Why churches are a hotbed for finance education

Personal finance classes offered by churches are often well-attended by the congregation. Some of the things that make these classes successful can be helpful to people who don't attend church, too.

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    Church members, from left, Minnie Robinson, Ann Robinson and church Deacon Jason Schmitz, all of Burlington, Iowa, get into the spirit of the song while singing gospel with the Union Baptist Church congregation during their service Sunday, April 17, 2011, which was held at Trinity Lutheran Church in Burlington, Iowa. Many churches offer personal finance classes, which are often met with enthusiasm.
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Over the last few years, I couldn’t help but notice that several churches in my local area have run personal finance programs of various kinds, such as Financial Peace University and so on. Having sat in on a few of them, I can certainly say that they’re often well-attended, with enthusiastic people taking notes and often asking good questions, too.

This left me wondering why churches are such a hotbed for personal finance education. I’m not so much interested in the reasons why churches would host such events, but why churches happen to be the place where such events find great success. More importantly, is there anything useful in that relationship that could be applied to those who seek financial success without such groups?

In order to figure this out, I’ve had conversations with a few different pastors and a lot of different church members over the past year along these lines. Why does your church host personal finance programs? Do you feel they’re successful? Why do you feel that they’re successful?

The answers were actually pretty consistent – and fairly insightful.

First of all, churches often host financial seminars because it is in their interest for their members to find financial success. That makes sense, of course. If your members are in poor financial shape, they’re less likely to donate. If they’re in good financial shape, they’re more likely to donate. Thus, a healthy church is going to want members that are in good financial shape.

That explains why the churches would host a seminar, but it doesn’t explain why I was witnessing seminars that seemed to be really successful.

One person attended these meetings because she knew it would provide a support network. She had tried executing a financial turnaround on her own, but she found it incredibly difficult and often failed at it. Going through the process with a group of supportive people that she knew made it easier to start making changes. If her friends were making these changes, it made it easier for her, too.

So how can you apply this independently? Find a money buddy. A “money buddy” is simply someone who has a roughly similar financial situation as you who is also trying to make positive financial changes. You basically agree to talk to each other about money and spending issues and agree to reinforce each other’s good choices in a positive fashion. Your spouse can be a very good money buddy, for example, as can your best friend or your sibling.

Another theme I heard is that when the ideas were presented in a Biblical context, they seemed to hit home much more powerfully. In other words, because the ideas were wrapped in a greater philosophical and spiritual tradition that the people had held for much of their lives, it was easier to digest the basic ideas of personal finance.

You can apply this independently by simply digging deeper into the things that you’ve valued during your life and looking at what aspects of them apply to personal finance. Many of the basic principles that govern personal finance – frugality, prudence, temperance – are universal virtues that can be found in many different places in life.

A final theme I heard is that by incorporating such learning with the church, the church itself became a reminder of the goals they were setting. Since they were attending services weekly (and often attending other programs and events more often than that), they would often be reminded of their personal finance learning and commitments simply by visiting the church or being near it.

In essence, the church is just a visual reminder for them. A visual reminder can be anything. Two of my most useful visual reminders have been a photo of my kids (wrapped around my credit cards for a long while) and a picture of the country home we dream of living in (taped to the rear view mirror in my truck). These were incredibly useful for constantly reminding me of my goals and, more importantly, why I was working so hard to achieve them.

There are often valuable lessons to be found from the simple act of the lessons themselves.

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