For the last two years at Kings we’ve experimented with a project called Love Eastbourne: a way of blessing our town, no stings attached. It’s based on the Random Acts of Kindness and the idea that generosity is infectious. We wanted something that the whole town could join in and pass on. We wanted something that was really easy, lots of fun, and yet challenged our reserved British nature.
To date, it’s been all of those things. We’ve had lots of great stories come in and seen it spread outside our church and engage the community:
“Wow! Thank you. I just came home to find a beautiful plant and a Love Eastbourne token on my doorstep. Life has been really tough over the last few months and to think that someone took the time to think of me has moved me beyond words. Thank you to whoever took the time to care. You don’t know what a difference you made to me today. I will pay it forward. I promise. Thank you so much. Lisa”
The concept is simple: find a way to bless a stranger, friend, colleague or neighbour. It can be through an anonymous gift, an act of service, through business (if you own one) or by stepping in and making the difference at key moments. Using the Love Eastbourne token, the recipient is invited to ‘pay it forward’ and bless someone else. They can join in, or simply enjoy receiving the gift.
Some left generous tips at restaurants, others paid for a stranger’s parking. Some gave away chocolate, and others had their haircut paid for in advance. The stories that came back were fantastic. Here’s just a few more:
Last year it was amazing to see one person get saved off the back of it through just ten days of ‘loving Eastbourne’. At a time of difficult personal circumstances, she got given a Love Eastbourne token with a bunch of flowers by a neighbour, while at the same time her husband was in town looking for a parking space. He found a token with money in a parking metre. And when he came home they both realised they had been independently blessed by Love Eastbourne. This led to this particularly lady on a journey of looking into the Christian faith and being baptised last Easter.
We’ve loved hearing all the different stories, many of which you can find these on our Instagram account – www.instagram.com/loveebo/
This January we presented the idea to 500 kids in a local school and had a great response: all the kids queuing up to get their tokens, super excited to get involved. Off the back of this other local schools have contacted us and requested a similar launch in theirs.
While the concept is simple, there are a few key components that really made the project work:
There’s no mention of church anywhere on the token:
This is key. If someone sees ‘Kings Church’ on the token, they may well conclude that the act of generosity is really a disguised attempt to convert them and promote the church — a bit of a turn off. Part of our ‘no strings attached’ concept is that we’re not immediately promoting ourselves off the back of it. The primary function is just to bless and love someone, rather than an opportunity to share Bible verses or insert your personal tract.
The neutral branding also means that anybody can get involved and pass it on, no matter what their religion or beliefs. So it’s inviting and engaging our town on neutral ground.
Anonymous acts & web page
The campaign really thrived off anonymous acts of generosity. The idea being that if you personally give your neighbour a bunch of flowers, they know it’s from you, and will naturally feel indebted to you and obliged to return the favour somehow. But if it’s anonymous, they just feel blessed. And there’s an element of mystery about it, with the only clue being a Love Eastbourne token. The greater the act of generosity, the more likely the person is to follow the web address, log on and find out all about it. And it just so happens that it links to a page on our church website.
Again, there’s nothing religious on the page itself (you have to scroll all the way to the bottom to see our church logo), but the person is now on our website and can search through and find out all about us (and Jesus!) if they wish. And they’re doing it completely through their own curiosity and engagement, which is the best way.
So the connection is quite subtle, but it worked really well. Personally I saw a number of my non-Christian, Eastbourne friends talking about it on Facebook. They had received gifts and tokens completely independently from anything I had done, which is a good sign that there was a lot going on. And the conversations were great: “just found out it’s Kings Church running it!” … “oh what an amazing idea” …
We drove the campaign quite heavily on our church accounts and Love Eastbourne Instagram, posting 3 to 4 times a day. Partly as a reminder to our church, but also to inspire one another through stories, which were submitted to us anonymously via an online form. We also included a mix of concepts, ideas and other posts just celebrating the beauty of Eastbourne. All positive vibes, in keeping with the branding. We were very careful not to phrase anything that could be seen as critical or negative of people or our town. Sometimes, being British, this is harder than you think!
With the Instagram account being free from any church reference we felt at liberty to promote it more aggressively. Searching for local clubs, groups etc we followed about 3000 people, hoping that a good portion were in Eastbourne. About 1000 returned the favour and followed us, which was great. Just another way of rousing curiosity through the stories and hoping some will follow the link back to church.
Through this we saw numerous people engage with us, asking where they could pick up tokens and doing acts of kindness. Here’s a few stories come form outside of Kings, purely through engagement with our Instagram account:
“Last night I found a ‘lost’ token in the supermarket car park… This morning, it’s been cleaned up and with renewed purpose, is waiting to bless the lady who cleans the toilets in the town centre…”
All in all it’s been exciting seeing an embryonic idea gain traction in our church and community, and we’ve got lots of ideas to expand the concept in future. It’s also been great getting feedback from other churches who want to run it in their own towns and cities. But how does one assess the return on investment and it’s overall effectiveness? Is it worth the time, money and effort?
A few ways I would analyse it:
1. It’s good for the church. It trains us to be generous, thoughtful, adventurous and courageous: to think how we could bless complete strangers and interact with them. It’s one way we can work out the command to ‘love your neighbour’. Very anti-British and counter-cultural. Very Christlike in application. Each token you have is a challenge to take action.
2. It’s good for teaching. It gives the leaders of a church the opportunity to teach, model and celebrate acts of generosity and service without being the direct beneficiaries of such action. This will help those looking in, or on the fringe, who might be critical of such teaching before the collection plates are passed around.
3. A gateway for evangelism. We’ve heard many stories where these acts of generosity have been a great way of sparking conversation about church and Jesus. “Wow, amazing… why are you doing this?” Well, since you ask…
4. It’s good for January. January is a tough one for mental health. After the excesses of Christmas and the onset of winter, it can be a pretty bleak month and many people struggle. One of the first steps, so I am told, to combating depression is to think about others rather than focusing on yourself. I’m not an expert in these matters, but personally it’s been really fun and exciting doing them myself. You definitely get the feel-good fuzzy feelings when you bless someone unexpectedly and see an amazing response.
If you are thinking of running the initiative in your town we’re very happy to share artwork, advice and resources. Contact Sam Arnold: email@example.com.
A few other resources that really helped:
WordSwag — like a little graphic designer in your pocket. A really quick way of typesetting stories onto images. Most of our Instagram feed was done this way.
Unsplash — a pretty amazing (and completely free) collection of stock images. We tried to use our own photos as much as possible so it felt really local, but this is a great resource for filling in the blanks.
Orakel — This is were we got our tokens printed up. Pretty cheap for bulk buying. (We bought 6000 in January, all used up within a few weeks.)