A New Jersey church turned the traditional money collection part of the service on its head with a "reverse offering" this weekend. When the Liquid Church passed around its popcorn-bucket collection baskets, people were told to take an envelope with the words "God Trusts You" on them. Each envelope contained a $10, $20 or $50 bill.
In total, the church distributed $30,000 of its money Sunday to 2,100 people, but there is a message behind the money, lead pastor Tim Lucas said
"This wasn't a handout," he said. "That's the tip of the iceberg. We challenge people; we want them to creatively invest this money."
The congregants in the church's three locations in Morristown, New Brunswick and Nutley were instructed to take the money, no strings attached, and use it as a "spiritual stimulus." The pastor said this meant different things for different people.
One woman, a single mother, was thrilled that the $50 she received could help her with gas money for the week, which had been a struggle. Another person decided they would use the money to buy groceries and cook a meal for neighbors whose home had been damaged by Hurricane Irene.
Yet another woman is a baker of custom cakes and said the $50 could cover the ingredients for a cake, which she would sell for $500 and donate the money back to the church as part of an initiative to feed the homeless in the community.
"A lot of Americans are feeling stress and fear over the economy," Lucas said. "There are people in our congregation whose homes are under water or who are struggling with unemployment. We're not going to wait for Washington."
Lucas said his intentions were pure and that there was no political message or ulterior motives behind the action.
"This is not a ploy for people to come to church," he said. "It's also not a bailout. Let's be realistic. Twenty dollars isn't going to change anyone's life. The idea is to demonstrate that although Washington is broke, our God isn't and can provide for people's needs through the hands of his people."
The pastor spoke about how each U.S. bill has the words "In God We Trust" on it and Lucas inversed the idea into "God Trusts Us."
He said that when a person is fortunate enough to have money brought into their lives, God trusts that they will do the right thing with it to help others who are less fortunate.
Congregants took the message to heart. "I enjoyed the service tremendously," Angela Kubisky said. "The message was really intriguing. I really think it made people stop and think about how they use their money, what their relationship is like with money and compelled them to really do the right thing."
Kubisky received $10 and planned to ask 19 friends to match the amount to raise funds for the Market Street Mission, an organization that provides housing and support to men recovering from drug and alcohol problems. This is exactly the kind of grassroots effort Lucas had hoping for.
"A lot of people of faith today, for all practical reasons, are basically looking to Washington for salvation," Lucas said. "The reality is that this is bigger than Obama, Romney, Bachmann … whoever you get in there. They'll shine for a moment, but they can't be your savior, only God can."
The non-denominational Christian Liquid Church has three locations, but no permanent buildings. It holds services in hotels and schools. Lucas said the church invests in people, not buildings, and that the church took a financial risk with Sunday's distribution of money.
While the reverse offerings won't be a weekly event, Lucas hopes to do it again in the future, although the surprise will not be the same.
"People were shocked," he said. "When they were reaching in, some looked like God was going to strike them down with lightening."