Church: UK Church: World

Is A Shoebox Enough?

How should churches respond to the needs of the world at Christmastime?

It’s that time of year; families all over the UK will be heading out to the shops to buy some appropriate, small presents, packing them into a shoebox and taking them to church for distribution to needy folks all around the world.

There is something very attractive about the shoebox model. It is simple, it allows the whole family to participate – teaching children valuable lessons about generosity and the results are easy to see and to appreciate.


It is not my aim to criticise the shoebox approach (though such criticisms can be made) my concern is about whether shoeboxes stuffed with gifts are an appropriate or adequate response to the Incarnation of the Son of God.

Let’s just get a bit of context.

  • Today, 86% of the worlds Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus do not know a Christian believer.
  • Even though the church is growing rapidly around the world, the population of the planet is growing even faster. In percentage terms, the Christian church is losing ground.

These are facts which should be of a major concern to Evangelical Christians and as we come to Christmas we should remember that we are sent into the world to announce the Good News in the same way that the Father sent Christ to us. Surely it is appropriate that in addition to providing help to poor people, we should also take steps to ensure that the unreached people of the world, those who currently have no opportunity to hear about Jesus, can share the wonder of the gospel.

Again, let me emphasise, I’m not saying that churches shouldn’t collect shoeboxes. However, I do think that there are other things that we can and should be doing, which should perhaps have a higher priority. So, if you or your church are looking for some projects that you could adopt this Christmas, here are some ideas.

  • Covenant to pray for an unreached people group. Make a point of learning about the people, their culture and their background and praying over the next year that the Gospel would reach them.
  • Send a missionary to an unreached people group. This might be beyond the capacity of an individual church, but a group of churches could get together to identify, equip and support someone to take the message of Jesus to one of the hard places in the world. Failing that, you could contact a mission agency to find a missionary who needs more prayer and financial support and get behind them.
  • Sponsor the translation of the Bible into a new language.
  • Organise a training course to help your congregation to reach out to their muslim neighbours.

The disadvantage of these sorts of projects is that they are all long-term and lack the immediate appeal of the shoebox approach, but they have the capacity to have a much deeper impact than short-term generosity.

If you are interested in supporting work among unreached people, there are a number of mission agencies which specialise in this sort of work. I have had close involvement with the following agencies and strongly recommend them, but there are plenty of others, that are worth considering, too.

Filling out shoeboxes is good, but our response to the needs of the world can not and should not stop there.

But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?

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2 replies on “Is A Shoebox Enough?”

Is a Shoebox enough? I’m glad you asked.
As someone who’s been involved in this ministry for six years, I hope I can bring a different perspective on this. There are quite a few different organizations which collect shoeboxes, so I can’t speak for all. But I can speak for Samaritan’s Purse’s programme, Operation Christmas Child (OCC).
Equipping for evangelism and children’s discipleship is the core and heartbeat of OCC. Every box is seen as an opportunity for another child to hear the gospel. Samaritan’s Purse is concerned to equip local churches for outreach, so they can build long-term relationships with the people in their communities. The 12 lesson discipleship course for children, called The Greatest Journey, which is offered to all partners in their language to use, enables this especially. So far over 11 million children have taken part in the course.
Samaritan’s Purse is monitoring outcomes such as where OCC resources have played a key part in new churches being planted or ageing churches being renewed, and children’s ministries being started or restarted.
Concerning Unreached People Groups, Samaritan’s Purse took a decision a year or two ago to select a number of Unreached People Groups and, with sustained prayer support, to provide further resourcing so that local partners can go further with the gospel to these groups. This is not done in isolation, but in partnership with existing mission work – as evidenced by a partnership with The Seed Company for some of these groups.

I would love it if everyone packing shoebox gifts this Christmas knew all this, but it seems hard to get this message heard! I would love them not just to pack a shoebox gift because of the ’emotional appeal’ or short-term impact they think it will have, but because of the long-term transformation that local church partners are seeing happen, in children, in families, in communities.

So ‘How can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?’

For some, it will be because you decided to fill a shoebox gift that brought them to an event where someone told them, and they heard, and were saved.
Filling out shoeboxes is good! But don’t stop there, support the other agencies you mentioned too!

It’s great to hear that Samaritan’s Purse is so involved in children’s evangelism and discipleship. i think my concern is that surely that in itself is enough. Why would we want a box full of nice western items, with a fairly short lifespan, a box of ‘stuff’, to be associated in any way with the gospel, which isn’t really about ‘stuff’? I think I’d prefer that the stuff was just taken out of the whole equation and the really good, and life-changing evangelism and Bible teaching would be the focus. Of course as local needs come up organisations like Samaritan’s Purse on the ground would want to help with people’s life needs, but it would be from a position of within the country, knowing the culture and needs, and meeting a specific need.
If the shoebox idea does continue, a great way to improve it would be to crack down massively on irrelevant gifts being donated, and to make sure that only really useful items, like good quality wind-up torches or lanterns for places like rural Africa, would be sent. These might cost a bit more than contents of a typical shoebox but would be more than worth the cost.

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