John didn’t imagine it would actually happen, but his job disappeared in one week. The building where he used to work is empty. Everyone had to leave. He has four kids and enough money to make it about six months with unemployment compensation; trouble is pacing outside his front door. Sarah always has this kind of difficulty as a single mom. There is never enough to make things work. Right now, her old car needs repairs, and she is nowhere close to having the money it takes. It is just too much for her income to handle. But, she doesn’t want to use the credit card, and she doesn’t like to ask.
As the economy worsens, most churches need to think through the pain of its members. Do you have a responsibility for those in the church? What will you do? The answers to this problem are varied. They might include pooling the talents of the people who have skills into working teams, storing up supplies, setting aside a certain percentage weekly for future member exigencies, cutting out waste, planning more church meetings in homes, reducing salaries, or implementing other creative measures. Multiple plans ought to be considered. However, one of the means at your disposal can be up and running in a week. We call it “The Equality Fund.” It’s not what you think, so read on.
The Equality Fund is an envelope with cash in it. It is circulated among the members only. Any member may take all he or she needs from it, provided there is at least a dollar left inside. If the member does not take money from it, he must add to it. He may add as little as he likes, even a dollar, or as much as he likes, meaning hundreds of dollars. He then passes the envelope on to another member family or individual of his own choice.
This plan is entirely private. No one really knows who takes from it or adds to it. If someone has a need, she is free to take what she can use without anyone knowing it. Her conscience is her guide. In our church, made up of truly regenerate people, we don’t have any worries about abuse. If the fund is occasionally abused along the way, God knows all about it. It still keeps circulating. We’ll think the best of our people and leave the worries to God. Sometimes the envelope will be given to someone in apparent trouble, but the next time to a family who has plenty. Some generous people will stuff it with bills, and give it to someone along with an encouragement for them to use it. Some families ask their children to help with adding to the fund when it comes their way.
The envelope should be passed along every Sunday, from one member to the next. I suggest you use a sturdy manila envelope or something unique from the office supply store because it will get lots of wear. Depending on the size of your church, you may wish to launch two or more envelopes simultaneously.
You will want to push the fund’s use. If a person has been hit with an unexpected bill that really strains the family budget, he is free to use it. If a member’s heater has broken down and the only way seems to be more credit card debt, invite her to use the money in the envelope instead. If a family does not have the funds to send the second child to the retreat, perhaps this is just the answer. If food is scarce in the pantry due to a lost job, then those who receive it should consider it a gift from God. It is provided in order to be used. Everyone in the church really wants the money they give to be used to meet needs, and everyone should be just as willing to receive when the need is there.
Below is the information we included on the sheet we gave to each member when we explained the idea. Perhaps you can duplicate this or modify it. We also keep a copy of this sheet in the envelope at all times. Every few months, a pastor may announce that he would like the person currently holding the envelope to come to him after the meeting. This will only be to see that it is still in circulation. He might check just to see if the sheet is still inside. Then he will give it back to the current holder so that it can continue to make the rounds. Here is the sheet (front and back) as we have it now:
The Equality Fund
“For this is not for the ease of others and for your affliction, but by way of equality—at this present time your abundance being a supply for their need, so that their abundance also may become a supply for your need, that there may be equality; as it is written, ‘He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little had no lack.'” 2 Cor. 8:13-15 (NASB).
Here are the rules:
- If you have a need, please take whatever you can use, always leaving some for the next family. You may make change as necessary. This money is first of all here to be used. What you receive out of the Equality Fund is a private matter.
- The money in the envelope is only for member families within our church. Though we are sympathetic about meeting the needs of others outside of the membership, and encourage our members to help relatives, neighbors, and friends where possible, this fund is to meet needs within the church body alone. The envelope should not only go to those who seem to have less, but also to those who appear to have plenty. You may even wish to pray as a family about who should receive the envelope next, and that receiving it would be a real encouragement.
- Use the money you take from the envelope for yourneeds only. In other words, do not take money out of the envelope in order to give that money away, even to somebody within the church. You may give the envelope to that person if you wish, but do not take out money to use for giving.
- If you do not use part of the fund this time, you are to add something to the envelope before passing it to another member family. This addition may be as small or large as you wish. Children may add to it also. We should add money that is over and above our regular offerings to God through the church.
- Pass the envelope on to any member family you wish, except for the family that passed it to you. There is no set order. Also, consider giving it to a different family each time you pass it. Please leave this sheet in the envelope.
- You are free to openly share how the Equality Fund has helped you, if you wish, but it is also acceptable to keep that private.
- If we decide to stop the Equality Fund, we will collect the envelope after the last person has taken from it or added to it. We will contribute the balance to our missionaries or some other worthy cause.
- Because these are gifts to individuals, there will be no tax deduction statements for gifts given.
- The envelope should be passed on each week, unless providentially hindered. Before or after our weekly congregational meetings provides a great time to do that.
- If the envelope is lost, do not speak openly about it until you have communicated with your pastor.
Enjoy giving and receiving! Remember, it is just as important to use this fund as it is to contribute to it.
[Please leave this paper in the envelope for the next person.]
When Should You Use the Equality Fund?
We hope that each member will have total liberty to use the Equality Fund whenever he or she thinks it is right. We realize that sometimes you might feel unwilling to use it because you are aware of others who might have a greater need than you. Please don’t let that be your determinative principle. Here are a few guidelines to consider:
- Use the Equality Fund if you have a persistent shortage of income. This is the purpose of the fund. We want to help while the needs are the greatest. But you should also consider how you might help others later by adding to the fund when your situation changes. Your time will come to be generous. Also, when you do not have extra funds, you may have other ways to give, such as through your time or labors. Take the money for yourself, and do something thoughtful for someone else. It will be more than worth it to the Body.
- Use the Equality Fund when you have a temporary need that strains you financially. For instance, you might have a medical bill, or an emergency trip, or an unforeseen bill, or an unexpected and unusually high utility bill, or a need to send a child to camp or buy school books. If you do not have a ready source to meet these needs, use this fund with joy. God has provided.
- Use this fund at any other time you believe God gives you the grace to do it. It is good to pray about receiving or giving through this fund. God will lead you. We believe, however, that you should err on the side of taking the money when a need is there, rather than not taking it. We want the money God gives us to flow freely through the congregation.
Above all, we want you to receive this money as needed without any remorse of conscience. It is to be freely taken. Enjoy God’s wonderful provision, and be ready to help others when you are able.
A Suggestion for Giving the Equality Fund to Other Members
You are free to give the Equality Fund to anyone who is a member of the congregation. It should not be given to non-members. If you sense a particular financial need in the life of a person you are giving it to, don’t hesitate to encourage the brother or sister to strongly consider using the fund for needs. You are sharing the sentiments of the entire congregation when you do so. Sometimes that encouragement will give the person more freedom to see this fund as God’s provision.
Remember that it is just as important to share the envelope with those who appear to have funds as it is to those who are short of funds.