Giving Into the Black
How one church turned around their messy debt situation
"The things our church family is experiencing are nothing short of dramatic," Lyons reported.
Just a couple of years ago, Leesburg United Methodist Church (LUMC) in Georgia had $1.2 million in building debt with $45,000 in expenses they just couldn’t cover. While Pastor Mike Lyons and his church board were looking for a solution, a representative from a capital campaign company flew in on his own dime to give a presentation to the church board. “If I had said we should go with that guy, they would have followed me,” said Lyons. But instead, he opted to present another approach—a church-wide journey to financial health, Dave Ramsey’s Momentum—before they made a final decision.
Lyons showed the board the 16-minute Momentum informational video where Dave lays out both the problem and the plan for cultivating a culture of generosity in the church body—instead of beating your head against the wall with another sermon about giving. “By the time that DVD finished, I had people with their heads in their hands,” Lyons said. “There was a man who never makes knee-jerk decisions who was saying, ‘Let’s do this!’ Another lady kept saying, ‘We have to do this! We need this! My family needs this!’”
So that’s exactly what they did.
As part of their journey toward healthier finances, LUMC has offered several Financial Peace University (FPU) classes. “By week 4 of our first FPU class, we began to see what the problem was,” Lyons remembered. When the 24 couples in the class anonymously reported their debt, not counting their mortgages, the total was more than the entire church debt! “That was crazy!” Lyons said. “My family only contributed $15,000 of that! I could not believe it!” These were people who didn’t appear to be in dire financial straits—just a group of couples in the congregation looking to get a better handle on their finances. “We realized that the reason our church was struggling financially was that our people were struggling financially.”
A Total Turnaround
It wasn’t that long ago that LUMC had a maxed-out line of credit and $1.2 million on their hands. “I wish it were a sin for a church to have a line of credit,” Lyons said. They would borrow on Friday and pay it off on Monday. Unfortunately, they weren’t always able to make ends meet. “It was past time for us to do something!”
Fast-forward to now—just a year and a half after they began offering FPU classes—and higher giving has helped them to get out of the hole. Their line of credit is completely paid off, and they're chipping away at the nearly 15-year-old building debt! LUMC ended last year with $2,000 in the bank. “That may sound like chicken feed, but it’s a big accomplishment when you were $45,000 behind the year before,” Lyons said. “The giving is exceeding the expenditures. That’s a healthy way to operate—and we can truly say that FPU accompanied by the Momentum Teaching Series is bringing LUMC to measurably healthy finances.”
Lyons said FPU has become invaluable to LUMC. “FPU has secured healthy church finances—which were desperately needed—not by guilt but by grace,” he said, “the grace to simply help families with their personal finances. What we have learned is that if you teach people to have healthier finances, they do what they naturally want to do—they give.”
So Many Stories
“The things our church family is experiencing are nothing short of dramatic,” Lyons reported.
One FPU graduate has paid off $165,000 in debt over the past two years! “He didn’t do it because all of a sudden he found a golden egg,” Lyons said. “He used to believe you could get ahead by leveraging debt, but he has completely changed his perspective and his life.”
Another family of five was struggling to do some much-needed work on their house with the financial commitment of three vehicles. The man of the home realized that it would take getting rid of his prized pick-up truck to provide the cash flow they needed. “Four weeks later, he sold that truck,” Lyons said. “Any time a grown man parts with his dream truck, you know it’s serious!” Another man sold his prized boat to complete an emergency fund.
At the first class session, Lyons said he always shares how much his marriage has been greatly blessed due to FPU. Many other couples in the church have had their marriages enriched, healed and even restored—and one couple got something they’ve both always wanted. A man who had only participated a little got more involved in FPU after hearing Dave’s personal testimony on CD. He went on to open up his heart and life to the Lord! “That’s the ultimate in dramatic!” Lyons said. “He now has peace with the Lord, and she has what she’s always wanted: a husband who is right with God.”
Not Stopping There: Outreach and Evangelism
Lyons said they will continue to offer FPU classes to their congregation every spring and fall to further transform the financial culture of LUMC. But they are also using it as a way to meet tangible needs and draw people into the fellowship of the church.
“Before, I didn’t know what it looked like when people were financially hungry. This has opened wide our comprehension,” he said. When he first found out that 70% of people are living broke, he felt convicted to do something.
In addition to inviting people from the community to come to their FPU classes, they are taking FPU outside the doors of the church—focusing on educators at local schools. They’re giving teachers the chance to take the class right after school on their respective campuses. “The school system has given us permission to do it as often as we can,” he said.
One thing about financial help that Lyons has noticed is that sometimes people don’t even realize they need it—almost like when they’re trapped in sin and don’t see the need to be pulled out. But now, there’s no doubt in his mind about the need and the answer. “That’s why we can’t stop offering this class,” he said. “It’s not often that you win people into the fellowship of the church by giving them a can of soup or a jacket on a cold day—while those are good things we should do. We can reach this felt human need. And people remember who it was that reached out to help them find peace.”
Learn more about Dave Ramsey's Momentum program and bringing Financial Peace University to your church today!