The Southern Baptist Convention's renewed stewardship emphasis is well-timed for the culture because It's a New Day is gaining momentum just as the nation's economy is slowing.
Ashley Clayton, associate vice president for stewardship at the SBC Executive Committee (EC), noted, "When you look at the economy around us, the sagging real estate market and the mortgage companies that are failing and having to be bailed out by the government and by large banks, the cutting of interest rates, all of this is an attempt to bolster a sagging economy that frankly is laboring under debt. Debt is what's driving it."
In the It's a New Day initiative, Clayton said, "We undertook to address personal finances, helping people get out of debt, and what we're finding is the timing for this initiative seems to be right because people are very aware of the problem in their own lives and in the lives of people around them."
People are in more debt than ever, and the unfortunate truth, he said, is that the conditions inside the church are not any different than they are outside the church.
It's a New Day began gaining momentum after the 2007 annual meeting in San Antonio and then experienced another increase in participation after the meeting in Indianapolis this past summer. Pastors and churches became aware of the renewed stewardship emphasis happening across the nation.
"We began to see a lot of traction from churches across the Convention," he said. "As a matter of fact, we believe that there are close to one thousand churches who have implemented It's a New Day resources in their church." Pastor Hoyt Savage of Foothills Baptist Church in Las Vegas, Nevada, spoke in Indianapolis about the changes that occurred after his church went through the four-week stewardship series. The four-week curriculum kit was prepared for Southern Baptist churches by Crown Financial Ministries, a partner with the Executive Committee for It's a New Day.
A good number of churches, Clayton said, now are also implementing the ten-week small group studies that Crown offers, and pastors and staff are attending one-day financial freedom conferences sponsored by the EC and Crown. Those conferences, Clayton said, are proving to be more successful than the two-day regional conferences that required pastors to give more of their time.
At the one-day conferences, pastors and church staff are introduced to the Crown budgeting system and then are led through a conference notebook to learn how to establish a personal budget and get out of debt.
"The result of this is we're seeing pastors engaging in a personal journey of financial freedom for themselves and we see these pastors then going back to their churches to be a catalyst for change," Clayton said. "We feel like we've hit on a way to engage our ministers, as many as we can across the Convention."
The stewardship emphasis also has the potential to be an effective evangelism strategy, Clayton said. More than 17,000 professions of faith were recorded among people in North America who enrolled in the Crown Financial Ministries ten-week small group study. Clayton expects a similar benefit to the Kingdom as Southern Baptists invite their communities to study God's Word with them, using the topic of financial freedom as a springboard.
In 2009, one-day conferences for pastors and church staff have been scheduled for Marshall, Texas; Southern Illinois; North Carolina; and Mississippi. Visit www.sbc.net/newday for a complete list with dates and registration information. Various state conventions are planning additional It's a New Day-related events to allow as many pastors to attend as possible, Clayton said.
Also, the stewardship office has started to consult with our Southern Baptist seminaries about involving students in a personal journey of financial freedom. "We intend to go to all six seminary campuses and try to get our young leaders to avoid the mistakes of so many of our pastors, so they don't find themselves in debt," Clayton said. "We're trying to engage early on to get our young seminary students to implement good financial practices in their own families.
"What we're discovering is we're graduating seminary students with a large amount of student loan debt, credit card debt, and frankly, not prepared to be financially free as they become pastors and church leaders," he added. "We're trying to get ahead of the game instead of coming in on the back end and trying to help people who've already found themselves in trouble.
"Another opportunity for engaging young leaders in biblical stewardship and personal money management has presented itself, as several state conventions have expressed an interest in conducting college appropriate money management seminars on campuses through the Baptist Campus Ministry."
Another key element of the stewardship emphasis is the Executive Committee's partnership with Crown Financial and Holman Bible Outreach International, a division of Broadman & Holman, to produce an It's a New Day New Testament with thirty days of devotions addressing finances. These have been very popular among pastors and churches to prepare people for a church-wide emphasis — 48,500 copies of the It's A New Day New Testament have been distributed to date.
The Executive Committee is continuing its partnership with PhilanthroCorp, the Colorado-based planned giving specialists, to equip churches with tools for guiding church members in Christian estate planning. Clayton said at least six state Baptist foundations and several large churches have partnered directly with PhilanthroCorp to assist in planned giving.
"Overall, during the past year, the It's a New Day initiative is gaining great momentum," Clayton said. "Crown is proving to be a great friend to Southern Baptists. They've been great partners in producing materials and driving their prices down. The one-day pastors' conferences where pastors can drive in and drive home on the same day are proving to be very successful. We have conducted thirty-nine conferences during 2008 and hope to continue the process in 2009 across the country.
"Missiologist Ed Stetzer has said that doing a financial emphasis in your church might be the best cultural bridge that churches have," Clayton said, referring to LifeWay Christian Resources' director of research. "When it comes to being authentic and relating to the world around you, you hang out a sign that says, 'Get out of debt here,' and people will line up around your building."
The EC is currently engaged in producing a new series of sermons and Sunday School lessons by Ed Stetzer on biblical money management and financial freedom. This Pastor's Resource Kit will be available for distribution to SBC churches early 2009.