The ongoing economic downturn did not appear to have any effect on Cherry Hills Community Church’s donations to the Denver Rescue Mission last Easter. The Colorado megachurch gave 1.4 tons of toiletries to the mission thanks to the generosity of people who attended the church’s special Easter Sunday service.
“I knew the service would be a huge blessing,” says Lisette Williams, Denver Rescue Mission’s manager of community events and procurement. “Any amount would be more than what we had, but it … exceeded our greatest expectations.”
Cherry Hills has long embraced an ambition to serve the poor and oppressed, even including “elevate the urban poor” in its vision statement. The suburban congregation has partnered with churches and ministries in the city of Denver to accomplish that goal through food banks, tutoring, transitional housing and other neighborhood initiatives. Cherry Hills also has given 5 percent of the cost of building projects on its campus to urban ministry.
Building on that commitment to the poor, the church regularly holds donation drives on Easter because the higher attendance numbers provide opportunities for greater impact. Located in the affluent suburb of Highlands Ranch, Colo., the church averages 6,000 worshippers on Sundays. On Easter, attendance soars to 14,000.
“You can do greater good at Easter time,” Senior Pastor Jim Dixon says. “The only other time is at Christmas Eve, when you can take advantage of the number of people and help the poor.”
In 2010 the local rescue mission served almost 660,000 meals; many recipients need personal hygiene items and toiletries. Because of the down economy, a growing number of individuals and families lack money for these things, Williams says. So when representatives from Cherry Hills approached the mission about how to best serve the local charity, Williams immediately requested hygiene products.
Hygiene items make all the difference for job hunters and students, she says. “It would definitely be a blessing to men or women going on an interview, also to children going to school. Imagine getting up and going to school everyday, and you can’t brush your teeth.”
The rescue mission serves both the poor and the homeless. Many people who have supported the mission in the past now find that they need help themselves. “It’s wonderful to know we have a partner like Cherry Hills,” Williams says. “They have so much compassion for the poor and needy.”
The rescue mission provided receptacles for the donations and collected them after the service. Easter 2011 marked the first time Cherry Hills held an Easter donation drive for the rescue mission, but church members have long volunteered there, Dixon says. The church previously organized Easter donation drives for a local food bank.
In addition to helping the poor, the donation drives help draw non-Christians to the Gospel because they see the church serving those in need, Dixon says.
The higher attendance that Cherry Hills leverages to serve the poor is made possible, in part, because the church has held its Easter service at Comfort Dental Amphitheatre, which accommodates 20,000 people, for the last 22 years.
“The outdoor venue does encourage people who don’t like to go to church to go,” Dixon says. “They feel like it doesn’t feel like organized religion. We’ve had people accept Christ all through this venue.”
In addition to attracting non-Christians, the larger venue also enables Cherry Hills’ members to worship together at the same time once annually. Because the church offers multiple services on Sundays, some congregants never cross paths.
Nevertheless, to accommodate worshippers who’d prefer to celebrate Easter indoors, Cherry Hills has simulcast the amphitheater service at its church campus for two years.
Overall Cherry Hills depends on God to return nonbelievers to the church.
“We have a lot of people praying that God will bring the new people back,” Dixon says, “that the new people will feel the presence of God. That’s our mightiest weapon.”
How To: Leverage Large Attendance for Community Impact
• Identify a local charitable organization to support with a donation drive that coincides with and leverages greater attendance at Easter services.
• Several months in advance, ask the charitable organization what it needs, and set a date to start telling attendees about the donation drive.
• Determine before the Easter service whether the organization will provide receptacles and pick up the donated items or if the church will need to do so.
• Consider holding services at a site away from the church building. Non-Christians sometimes are more open to attending church in a different environment.
• Enlist an “army” of volunteers several weeks in advance to serve as greeters, participate in a large choir and perform other functions. Recruit more help than you think you’ll need.