On Sunday morning, March 22, a man at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in southwest Minneapolis carefully placed some money in an envelope, sealed it, and gave it away, hoping this contribution would ultimately benefit his church and community.
But this was not a member contributing to the weekly offertory. No — this was a pastor, loading hundreds of envelopes with $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100 bills to be handed out to everyone in attendance that day.
That Sunday, people got “paid” for going to church.
But there was a catch — a challenge, as Bethlehem called it — and one that would ultimately prove more rewarding than pocketing the crisp bill that morning. Members were tasked with getting creative and multiplying their money, which they could then return and donate to one of four outreach ministries.
The challenge was based on the Parable of the Talents, which teaches that it is better to use and multiply your gifts as opposed to burying them in a safe place. “It’s about risk-taking,” said Bob Wertz, pastor of development and planned giving. “Good things happen when the right kinds of risks are taken.”
Bethlehem decided to take the parable literally — a risky move, a move that required faith, as $10,000 of Bethlehem’s budget was dispersed that morning with no guarantees it would be returned.
Those who left church that Sunday with an envelope of money in hand labeled “The Good Life Challenge” faced a decision: keep the money — which a few of them did — or get creative and make it grow.
The only instructions? Come back with more. You have six weeks. Go.
Teacher and artist Jordan Kammer was given $20. She put her talents to use by offering a free art class on the shores of Lake of the Isles. She brought the supplies and asked participants to donate $10 each for the lesson. She returned $163.
The Burgmaier family decided to turn their family room into a movie theater and host a movie night. With their challenge money, they stocked up on popcorn and more than 20 friends and neighborhood children donated to attend. The Burgmaiers multiplied their gift 20 times.
The Michel and Henderson families chose to combine forces and host a house concert with local musicians that would give exposure to the musicians, provide an afternoon of music to guests, and raise money for a worthy cause. The house concert drew in 65 people and $1,650.
Other families made use of their cooking skills by hosting a dinner at their home, baking and selling homemade cookies or bread, or running a lemonade stand. Still others got crafty and made mittens, baby blankets, and jewelry.
When six weeks was up, the church accountant could breathe a sigh of relief. $10,000 was returned, and an additional $29,630 came back and is now headed to two housing organizations in Minneapolis, a school in India, and a community center in Ethiopia.
What is the good life? According to Bethlehem’s challenge, it seems like giving back might be involved.
Alexandra Tranvik serves as a pastoral intern this summer at Bethlehem Lutheran Church, 4100 Lyndale Ave. S. She is earning her Masters of Divinity at Duke Divinity School in Durham, N.C. She is a native of St. Louis Park.