If I told you most churches in America weren’t living up to their God-given potential, would you believe me? You might not. After all, churches do amazing things every day to love their neighbors next door and across the globe. And while that’s true, the majority of American churches could be doing so much more.

Here’s the truth. Are you ready? About 73% of American churches are in debt. 73%! The average debt load for those churches is north of $4 million—and that’s just the average. The largest churches carry an average of more than $15 million in debt, with the highest at $28 million.

Once you’ve picked yourself up off the floor, let that sink in. The numbers come from a 2010 Leadership Network survey of 250 churches with 1,000 or more weekly attendees. If we extrapolate that 73% to the 300,000 or so churches in America, 219,000 owe money beyond what’s due within 60 days. Ouch.

The principle also applies to smaller churches, even though they weren’t surveyed for the study. Debt doesn’t distinguish between churches of 200 or 2,000.

The bottom line is this: We have a problem in the American church, and it’s preventing pastors and churches from fulfilling the kingdom work I know God has called each of us to do. Proverbs 22:7 says, “The borrower is slave to the lender.” So how can churches completely focus on serving those in need when they’re serving the bank? They can’t.

When the bills roll in each month, the money our churches collect in tithes and offerings goes right back out the door to a long line of creditors—not to the things we long to use it for, like caring for widows and orphans or missions work or outreach efforts. It goes to the bank. These churches are in debt up to their eyeballs, and they can’t fulfill their calling.

Let’s look at some of the reasons why it makes sense for churches to eliminate debt:

  • No debt means more margin for ministry because churches have the money to bless others.
  • No debt means less stress for church leaders because they’re no longer worried about missing a payment or whether the church can remain open if giving declines.
  • No debt means givers are more generous because lots of people are less likely to give when they know it’s going to debt payments, not kingdom work.

Being debt-free as a church allows amazing things to happen that would be impossible otherwise. And it’s not just a pipe dream. Debt-free churches actually exist!

Take Cedar Creek Church in Aiken, South Carolina. Five years ago, the church paid off $8 million of mortgage debt it had accumulated over 15 years. Awesome, right?

As a result, it’s launched two more campuses with cash, increased its global partnerships to more than a dozen, and assisted local families who are struggling financially. And since the church doesn’t depend on weekly offerings to stay afloat, the congregation has even spent some Sundays serving in the community rather than in services.

Or look at what Calvary Revival Church in Chesapeake, Virginia, has done. That church was founded debt free in 1997. Yes, Calvary Revival has never taken on a dime of debt. In fact, the church was able to pay $1 million in cash for its first building in 2011.

Because of debt freedom, Calvary Revival helps local single moms, other churches and a citywide food pantry. It gives lots of things away: books, conference tickets, clothes, food. It’s also become the sole supporter of an orphanage in Cambodia that keeps about 75 children safe from predators.

Isn’t all of that awesome? Man, it is so powerful, and it’s stories like this that convinced me of God’s calling on my life to take this message of hope to churches across the country.

As I’ve led church leaders through Momentum training, so many have learned how to financially disciple everyone in their congregations, creating margin for giving and serving and encouraging intentionality about handling God’s money God’s way for God’s glory. And for some of those churches, it’s even led to debt freedom.

These churches have realized debt freedom positions them for impact, and they’ve seized the opportunity. Their incredible kingdom work is only possible because they aren’t writing big, fat checks to creditors every month. Every dollar they collect goes to serving God’s kingdom.

Imagine all those great ministry dreams actually happening for you! What’s yours? What keeps you up at night? Maybe the answer to making your dream a reality isn’t finding the additional money to fund it, but rather freeing up the money God has already provided. We just have to trust Him.

Chris Brown is a nationally syndicated radio talk show host, pastor and dynamic speaker carrying the message of stewardship and intentional living nationwide as a Ramsey Personality. Available on radio stations nationwide, Chris Brown’s True Stewardship provides biblical solutions and sound advice for questions on life and money. You can follow Chris online at Stewardship.com and Stewardshipcentral.org, on Twitter at @ChrisBrownOnAir, or at facebook.com/ChrisBrownOnAir.

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