Church-run courses help families overcome financial stress

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Church-run courses help families overcome financial stress

By Jenna De Marco | Oct. 30, 2009 {1098}

NOTE: This article is the second in a series on ways ministries in the Florida Conference are helping individuals and families cope with the current economic downturn. A link to the first article is included in the "related story" section at the end of this article.

Jackie Shadrake says participation in the financial management course offered at her church has hit all-time highs this year. 

A sign of the times. Photo #09-1335. Copyright: Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

It’s not surprising since, by her estimation, the majority of people in her south Orlando community have either personally been affected or know someone affected by corporate layoffs or the housing meltdown during the economic recession of the past two years.

“It just feels like there’s so much need out there for this type of help in this area,” she said.

Shadrake has facilitated the Financial Peace University course several times at Peace United Methodist Church, sometimes with only a handful of participants per session. But with the pressure of mounting debt that many individuals and families are experiencing, combined with a diminished ability to pay their bills, the church has increased the number of courses offered this year.

Other Florida Conference churches are doing likewise. Recognizing the growing need to help people manage their financial stress, they’ve launched or expanded ministries that teach skills in money management.

Common-sense approach generates interest

A recent e-Review survey found churches are using a variety of programs to tackle a range of financial issues. There’s the Crown Financial Ministries series, the Rev. Adam Hamilton’s “Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity” lessons, and television personality Dave Ramsey’s “Financial Peace University” course. A few churches were host sites for Ramsey’s live “Total Money Makeover” webcast Sept. 19.

The Rev. Dr. Jeff Stiggins, executive director of the Florida Conference Office of Congregational Transformation, describes the Financial Peace course as a “spot-on” resource that helps congregations assist people inside and outside the church apply Biblical principles to their economic lives. The course’s money management principles include debt elimination, budgeting and saving for retirement.

Shadrake first took the course with her husband in 2005 and has been passionate about it ever since. She says the program is gaining popularity, in part, because its step-by-step system “makes sense.”

Early in the 13-week program, participants anonymously report their total debt, excluding mortgages. In one class of 35 people the collective debt of 17 households totaled approximately $330,000, Shadrake said. By 10 weeks into the course, seven of those households already had paid off more than $50,000 of the debt.

“A lot of this is just refocusing what you’ve got and learning some tricks to not spend so much money,” Shadrake said.

Shadrake’s pastor, the Rev. Ivan Corbin, took the class this year and then facilitated another group. Although the principles are biblically based, he says the course is not a Bible study.

“We end up with prayer, and it’s a safe place, and you don’t have to be Christian (to participate),” he said.

Like other participants, Corbin and his wife, Debbie, applied the course principles in their household.

They paid off several thousand dollars in credit card debt and are working on building a reserve fund of three to six months’ worth of living expenses. Now, instead of living beyond their means, Corbin said, he and his family follow a budget and have reined in overspending.

Not all participants fared as well, Corbin said, because some believed their problems were bigger than the focus of the course or they chose not to “work the plan.”

Improving personal finances demands new choices

Trish German acknowledges that “part of this program is that you get a little uncomfortable” following its process. German coordinates the Financial Peace classes at her church, First United Methodist Church in Titusville.

Reaching financial goals is not a gimmick, she said, and requires some adjustments. “It’s living below your means, and once you know how to do that it’s so easy and you wouldn’t have it any other way,” she said.

Marisa cuts up one of her last credit cards. She and her husband, Scot, are in their seventh week of the Financial Peace University course at First United Methodist Church in Titusville. Photo courtesy of First United Methodist Church. Photo #09-1336.

German speaks from personal experience. Before she began leading Financial Peace groups, she and her husband Dave applied the principles to their finances, paying off $118,000 of consumer debt in 18 months. The average family participating in the course pays off its debts in 18 to 24 months, she said.

“Just from the cards I have received, there’s only been one person who’s been more in debt than me,” German said.

Living debt-free is “empowering and freeing,” German said, and getting finances in order “gives us the ability to focus on Christ,” instead of worrying about money.

Leaders say participants take the course for a variety of reasons — not just to erase debt. Some arrive hoping to enlighten their spouses. Others need information about insurance and investments. Still others are debt-free, but want to know more about emergency and retirement saving. Everyone can take away new ideas, German said, “even if you don’t do every single thing in this program.”

And in a weak job market, solid financial grounding has helped some cushion the blow from job loss, allowing critical time to find another position, German said. Florida recently reached a 30-year jobless high of 10.7 percent unemployment in July 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“For those who have worked the program and have a three- to six-month emergency fund — one of the (course) baby steps — the loss of a job is not nearly so stressful,” German said.

Financial Peace University course pricing depends on the local church’s funding and whether scholarships are available. More information about the course or Total Money Makeover is available at Crown Family Ministries’ Web site is, and information on Hamilton’s “Enough” series is available at

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Churches, outreach ministries expand food programs during recession

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.

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