Amid record foreclosures in Las Vegas, church offers hope through stewardship

LAS VEGAS (BP)--A church in Las Vegas has been teaching people how to manage their money wisely in a city that has led the nation in home foreclosures and other economic challenges, and the pastor credits a Southern Baptist stewardship initiative with getting them started.

"We've been trying to address Christian stewardship on a consistent basis," Hoyt Savage, pastor of Foothills Baptist Church, told Baptist Press. "What originally motivated it was that I sensed we really needed to come back to helping the people, not so much in giving because our giving was already commendable. It was just hearing the other issues of finances that people were living with."

Though the church's offering receipts were good, average weekly giving had dropped by $800 or 9 percent. Savage was familiar with statistics that said the average American was saving very little money and credit card debt was an increasing struggle, and in 2007 he learned about "It's a New Day," a stewardship emphasis launched by the SBC Executive Committee to aid churches in addressing finances among their members.

About 16 months ago, Savage preached through the It's A New Day material in four consecutive Sundays, and Bible study classes addressed stewardship as well. He addressed not just the 10 percent of a believer's income that typically would be a tithe to the church; Savage focused on coaching believers through wisely using the other 90 percent.

"Without any large increase in attendance, our giving began to rise," he said. "In fact, by December we were back to the level of our giving that had been for the previous year. We had made up that $800 shortfall."

Giving went up another 9 percent in the weeks that followed, despite an ever-slowing economy that included large unemployment increases in Las Vegas especially.

Since the end of the It's A New Day study, Foothills Baptist has had six small groups follow up with the 10-week Crown Life Groups study, developed by Crown Financial Ministries.

"I think that's the real key to It's a New Day -- continuing the follow-up of giving people an opportunity to take that from worship services and small group Bible studies or Sunday School into practical application," Savage said. "I think a small group is the best way to do that."

Ashley Clayton, associate vice president for stewardship at the Executive Committee, commended Foothills Baptist for their implementation of the It's a New Day material.

"The results at Foothills have been truly significant," Clayton told Baptist Press. "The church has seen a dramatic increase in giving, husbands and wives in the church have not only improved the family finances -- paying off debt and engaging family budgets and spending plans -- they have also improved their marriages as well.

"Pastor Hoyt said to me, 'It is amazing what families can do for themselves and for the Kingdom when the bondage of debt is gone,'" Clayton added.

"The interesting thing about Foothills is that Las Vegas is a tough place to live. The city has been in a financial downturn for several years, at one point leading the nation in foreclosures, and this has affected giving in churches across the city. Ask Hoyt Savage and he will tell you there has never been a better time to talk about money in your church than right now," Clayton said.

Savage urges other churches to take advantage of the stewardship resources provided by the Executive Committee, especially while the nation's economy is so volatile.

"It's never too early to start," he said. "Number one, I think it would show a great deal of sensitivity and help in a time when people are looking for what to do in this given time.

"It does more than just give people a fish. It teaches them to fish. In other words, our church is being asked like most probably are to meet some fairly sizable needs -- food and financial assistance," Savage said. "This gets at that issue by helping people see that God has a plan that's an effective plan for them using the resources He gives us."

It's a New Day and the corresponding Crown Life Groups form a great plan, Savage said, because they aren't built on the typical Christian stewardship model of getting people to give more to the church.

"That's sort of a background element, not what's in the foreground," he said. "The real up-front issue is, How do I adjust to using that which God does say I'm specifically responsible for -- the 90 percent that's used to cover all of those expenses of living? How do I use those in a way that pleases God and that will help me to meet my needs? I think that's the beauty of the program."

Pastors are invited to attend It's a New Day one-day conferences, which are scheduled throughout the year in a variety of locations including one in Illinois in February and several in North Carolina in March. For a list of events and to register, visit www.sbc.net/newday.


Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.

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