[Ed. note: This article is part of our series of weekly church activities, Cultivating Community, published on Thursdays.]
Before you buy that next season of your favorite TV show ask yourself, “Does someone in my community already have this?” Before you put that coffee machine you just replaced into the storage closet ask yourself, “Does someone in my community need this?” Surprisingly often the answer to those two questions is yes.
Nobody keeps an updated, cross-referenced list of the contents of their storage closet to pass out before church on Sundays. But we’ve all got needs and wants and we’ve all got stuff. The question is: How to bridge the gap between somebody else’s needs and my stuff? This is where organizing a Swap and Share event might be the answer.
What is a Swap and Share event?
The short answer is: It can be whatever you want, whatever is right for your church’s needs, location and congregation. It could mean everyone in your church’s college group fills the trunks of their cars with old clothes, DVD’s and books then parks in a circle in the parking lot after church to swap with their friends. It could mean a group of mothers of older children brings all their old baby and toddler clothes into the church lobby to share with the younger mothers. Or perhaps it could be something like a community garage sale sponsored by the church where community members can meet to exchange goods and services. Get creative and think about what might fit your church!
Why is this good for my church?
- Sharing reduces waste. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Why throw something away when its possible that your neighbor may need it and have something you need in return?
- Sharing gets people talking. Wal-Mart is easy and efficient, but the check-out line is not a place built for relationships. You don’t need to say a word to anyone in order to buy a power drill; you just pay the money on the price tag. Trading for a power-drill, or visiting your neighbor to borrow her power-drill is a different story. In the second interaction you make small talk, learn names, tell stories about the neighborhood and generally share your lives as well as your things.
- Sharing saves money. Sharing frees up money that would have been spent on, say, that season of Seinfeld, to be spent on something else a little bit more needful.
- Sharing builds community. Relationships can grow by the smallest, most mundane means. Something as simple trading a set of chairs for a set of tools can lead to an invitation to dinner on those chairs or a offer to help on the next building project with those tools. Little face to face interactions like these are what good communities are built on.
How to get started:
1. Sign up
Start a sign up sheet in the lobby after services or put a notice in the church email to get the word out and see who is interested. Another easy way to get this done is to organize a message board or start a Facebook group to make communicating with a large group easy.
2. Decide a date, place and format
Will it be at church, a community center, a park or some other easily accessible site? Saturday? Sunday? How will people transport their things to the site? Will the church provide tables to set things out on? Will people be able to buy things or only trade? These are just a few basic questions that need to be answered before you are ready to go. When you’ve answered them the next step is to get the word out and tell people to start collecting.
3. Make an Inventory
This step means going through your storage closet and combing your house for old and unused things that someone else might want. Look for clothes, your kids old toys, DVD’s, tools, appliances and anything else that your family doesn’t need anymore. Make a list of the things you find so that other people can easily see what you have to trade. If you’ve set up a message board or database online you can publish your list there before the event.
4. Get swapping!
On the day of the event set your things up where they can be seen along with the inventory you made. Strike up conversations. Talk with people about what you are looking for. Perhaps they didn’t bring it but have it at home and would love to let you borrow it. Don’t make lunch plans with the intention of taking your family out to lunch with someone from church you met at the event.
The bottom line:
The bottom line is this: However it is accomplished we need to share our things with those who have needs. Communities within churches have always been places where gifts have flown freely between those with a surplus and those with a need. In the Book of Acts we find this description of the early church, “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had a need.” We are supposed to be sharers. We are supposed to know our neighbors well enough to know their needs and provide for them. Sometimes, however, it takes a little organization. A Swap and Share event is a small, practical way to be generous and use your material blessings to meet the needs of your community.