Let's say someone handed you $500 and you could spend it any way you pleased — with one catch. You had to use it to do something positive for someone, even if that someone was you. What would you do with that money?
That was the situation members of a church in Chicago, Illinois recently found themselves in. It all began with a simple announcement from the church podium one Sunday morning. LaSalle Street Church's pastor, Laura Truax, told the congregation's 320 regular members that the church had recently received a hefty $1.6 million profit in a real estate deal and that she would be tithing that amount by 10 percent to divide among her parishioners. Each would get a $500 check to do something positive for someone, and that someone could be the parishioners themselves. The money came with no strings attached; parishioners did not have to provide receipts or proof of money spent. It just came with the hope that the money would be used for good.
It's a bold move — and one that has the entire congregation, and even the rest of the nation, taking note.
LaSalle's congregation is racially and financially diverse: More than 60 percent of members have advanced degrees while about a third live paycheck-to-paycheck. Truax had no idea how her experiment would work. She only hoped that it would make her parishioners a part of the giving process and engage them in the church and in their community.
So far, her idea seems to be paying off.
Checks from LaSalle Street Church have been used to fund everything from small international projects — including a school in the Himalayas, a health clinic in Uganda, and an irrigation project in Tanzania — to helping local families and friends in financial trouble. One congregant is helping to fund a skateboarding park in Amman, Jordan, where he lived for many years. Another is using her money to start a scholarship foundation for local kids. Another has used her money to buy winter clothing for the kids at her daughter's school.
"I hoped that they would recognize the power they had to bless others and change somebody's life," Truax told Yahoo News. "I hoped that they would see their connection between their little piece and the bigger thing the church was called to do, that they would feel like they actually had some skin in the game, some prayers in the game. And that has largely happened."
What would you do if someone handed you $500 to make the world a better place?
Related on MNN: