Pass It Forward encourages Salem congregation to serve others
by Myra Holmes
Salem MB Church, Bridgewater, SD, has a history as a giving church. The church and its members faithfully give to district, educational, national, global and local ministries. But since January 2014, the congregation has been kicking the giving up a notch with “Pass It Forward,” which challenges attendees to give in a new way.
The idea for Pass It Forward began with a sermon and a local Christian radio station. In December 2013, Pastor Mike Petts preached a sermon on Jesus as the way, truth, life, light and new covenant. His wife, Diane, picked up on the “light” portion and began to pray about how their congregation could be a light in their community.
Meanwhile, the local Christian radio station was encouraging listeners to “pay it forward”—to show the love of Christ to a stranger by, say, paying for the meal of the next person in the drive-through. Diane thought the idea could be expanded to impact both their congregation and the community. With the support of the church deacons, Salem’s Pass It Forward ministry was born.
Coming face to face with needs
The premise is simple: On the first Sunday of each month, one family in the church receives an envelope in their church mailbox. The envelope contains a sum of money—anywhere from $5 to $100—instructions and a response sheet. The family who receives the envelope has a month to “pass it forward” by finding someone in need and using the money to help or encourage them.
The money cannot be given to regular church ministries or missionaries, church offerings or any organization. While Salem attendees are known to be generous, this exercise is intended to challenge them to actively look for individuals around them.
“It’s easy to give to regular ministries, and it’s easy to put money in an envelope and send it off,” Diane Petts says. “This is coming face to face with people in need.”
The instructions include examples of how the money might be used:
- Pay a month of someone’s electricity bill.
- Look for someone who has a downcast demeanor and slip the money in their pocket.
- Pay for someone’s meal behind you in the drive-through.
- Pay someone’s grocery bill.
- Pay for someone’s driveway to be shoveled.
- Offer to pay for a vehicle bill at the local car repair shop.
- Buy a bag of groceries, place it on the doorstep at someone’s house and watch for their response.
Gifts can be anonymous, but don’t have to be. If not, givers are instructed to credit God: “Make sure you let them know that it came from God, not from you. Simply say, ‘I want to give to show God’s love to you.’”
The instruction sheet says, “This will require time; it will require observation; it will require a dedication on your part to participate. We are excited to see how God will work in our lives and in the lives of others from this show of passing on of his love.”
At the end of the month, the giver records how they used the money, their response and the response of the recipient (if known) on the response card, then replenishes the funds with their choice of $5 to $100 and returns the envelope to the pastor to be passed along to the next family. The range of dollar amounts is specified to be sensitive to those who can’t afford to give much as well as to curtail any tendencies toward competition to give more. “That’s not the goal,” Petts say.
Getting out of comfort zone
Not surprisingly, some have responded to the challenge with enthusiasm; others with more apprehension. “It’s a challenge for people to look outside themselves and to actively look for someone (to give to),” Petts says. She then adds, “There’s nothing wrong with getting out of our comfort zone.”
About 10 months into Pass It Forward, about $850 had been distributed to nine families in the community in the form of clothing, food and cash. “So far, Salem MB Church has risen to the challenge before them,” says Petts.
Only Mike and Diane Petts, who are responsible for choosing the next family to receive the envelope, know who receives the envelope each month, which protects the privacy of the church families and the anonymity of those they give to. Responses are printed anonymously in the bulletin from time to time, as an encouragement and as a reminder to pray for the family with the envelope that month.
“We immediately thought of a family to give to,” says one response. “It is a joy to help them in this way.”
Another writes, “I was so blessed by seeing the children’s faces of happiness.”
One of the early recipients of the envelope says her first response was excitement: “How can I use this? What can I do for somebody?” For her, finding someone was relatively easy, and giving was clearly a joy. “I think God calls us to be givers,” she says. “That’s kind of a no-brainer. That’s what he’s done for us, and to whom much is given, I think much is required.”
Another couple who has participated says their first response was, “Oh, my, it’s our turn!” They didn’t take the responsibility lightly, but prayed and discussed several possibilities before deciding where to give the envelope money. They say that part of the benefit of Pass It Forward for them was practice in seeking God’s direction as they discerned where to give and how much to put back in the envelope. In their case, they gave part of the money anonymously and part of it in person. One unexpected result is that this simple sharing of Christ’s love has sparked an ongoing relationship with one recipient, who now “knows we care.”
The wife of the couple says the experience has opened her eyes to needs around her and inspired her to act rather than just passing by. “I’m more aware of the opportunities and situations where I could’ve stepped up,” she says. “I’m more alert to that now.”
Salem’s Pass It Forward will continue until each of the approximately 30 families in the congregation has had a chance to participate, a little over two years in total.
“Only God knows what seeds have been planted,” says Petts. “If we reach one family, if we make a difference in one family to draw them to Christ or to give them encouragement and let them know that someone cares, then the whole procedure is worth it.”