsoring with her own money.
The testimonies of the adventures of generosity unfurl for page after page on the church’s website, www.DecaturBaptist.org.
Richard and Dara Cobb are among the Decatur Baptist members who took their envelopes home to pray over them.
“Home” for the Cobbs is in one of the economically mixed areas of Decatur—a place they intentionally chose when they married a few years ago because they wanted to live near people who needed their help.
When the Cobbs opened their envelopes, they each found $5. And they each had the same idea: they would fix a bike for a neighborhood boy. But if they fixed the boy’s bike, they realized they would need to fix his brother’s too. Some friends heard about their plan and contributed their money so the boys could each have a safety helmet as well.
Even with the additional money, reconditioning the bikes and buying helmets came to much more than the $40 contributed. But God doesn’t balance books the way humans do, Richard said. “When you give, it comes back to you,” he said. His wife added: “Brother Doug is always telling us, `God will give more through you than to you.’” The joy they saw on the boys’ faces when they examined their renovated bicycles was more than repayment for their investment.
“Why would your church do this for my brother and me?” one of the boys asked Dara. “I love your church!”
Spreading love is what Christians are supposed to do, Ripley says. Human beings are meant to be a channel, not a reservoir, of divine grace.
“When we give,” Ripley said, “it unleashes God to prove how great he is—that he will open the windows of heaven and pour out his blessings.”