It paid to attend the Chattanooga Christmas Eve Celebration hosted Saturday night by Brainerd Baptist Church.
Literally, it did.
During its third annual service at the Chattanooga Convention Center, the church distributed $26,000 to attendees in hopes they might assist someone else.
"God has blessed us this year in so many ways, not only financially but physically and spiritually," said senior pastor Dr. Robby Gallaty. "We've seen marriages restored, addicts set free, so many ways that God" has worked.
Along with handing out 1,250 envelopes of money -- in $100s, $50s and $20s, one per household -- he said people should pray for the wisdom to discern who should receive the money, to give it to someone who had no means of giving it back and to consider doubling the gift.
"We've created a generous congregation," Gallaty said. "It's a catalyst for our people to be even more generous. It's a tangible way they could go out and be a blessing to someone in need."
Brainerd Baptist member Richard Bethea said since the senior pastor's arrival three years ago, the church has seen dramatic growth in membership, average worship attendance, average Bible study attendance and giving, even during a recession.
With that growth, he said, the church has deepened its commitment to missions and disciple-making.
"I think the Lord's blessing that," Bethea said. "As your walk with Christ deepens, you're focusing your attention more outward than inward. So [Saturday's distribution] is a natural outreach of the desire to reach other people and [for people to] give of their abundance."
Gallaty said he hopes those who received the money will distribute it creatively.
That could mean partnering with someone else in giving their gifts or doing "something thoughtful" for someone rather than simply handing him or her money.
Church member Tom Getz said congregation officials know some people may pocket the money, but they will miss the point if they do.
"We are accountable to use God's money in a way that is pleasing to him," he said. "That person [who would pocket the money] is also accountable to God. That's out of our hands. People who do give [away their money] are really going to get a blessing with the impact they might have on someone else."
Gallaty said the crux of his sermon, "The Gift of Grace," was that Jesus Christ was freely given from God and because of that "we should be ambassadors of grace for others."
He also challenged those who received the gifts to record what they did with the money and to consider sharing their stories.
On Jan. 15, the church will have a celebration and testimony service of "what God did through the extension of the envelope," Gallaty said.
"There are so many in need, so many hang-ups, so many hurts," he said. "This is a way to show the love of Christ. This is a way we want to canvass the community with grace."