Bright-orange buckets are fueling the generosity of an Indianapolis (IN) church, and making a big impact on its community.
The “Generous Bucket,” as they are known at The Creek Church “Stirs the compassion of people in powerful ways,” says Senior Pastor Gary Johnson.
Every week, attenders who want to contribute are encouraged to drop $1 in the buckets. To date, more than $1 million has been given in the Home Depot buckets to meet needs in the community.
“Part of our DNA in to give ourselves away,” Gary says. “We are not spending our money on ourselves. Acts 10:38 describes how Jesus ‘went around doing good.’ That’s what we do.”
Senior Pastor Gary got the idea from another church that called the effort their “Dollar Club.” One of the leaders of that church challenged Gary to start the same thing at The Creek, and even gave him his first dollar to launch the weekly campaign.
The Creek introduced the idea in 2010 during a six-week series on stewardship that was simply titled “Generous.” Gary got the ball rolling by donating that first dollar, and the bills have been rolling in since.
Some give the coins and bills in their pockets, Gary says, while others write checks and some give online (Generous Bucket is a subcategory of online giving). Most give cash.
“It’s moving to see young children giving,” Gary adds. “It’s also a great entry point for new Christians just being introduced to the idea of tithing.” For many this was like their first act of surrendering money to God. “It leads to the idea that, “I really can surrender a tithe to God’.”
An “On-Ramp to Relationship”
Before Generous Buckets came to be, The Creek previously budgeted for benevolent care and outreach ministries but involvement was almost all staff-driven. The church now has a steady stream of volunteers who get behind the church’s outreach efforts that are funded by Generous Bucket dollars.
“Now we have a team of volunteers, this is their way of serving Jesus,” Gary says. “The whole congregation is now involved.”
Generous Buckets have sparked so much giving and benevolent activity that the church added a full-time staff person to recruit, train, and disciple many people in the church to use their gifts to relationally walk alongside of those in need. Many of those serving the church in this way are excited to put to work gifts and abilities that are not readily used in other traditional church service opportunities. The church maintains a separate bank account for Generous Bucket funds, and every dollar goes directly to community needs.
The Creek is now seen by the community as a people who are caring for their community. The church gets several calls weekly from people requesting assistance, and has developed an application and vetting process to help assess the requestor’s situation.
The church has also developed financial literacy classes, mentoring, an onsite food cooperative, and has connected existing ministries such as Celebrate Recovery and Stephen Ministry to the Buckets. These programs provide next steps and play a vital role to ensure the church does not miss making a real connection after a need is met.
“This has become an on-ramp into relationship with people,” says Marcie Luhigo, The Creek’s Global Outreach Director. She had previously worked at a social service agency before joining the church’s staff and graduating seminary. “Our Generous Buckets have become the thing for connecting people to our church.”
Meeting Needs and Changing Lives
Occasionally, dramatic needs arise that Generous Buckets meet. One week, a pastor three miles away was shot and killed. Everything in the Bucket that week went to his widow. On another occasion, a young deaf girl was struck intentionally by a hit-and-run driver. The Creek’s large hearing-impaired ministry heard about it, and used Generous Bucket funds to pay for the girl’s funeral.
“The funeral director told our staff member, ‘I’ve never seen this before. No one has ever done it, why would you pay for the funeral?’ And that staff member had opportunity to share more about faith in Jesus,” Marcie says.
That’s the lifeblood of the Generous Buckets for people at The Creek—the life-changing stories that result.
There’s Bruce, a man in his 60s, whose mouth and teeth were destroyed by a life of alcoholism. His next-door neighbor Brian, a 30-something from The Creek, referred Bruce to The Bucket for help. Another member of The Creek, an oral surgeon, offered discounted rates for Bruce’s oral surgery.
Through the care he received, Bruce gave his life to Christ, followed by his niece, then his niece’s daughter, and then her fiancé. The church enacted a “living illustration” one Sunday to show the power of compassion through generosity. First they brought up Brian’s parents, who had led Brian to Christ. Then Brian. Then Bruce. Then Bruce’s niece came out. Then her daughter. Then her fiancé. Gary then announced that he was performing the couple’s wedding.
“Bruce has been transformed by the power of Jesus, story of the old has gone and new has come,” Gary says. “Brian went to Bruce, not just to help him find new teeth, but to find life transformation in Jesus.”
There’s also Sarah, a young woman who had been trafficked illegally into the U.S. as a domestic worker. When Marcie met Sara, she was a single mom with four daughters working through the legal system to prove she had not willingly violated the law in coming to the States.
She made it known when The Creek helped with housing and utilities that she would “never go to your church.” Creek people serving at The Creek as coaches and mentors kept loving Sara, calling her weekly to ask if there was anything she needed, something they could be praying for, or if she just wanted to meet for a Coke.
Sara eventually began attending The Creek, received spiritual counseling, gave her life to Christ and Marcie was able to baptize her. She gave up the government’s food assistance program, and has taken risks in her life—“because of the community and support she’s found with us,” Marcie says.
In these and countless other cases, Generous Buckets were the vehicle God used for changing lives for eternity—The Creek’s ultimate end-game.
“Transformed community is our ultimate goal as a church,” Gary says. “My goal is to help people to understand that they individually should be radically generous without using our Generous Bucket. They can go buy groceries for Suzy next door, they can be selfless, that’s transformation.” Sometimes though it takes a community coming together to handle the complexities of poverty. Generous Buckets is just a vehicle that allows this church to do that.
“This is not just about turning on someone’s heat, but turning them to the life-transformation message of Jesus.”
For more stories from The Creek’s Generous Buckets click here.