Chicago church gives reverse tithe to members

by Vanessa Garcia Rodriguez, |

CHICAGO (Christian Examiner) – This fall, LaSalle Street Church in Chicago encouraged its church members to bless others by giving them each $500 to do something positive for someone. In total, $160,000 was distributed to 320 regular church attendees.

The monies represent 10 percent, or a biblical tithe, of a $1.6 million windfall from a real estate sale that closed earlier this year. The church sold their stake in a development property in a deal that dated back to the 1970s.

Congregants received their $500 checks in September, but at least one family is using their funds as part of their Thanksgiving week observance.

Single mother Catherine Smith wanted to do something with the funds that involved her son in a meaningful way. So she asked him how they should spend the money.

The boy wanted to bless the homeless people in the community with something special they might not otherwise receive. His solution was to have an ice cream sundae feast complete with tons of toppings.

He told his friends, and together they will help the church feed about 120 homeless people a thanksgiving-themed meal topped off by special ice cream treats.

"This mom is training her son in what generosity looks like and now he's gathered his friends and brought them into it too," said Laura Truax, the church's pastor.

"Gratitude has a way of reframing the holidays," Truax said. "For Christians, it's a God reminder that we are in charge of amazing resources and can make a difference."

Truax told the Christian Examiner her diverse, non-denominational congregation is doing exactly what she had hoped with the gifted funds. "I hoped they would recognize the power they had to bless others and change somebody's life," she said.

When she first learned the church would receive this money she was intent on ensuring the "windfall was used for God's Kingdom," Truax said. She didn't want to see it fought over and protected with a tight fist.

Truax explained that distributing the funds was an act of faith for the church too.

"There have been some who think we should keep all the money because we are not meeting our budget with the current giving, but I want to step out in faith and not just plug our expenses."

In faith, the church is using the remainder of the $1.6 million to further engage congregants.

"When we gave out the $500 checks we encouraged people to join in groups to pray about what to do with the rest of the money," she said. When a total of 15 groups formed with at least 165 churchgoers, Truax said she was amazed at the response. "That's exciting because it's more than half of the church," she said.

The prayer groups meet once a month through May 2015. Each group will then present a recommendation for congregation approval on what to do with the remainder of the money.

Truax told the Associated Press that LaSalle is "a gutsy little church" with a history of activism and supporting socially progressive causes.

Ministries that LaSalle Street Church has provided Chicago residents in its 50-year existence include a criminal defense legal aid clinic for the poor. Abroad they have purchased an ambulance for a medical clinic in Niger.

A number of members are also using their gift oversees to contribute toward a school in the Himalayas, an irrigation project in Tanzania and a skate park in Amman, Jordan.