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Personal finances to gain SBC spiritual boost

PHOENIX (BP) — For people struggling financially — and others doing well — stewardship will become more urgent among Southern Baptists in the days ahead.

“We’ve not talked about it enough,” Frank S. Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, said in the EC’s report to the Southern Baptist Convention.

“We have not promoted it, supported it enough,” Page said June 13 at the SBC’s annual meeting in Phoenix.

“That ends today.”

Page set forth two initiatives of the Executive Committee aimed at strengthening stewardship among individuals and churches:

— from the Ramsey Solutions organization: the “Momentum” plan in which churches can utilize the popular Financial Peace University resource in a nine-week church-wide emphasis. It marks Dave Ramsey’s first collaboration with an entire denomination.

— from the Executive Committee in partnership with state Baptist conventions: an all-new “It’s a New Day for Financial Freedom” six-week study available free at the EC’s talkCP.com website for use in a variety of church settings and by individuals via a cellphone app. It’s a New Day resources for small groups will be available in time for use this fall.

“[For] many of our people,” Page said, “life is a true struggle financially.”

Ramsey, in a brief video, said, “People in the church want to give” yet “most of them simply mathematically can’t give because they’re broke.”

And Chris Brown, host of the Ramsey Solutions-produced radio show and podcast “Life Money Hope,” told messengers that Americans, on average, are spending $1.26 for every $1 they earn.

Brown noted that 88 percent of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck because of their spending habits, according to The Wall Street Journal. “It’s not about poor, it’s not about underemployed — it’s regardless of salary, $20,000 a year, $200,000 a year.”

Debt, Brown stated, is “the No. 1 thing holding the church back.”

Page voiced a yearning shared by many: “We want to see the Cooperative Program grow, we want to see churches grow and flourish, we want to see the fuel be provided for the largest missionary force, the largest church planting effort, the largest evangelistic emphasis, the largest theological consortium of education ever in history — and we believe it can happen if God’s people are serious about financial stewardship.”

Both stewardship and the Cooperative Program, Page noted, are ministry assignments placed with the Executive Committee by the Southern Baptist Convention.

Giving for SBC national and international missions and ministries, as of May 31, is 3.64 percent ahead of the projected Cooperative Program Allocation Budget, Page reported on the $130.5 million total. In 2016, churches gave $450 million to SBC and state convention CP causes.

“We know that churches throughout our convention are giving. We know that people are talking about the Cooperative Program like never before,” Page said. “[E]very ethnic group, every age group is looking carefully at what [CP] is and how it is still the most effective, efficient way to do missions and ministry.”

The Cooperative Program provides “living water all throughout the world,” Page said. “It’s not just about sending money — it’s about people, it’s about changed lives [and] new churches for the glory of God.

Yet, challenges continue to loom for Southern Baptists’ commitment to sharing the Gospel, Page said.

The average percent of income given by church members declined nearly 13 percent from 2003 to 2015, from 2.48 percent to 2.16 percent, he noted, and the number of households giving to charity fell from 70 percent to 65 percent during that span.

Churches also declined, from sending 11.3 percent of their receipts to missions in 2006 versus 10.44 percent by 2015, Page said, counting Cooperative Program and other missions gifts.

“Everything we do as a convention revolves around the success of personal stewardship … with individuals in a local church,” he stated.

Brown, describing the Momentum program utilizing Financial Peace University, said it seeks to create a church-wide culture to “remove the stigma that it’s only for the struggling … to make sure people know what stewardship really is — managing God’s blessings, God’s way, for God’s glory.”

When the church led by SBC President Steve Gaines committed resources for Momentum, Brown noted that 30 percent of participants came from outside Bellevue Baptist in suburban Memphis.

“This is a real felt need,” Brown said of Momentum’s evangelistic potential. For church planters, the resource will be made available at no cost, so they can learn about using it in the early stages of a new congregation, he said.

Participants in Financial Peace University during the past 20-plus years have gotten out of non-mortgage debt in 18-24 months, Brown said, citing an $8,000 swing in their finances in 90 days.

Regarding It’s a New Day for Financial Freedom, Dave Scobey, the content developer, told messengers that God has “a plan for spending, saving and investing” to help them avoid a “financial treadmill.”

It’s a New Day, he said, helps people understand God’s plan and provides them with principles, tools and techniques to “complete the plan and make it work for them.”

The six-week study entails four lessons per week with accompanying video instruction, Scobey said, adding, “It facilitates itself.”

Page said It’s a New Day will be helpful for those whose finances are stable as well as strong. And for those in a “surplus” stage of life, he noted that state Baptist foundations and the Southern Baptist Foundation can play a key role in their stewardship, starting with a resource titled “My Legacy of Faith” to consider “what to do with that which God has given them in this life and in the life to come.”

“We don’t often even think about what’s going to happen to our estate once we die,” Page said. “We often tithe on the income we have, but forget that the vast majority of our resources are not in cash but otherwise. This surplus level of life can be strategic.”

Throughout the Executive Committee’s unfolding stewardship ministry in the days ahead, Page said, “We all can start with that belief that God says, ‘Bring the tithes into the storehouse,’ and we’ve got to teach our people how to do that so there will be plenty to do all the work God has called us to do…. We want to be able to share living water with every man, woman, boy and girl on the face of this earth. May God help us as we continue to emphasize stewardship more than we ever have before.”