The Big Give

In 2009 Forest Hill embarked on a quest to follow the lesson in Jesus’ Parable of the Talents to double our “talents” and return them to God for mission and service. Each worshiper received $50 and was asked to return it one month later along with anything they earned with it. It garnered a lot of attention from the media.

Cleveland Heights pastor at Forest Hill Church takes cue from parable, gives congregants $50 each
by Mike O’Malley (The Plain Dealer, May 09, 2009)

Gus Chan/The Plain Dealer~Julie Lustic, a member of Forest Hill Church in Cleveland Heights, hires herself out to do yard work to raise money for the church’s charitable missions. The Presbyterian church gave each member of the congregation $50 and told them to find creative ways to double or triple the money.

CLEVELAND HEIGHTS — At first, the congregation thought Pastor John had gone bonkers. Here he was passing out money rather than passing the collection basket.

“I was stunned,” said Chessie Bleick, who was at the Sunday worship service in late March when ushers at Forest Hill Church disbursed $15,000 among the congregation, handing each worshipper a red envelope containing a $50 bill. “Everybody was kind of panicked, saying, ‘What am I going to do with this?’ ”

Their answer came from the pulpit as the Rev. John Lentz told the biblical parable about the master who, before embarking on a long journey, left behind large sums of money for each of his servants.

When the master returned, he discovered the first two servants worked their shares, making more money for him. But the third servant failed to take a risk and simply buried his.

Lentz told his Presbyterian flock: “Let’s live this parable. Let’s bring it to reality. Use this money to make more. You may do whatever you can do creatively to double or triple your $50.”

Lentz calls it his stimulus package. No one is obligated to put the money to work — or even give it back….

The money was handed out March 29 and is expected to be returned May 31. The hope is that the original $15,000 will be returned to the church’s bank account and there will be a healthy profit for the church’s social-service programs.

“It’s time to put our creative talents and imaginations to work to help support the missions of the church,” said Diana Woodbridge, who is making and selling University of Michigan stadium blankets. “So far, I’ve doubled my money and I’m going for more.”

Many are using their $50 to buy supplies to make food items or arts and crafts to be sold at a church bazaar on May 16. Some pooled their money to buy a big-screen TV to put up for auction….

Julie and Gary Lustic hired themselves out to do yard work, finding more jobs than they can handle.

“It’s amazing,” said Julie Lustic, who charges between $10 and $15 an hour. “I didn’t think there would be such a big response.”

Living this New Testament story, known as the parable of the talents, is not a Forest Hill original. Other churches in the area have doled out seed money as well.

Two years ago, Federated Church, a United Church of Christ congregation in Chagrin Falls, handed out $35,000 in $50 bills to its congregation….

In eight weeks, the congregation returned more than $75,000, paying off the $35,000 loan and making a $41,000 profit….

About 10 years ago, Lyndhurst Community Presbyterian Church handed out $3,000 in $20 bills to its congregation and got back $8,000.

The Rev. Harry Eberts is thinking about doing it again, not for the need of money, he said, but for how it brings people together.

“We need to keep thinking about how we can connect people,” he said. “When we did this, the stories about people getting together were better than the money.”


The Associated Press, May 10, 2009, reported on NBC stations around the country

CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio-A suburban Cleveland pastor is challenging church members to create their own stimulus funding by putting a biblical parable into practice. The Rev. John Lentz of Forest Hill Church in Cleveland Heights gave each member $50 and asked them to double or triple that money. Some members are making crafts to sell, while others pooled their money to hold an auction. The project is based on a parable about two servants who double the money given to them by their master.

Lentz says he hopes the $15,000 in seed money will be returned May 31 with profits for the church’s programs. Other area churches have had similar projects. A Chagrin Falls congregation turned $35,000 in seed money into more than $75,000 two years ago.


Forest Hill Church Pastor John Lentz’s idea to raise money pays off big
by Michael O’Malley (The Plain Dealer June 11, 2009)

At first it sounded a little loony, but an idea from the Rev. John Lentz to raise money for Forest Hill Church in Cleveland Heights has paid off.

One Sunday in March, Lentz handed out $50 to all those at the church and suggested that they put it to work to make more money for the church’s social-service programs.

Giving the recipients a couple of months, the pastor bid them to find creative ways to turn the seed money — a total of $15,000 — into profits. He stressed that no one was obligated to put the money to work — or even give it back.

But as of today, the Presbyterian congregation has returned $25,000, enough to repay the $15,000 from the church’s social-service budget with $10,000 to spare.

“And there’s still money coming in,” Lentz said Thursday, speculating that another $1,000 was on its way. “This was a phenomenal success. It created a tremendous amount of energy.”

Known as the “Big Give,” the handout was based on the biblical parable of the talents, in which a master, before embarking on a journey, left each of his three servants with sums of money.

When the master returned, he discovered the first two servants worked their shares, making more money for him. But the third servant failed to take a risk and simply buried his.

Forest Hill members used their money to buy supplies for various entrepreneurial ventures — selling handmade jewelry and homemade granola and hiring themselves out to do yard work. Some pooled their money to buy and raffle off a big-screen TV.

“In the midst of these times of economic scarcity, we found abundance,” said Lentz.

The church’s social services include aid programs in Nicaragua, South Africa and Ghana and help for local homeless people.


Forest Hill Church invests in ‘The Big Give’

by John Lentz in The Heights Observer Vol 2, Issue 5, 05.05.2009

…sometimes you just need to shake things up a bit. At the Forest Hill Church, Presbyterian (3031 Monticello Blvd.), the Ministry of Justice and Mission handed out sealed red envelopes with $50 bills in them to everyone who attended worship on Sunday, March 29. During the sermon, when everyone was instructed to open their envelope, the gasps were audible. The Big Give had begun. At that service almost $15,000 was distributed to member and visitor alike. The instructions were simple: Use your $50 in some way to make more money, and then on May 31 bring back the initial $50 along with whatever else you have raised. All the proceeds will go to the justice and mission outreach programs and projects of the church, many of which are focused in the Heights.

The response to the project has been fabulous. Old recipes of hot fudge sauce have been bottled and sold, special dinners created, and CDs recorded. Two members are competing by selling homemade University of Michigan and Ohio State University blankets. One person has designed and built birdfeeders. There was even one person who compiled a list of 100 things to do for the Big Give and sold copies for 50 cents!

And on Saturday, May 16, from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., Forest Hill Church will hold the Big Give Festival. All are welcome to shop for quality second-hand items, clothing, crafts, sporting equipment and food. There will be music and entertainment. It will all happen in the parking lot of the church, weather permitting, or inside if not.

Forest Hill Church is not the first church to do this giveaway. The Federated Church in Chagrin Falls and the Lyndhurst Community Presbyterian Church are two among many congregations who have taken the risk. And the results are always the same: ABUNDANCE. Typically, congregations nearly double their investments.

So lighten up and come and enjoy the fun at the Big Give Festival. And while you are at it, consider ways to shake up your life and bring a little creativity and joy into it. Citizens of the Heights have more than enough creativity. We have abundant gifts to share. Come and celebrate!

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