Congregations try raising funds with various methods
For Jan Smith donating to the church always has been a given, but when funds were scarce and paying bills was difficult, she felt giving 10 percent of her income, or tithing, was too steep for her pocketbook.
“I can remember when my children were little and my husband had just gone into business, and we had four children to feed,” Smith said. “I went ahead and gave the money I could.”
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To encourage their congregation to tithe a full 10 percent, leaders at Gardendale Baptist Church recently challenged their members, including Smith, to tithe for a three-month period and in return, God would bless them. If not, a full refund would be provided.
Gardendale, on South Staples Street, is not the first church to offer a tithing challenge. Bay Area Fellowship on South Padre Island Drive also has offered a guaranteed tithing program during the past six years but plans to discontinue the money-back guarantee after one congregation member recently became disgruntled, said Bay Area Fellowship Pastor Bil Cornelius.
Cheryl Brooks, Bay Area Fellowship member and former employee, said the church owes her a refund of $21,000 for her contributions made during the past three years, the duration of her membership at the church.
Cornelius said his tithing challenge was only for three months, and the church never promised to return contributions spanning years. Despite the three-month time frame, he did offer Brooks a refund of her 2004 contributions totaling $2,694 to settle the dispute, which Brooks refused.
At Gardendale, administrative pastor John Gilbert said members accepting the challenge must fill out a commitment form, which acts as a contract requiring them to tithe a full 10 percent for three months. It is not until after the three-month period that one can request a refund.
Gilbert said the church has such strong faith in God’s promise to bestow blessings that they are confident their members will not ask for refunds.
“God will bless you if you do what he asks you to do,” Gilbert said. “At the end of the three months, if they don’t feel they’ve been blessed, and they want their money back, they can have it. What we’re trying to do here is not raise money, but what we’re trying to do is grow people.”
Texas Christian University religion professor Jim Atwood said that although he is not aware of churches offering money-back guarantees, churches are becoming more creative with their fund-raising efforts.
“There have been campaigns forever in religions,” Atwood said. “One of the things churches are doing is looking for new ways to raise money to fund their ministries because they have more ministries now than in the past. The more services you have, the more money you need.”
Churches have offered variations of tithing challenges with refund guarantees for years, but usually it’s always accompanied with a requirement that members also adopt responsible financial principles, said pastor John Smith at First Family Church in Calallen.
“Most pastors will say if you will take all financial principles into place, then if you’re not financially better off, they will refund your money,” Smith said.
Smith, of Gardendale, who now plans to tithe 10 percent, knows that life is never certain, but she said tithing and her faith are constant.
“I think we grow as a Christian whenever we tithe,” Smith said. “That’s one of the things God wants you to do, and if you’re obedient to him he will bless you.”
Brooks said she will never again donate such a large portion of money to a single organization, but does plan to spread donations among several charities in smaller portions.
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