Five years ago, Vale United Methodist Church in Oakton, Virginia, began a Christmas tree sale to support the mission work that was so central to our congregational life. In our first year, we sold 145 trees and netted about $3,700. Last Christmas, in 2012, we sold 320 trees and raised almost $10,700. Now an annual project, the tree sale has proven itself a remarkable vehicle — not just to fund our mission, but to strengthen local evangelism and community building. Various elements of the tree sale have contributed greatly to its success.
Buy a tree, feed 120 people. For several years, all proceeds have gone to support Stop Hunger Now (SHN), a mission that involves people in packaging nutritious meals distributed internationally to children and others affected by poverty or natural disaster. This year, Vale was able to purchase and package 43,000 meals through SHN. Our slogan, “Buy a tree, feed 120 people,” has attracted many neighbors to our lot. They are intrigued by the idea that their tree purchase could positively affect the lives of others, and they appreciate learning more about SHN at the sale.
The tree sale has proven itself a remarkable vehicle — not just to fund our mission, but to strengthen local evangelism and community building.
An invitation to serve. We mail thank-you letters to tree buyers and invite them to participate in the upcoming meal-packaging event, intentionally scheduled early in the new year while it is still fresh in their minds. We have now expanded to two consecutive meal-packaging sessions on the same afternoon to make room for the many neighbors who want to join us. To help participants understand the impact of the ministry, we contact them after the packing event to let them know the eventual destination of the meals they assembled. Last year they fed children in the Dominican Republic and Burkina Faso.
An invitation to worship. When neighbors visit the tree lot, we invite them to worship with us. A tag on each tree provides the times of our Christmas Eve services and our weekly worship. Several families have joined the church after initially encountering us through their tree purchase.
Building relationships. We reach other new families through the tree sale by involving our church’s Boy Scout troop and their parents, many of whom are not church members. One profound benefit of the sale has been the camaraderie and fellowship that develops among church volunteers working together, hanging around the fire pit, and forming new friendships over a cup of hot cider. Church members gladly sign up each year, knowing they will meet new neighbors, develop new friendships, and support strong mission by pulling a shift or two at the Christmas tree stand.