The church stands as a visible example of God's ability to work beyond human methods. And when it comes to building programs, churches have a special opportunity to show the world that God is more than adequate to meet their needs.
"It seems contradictory to profess the belief that God can heal the sick, feed the poor, and even transform the very heart of a corrupt man, but He can't supply the funds in advance for church buildings," says Larry Burkett.
However, leaders of the First Baptist Church in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma are believing God will supply the money they need to finance a multi-building project on 142 acres near their present location.
Recently, the church's commitment to build debt-free led to a unique effort based on Jesus' parable of the talents, and the results were nothing short of miraculous.
During the evening service on Mother's Day in 1996, pastor Nick Garland offered members a chance to tell how their lives had been changed in a recent revival.
Several men, who had been meeting on the site of the proposed new church buildings, told the congregation that God had given them a strong impression of the church's need to be at this new site. They urged the church to seek God about this matter and ask for His help in moving to the site more quickly.
The church was set to finish a three-year fund drive on June 1, 1996, and Garland was reluctant to begin another lengthy drive. But as God began dealing with him on this matter, he remembered a concept based on Jesus' parable of the talents that had been used in other churches seeking to raise funds.
The parable, found in Matthew 25, tells of a man who gives talents (an ancient financial sum) to three slaves according to their ability. For each slave, the talents represent an opportunity to invest and increase the amount they've received.
Garland's plan was to give $10 to every church member from the oldest down to those in the 10th grade. Members in the 7th through 9th grades would receive $5, and those in the 1st through 6th grades would receive $1.
To meet this goal, $15,000 would be needed, and several church members volunteered to provide the money instead of dipping into the church's building fund.
On the first Sunday in June of 1996, Garland preached from Matthew 25 and explained his plan for the church and how it related to the talents. Envelopes containing $10, $5, and $1 were distributed to church members, who were surprised to see the church was giving them money.
"You have from now till October 6th to do with this money as God leads you," Garland said. "It's not my money, it's not the church's money. Literally, today, God has given you a talent."
In the months that followed, members began investing their talents in different ways. Some made crafts, and the church held a craft fair.
Children set up lemonade stands in their neighborhoods, including one little girl whose back yard was located next to a golf course. Course rules wouldn't allow her to solicit money from people playing golf, so she simply displayed a photo of the proposed new church building and offered lemonade to golfers, who began making donations.
"This little first grader took her one dollar bill and turned in $126," Garland says.
Even nonmembers who were visiting the church when the talents were handed out did some investing and returned the money to the church.
Garland was pleased by the enthusiasm of the people, but he wanted to ensure that money didn't become the main focus of the event. So, six weeks before the October 6th offering, he handed out "grace bracelets" to all the church members. These bracelets, which are often used at youth camps, are made up of different colored beads symbolizing spiritual concepts such as sin, everlasting life, and the blood of Christ.
Then Garland noted that as a result of their fund-raising efforts, church members had met numerous people in the previous weeks. He encouraged members to wear their bracelets for the next six weeks and use them to witness to those people.
He also placed a notice in the church bulletin titled "The Ten Commandments Regarding Talents," which gave instructions on the proper way to conduct the fund-raising drive. One commandment, for example, told members, "Thou shalt not do anything that would become an irritant to your neighbors, family, or friends in the name of investing your talents."
On October 6th, when the offering was taken, church members had turned their $15,000 in talents into $400,000 — more than twenty-six times the original amount. In addition, there were a number of people who committed their lives to Christ.
Would this same effort work in other churches? A better question would be, "Is this God's will for our church?"
Garland notes that the parable of the talents was right for his church at this particular time. And the church also was in a great time of spiritual renewal.
"It was not a gimmick for our church," he says. "It really did turn out to be a very positive spiritual encounter for our folks, and everything since then has been very good."