It'd been nearly two decades since Seacoast Church last passed around an offering plate.
Members at the Mount Pleasant-based megachurch typically drop funds voluntarily in offering boxes or give online, but that changed at a recent Sunday worship service when Pastor Josh Surratt announced that the church would pass around collection baskets.
But there was a catch: Instead of giving, members were instructed to take out envelopes, each containing a range of $3 to $10.
It was a "reverse offering" where church leaders put $30,000 into 5,500 envelopes and told worshipers to use the money to conduct a spontaneous act of kindness. Members were instructed not to give the money back to the church or spend it on themselves.
This occurred at all of the church's 13 physical campuses, and those who watch services online also were invited to participate.
The purpose was to give believers an opportunity to practice generosity in creative ways. It tied into Surratt's November sermon series, "The Blessed Life," which sought to emphasize that "God is much more interested in our hearts than our money."
"The only reason he cares about our money is because he knows how closely attached it is to our hearts," Surratt said.
Jon Peavey, who first attended Seacoast in 1997, admitted he was at first confused until the pastor explained that members should take funds and use them for a greater cause.
He and his wife discovered Gospel for Asia’s Chicken and Goat Campaign, an overseas effort that enables evangelists in India to spread the gospel while also providing those in need with income-generating animals.
The Peavey family used $3 from the reverse offering as seed money to set up a table at a neighborhood yard sale, where they raised $80 to purchase six chickens for six Asian families.
“(We) thought it would be something unique and definitely worth it," Jon Peavey said.
Seacoast has done a reverse offering once before around 2001, when the congregation was much smaller and had only one campus. At that time, one of the church's small groups pooled the money with funds raised from yard sales to build a home for a Mount Pleasant resident.
The congregation also sets aside $2 million for local, national and international mission work and partners with local nonprofits to conduct outreach, Surratt said. He noted the church could have written a $30,000 check to a nonprofit, but instead opted for a reverse offering in good faith that members would discover better and more creative ideas.
“Giving them these envelopes almost forced action on people," Surratt said. “We were betting on our people to make a big impact.”
Members used the funds in various charitable ways that included housing the homeless, feeding the hungry and assisting the jobless.
Michael Bursich, who moved with his family to Daniel Island six months ago, received $5 in an envelope and immediately began to discuss with his family ways to multiply it into something greater. After his 8-year-old and 5-year-old daughters suggested that the family help the homeless, the family made baggies containing protein bars, candies and toiletries, and hand-delivered them to those in need along King Street downtown.
They also prayed with each person and told them they loved them.
They don't plan to make this a one-time venture.
"I think we're going to make it a continual thing," Bursich said.
Bursich grappled with whether to share his family's efforts, referencing Scripture where Jesus instructs individuals to "not let your left know what your right hand is doing."
But after seeing other parishioners post their acts of kindness, he ultimately followed suit as a way to inspire others to be generous.
He added that internal transformation lay at the heart of the matter.
“What we’re really going for is a heart change," he said.