Study: Pastors in Dark When It Comes to Church Member Debt

The survey of 3,500 Southern Baptist senior pastors was conducted by LifeWay Research on behalf of the Southern Baptist Convention between November 2007 and February 2008. The study revealed that 65 percent of pastors had preached on financial stewardship during the previous year but only 25 percent said their church members have “a significant amount of personal debt.”

That stands in stark contrast to national statistics about the debt load American families are carrying, said Scott McConnell, associate director of LifeWay Research.

“In 2006, household debt in America grew by $1.2 trillion–a one-year increase larger than the total amount of household debt just 30 years ago,” said McConnell.

“The average American is struggling with oppressive debt; they are spending $1.26 for every dollar earned,” said Bob Rodgers, vice president for Cooperative Program and stewardship with the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Church members tend to look within their own congregation for guidance on promoting and teaching stewardship, according to the survey. A full 74 percent of pastors said their congregations looks to them for guidance and 31 percent said their church turns to members of their church.

Church members appear to be open to teaching or preaching on the subject of stewardship. A full 67 percent of the pastors describe their congregation as open on the subject and another 22 percent did not see church members as closed to the matter. Only 8 percent thought their members were closed to learning more about principles of biblical stewardship and 3 percent “don’t know.”

Besides preaching on the subject, congregations had used other activities in the last year to promote stewardship, the pastors said. An emphasis on planned giving or estate planning had been conducted by 48 percent, 32 percent had faithful or sacrificial givers share testimonies, 24 percent had offered Sunday school lessons, 20 percent had used a bulletin insert and 18 percent had conducted a Stewardship Sunday emphasis.

Six percent of churches had offered a small group study on financial stewardship, money management or debt reduction. Only 15 percent of the pastors said their congregations had not conducted any type of stewardship emphasis in the preceding 12 months.

According to Rodgers, one of the greatest needs of the church is for pastors to have a greater awareness of the debt load many of their church members carry and to provide resources to help them.

“When God’s people understand and practice biblical principles of money management and debt reduction, it not only increases their joy in the Christian life,” he said, “it also strengthens the church financially and enables it to minister more effectively in its community.”

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