The Kingdom of God is Like a Church Rummage Sale

“The kingdom of God is like a church rummage sale. By cleaning out our stuff twice a year, we also clear out the clutter from our own spiritual lives and remember that true life does not consist in the number of our possessions. We draw closer to one another in community as we cheerfully sort endless bags of clothes, household goods, furniture and toys, and work, laugh and serve together. But, most important, we bring in God’s kingdom by enabling people with few resources to purchase necessary items, offering temporary jobs to those who need them, sharing Christ’s love with hundreds of shoppers, and sending tens of thousands of dollars around the world in mission to benefit men, women, and children.” The Gospel According to First United Methodist Church, Birmingham, Michigan

The United Methodist Women of Birmingham First UMC have sponsored two rummage sales a year for 59 years.  It is an all-church effort that involves 750 volunteers, a full kitchen for six days, and twenty hired workers. Want to know how to host several thousand diverse shoppers and gross over $95,000 in a church rummage sale? Follow these twelve easy steps. 

  1. Embrace the definition of rummage: “a confusion of miscellaneous articles.” The miracle of a rummage sale is that in three days you can literally create a beautiful department store out of thousands of boxes and bags of unwanted items, knowing that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure.    20131021-2
  2. Define the purpose of your rummage sale and then fulfill it in creative ways. The United Methodist Women exists “to know God and to experience freedom as whole persons through Jesus Christ, to develop a creative supportive fellowship, and to expand concepts of mission through participation in the global ministries of the church.” Every penny earned from last week’s sale will be used to bring hope and love to people around the world in Christ’s name. Nothing goes toward the church’s operating fund or apportionments.
  3. Create a well-oiled machine. Pulling off what may arguably be the largest church rummage sale in the country calls for numerous checklists, procedures, and an org chart that includes four general chairpersons, thirty-five department heads, a chief cook, and volunteers who make pick-ups at people’s homes, unpack cars, sort clothes, fix things, and serve as pricers, gofers, cashiers and baggers.
  4. Do immediate triage. Put a sign at the drop-off door indicating what items you will not take. As soon as bags are brought into the Fellowship Hall, sort items by department, put them into bins, and take them on carts directly to the correct room where further sorting and pricing takes place.
  5. Direct department heads to recruit their own volunteers. Non-church volunteers are welcome if they are sponsored by a church member.
  6. Have a separate department for higher end women’s clothing and other valuable items because you’ll be able to sell them for more. Expensive jewelry and antiques are appraised, and other valuable items may be sold to the highest bidder.
  7. Make your displays beautiful. Shoppers are amazed at how tasteful our Rummage Sale looks. Items are clearly marked by size and arranged in artistic ways. It almost looks like Filene’s Basement!
  8. Ask your volunteers to wear nametags at all times, offer them outstanding meals at low cost, and invite them to “preview” the rummage sale before it is open to the general public.
  9. Practice good financial controls in the handling of money and reduce theft by labeling all bags of items that have been paid for and stationing bag checkers at each exit.
  10. Proclaim a moratorium on most church meetings and events for the week. The Rummage Sale provides enough chaos. We completely shut down our Christian Life Center and Preschool and take everything off the walls in the halls and classrooms lest people think our artwork is for sale, too!
  11. Find other ways for the Rummage Sale to be missional rather than simply by raising money.
  • Hire day workers who need jobs, feed them, and pay them a good wage.
  • Have professionals on site who can fix, paint, and repair items for sale.
  • Recycle cardboard and unsalable books and computer equipment.
  • Allow selected church mission and outreach projects as well as area non-profits to shop without charge at a set-apart time for whatever items they need for their ministries.
  • Keep prices low so that hundreds of people who cannot afford new clothes and furniture can find great bargains.
  • For $10, allow people to stuff all they can into a large plastic bag on the last day.
  • Witness to God’s love by interacting with your guests and demonstrating radical hospitality.

12.  Be attentive to the movement of the Holy Spirit during the week by listening to and  telling stories of God at work.

  • Connie paid $492 for sixteen bags of clothes for her children and grandchildren.
  • People came from Atlanta, Indiana, Ohio, and Canada specifically for the Rummage Sale.
  • Two families waiting for an hour to be the first ones in line said that they have a tradition to meet twice a year to shop at our Rummage Sale. They live in different towns but first met at the Rummage Sale years ago.
  • A woman raved about the Rummage Sale and said, “I love this church! What ministries do you have for my middle school daughter?” “How much time do you have?” I said.
  • Another said, “Eighteen years ago I bought an ironing board here as a wedding gift, and the couple is still using it!”

20131021-3A few years ago this picture of Jesus was in one of our Sunday school rooms. The teacher put it in the Rummage Sale, and it was sold. Jesus went out into the mission field. The next year it came back and was sold a second time. Jesus returned to the world. The next year it came back once more and was sold again. This year it came back a fourth time.

A woman wanted to buy the picture of Jesus but asked her friend, “Is it too big?” “No,” her friend replied. Then they decided to buy a second, smaller version of the same Jesus for a Catholic friend. This year two Jesus pictures went out into the mission field to make disciples!

A well-run Rummage Sale displays all the marks of healthy and vital churches and is a sign of the kingdom of God. Laity provide the leadership with clergy serving as encouragers and chaplains. In a church with four worship services on Sunday, church members have the opportunity to form community by getting to know people who don’t go to “their” service. By encouraging people to recycle their clothing, furniture, and “stuff,” we are being good stewards of the environment.

Our Rummage Sale mission field provides an invaluable service to area social service agencies who can take whatever they need for their clients. Our $10 Bag Day is especially popular with immigrant families who send the clothes back to family members in their country of origin. Hundreds of guests find a place of generous hospitality at First UMC, which gives us the opportunity not only to listen to their stories but to share with them our love for Christ, the church, and our community and world. And, not least, our church is filled with laughter, smiles, and joy in the Lord. Truly, I tell you, the kingdom of God is like a church rummage sale. 


7 thoughts on “The Kingdom of God is Like a Church Rummage Sale

  1. This is the most beautiful description of our mission via the rummage sale I have ever heard. This should be published and read by every member! It will help us keep our perspective while we serve.

  2. I wish I would have known about your sale so we could of brought a group from FUMC to learn from the professionals. Happy it was a huge success.

  3. Laurie, you put into beautiful words what we all try to accomplish. God truly has sent us a “gift”, to add to our “many gifts”, when he sent you and Gary to our Church. You continue to amaze!!

  4. I consider rummage sales to be a modern way of promoting the practice of gleaning. I can’t help but think about Boaz and Ruth at a church rummage sale.

  5. Our fumc of winter garden, fl has 2 rummage sales also. We are smaller but do some of the same things you do and feel the same way about our mission. We have stories from each sale of how people have been blessed from our “rummage”! Is it possible to have an email address of a chairman. I Doha e a few questions. We’re always trying to make improvements in how we do things! Thank you for your help, Nancy wiggins.

  6. Laurie, thank you for taking the time to observe and see with new eyes, the bigger story of our rummage sale. I always felt something was lacking, not in the execution which is impeccable, but in the perspective. That perhaps we couldn’t see the forest for the trees, with our nose to the rummage grindstone. I love your new parable: The Kingdom of God is Like a Church Rummage Sale . . . ..brilliant.

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