Leaders Reclaiming Biblical Stewardship

Changing the culture of the church

Journey of a Debt-Free Church

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by Stewardship Central | Financial Discipleship | Comments

2007–2011: Five years, smack in the middle of the Great Recession

For much of the United States, they were years of foreclosure, lost jobs and bankruptcy. But not for Calvary Revival Church in Chesapeake, Virginia. The first year, 2007, marked Calvary Revival’s entrance into Momentum, a church-wide journey toward a culture of biblical stewardship and generosity. The last year, 2011, Calvary Revival paid $1 million cash for the very first church building it had ever owned.

As much of the country struggled to get by in a busted economy, Calvary Revival’s members were learning to avoid debt, save for emergencies, plan for the future, and give generously.

“It really does change the culture of the church,” says Senior Pastor Dr. Carlton McLeod of Momentum. “Giving did go up. We went through the Recession—praise God—giving more and blessing more and serving more. The church changed financially, and biblical stewardship became integral to everything we do. To this day, we are a Momentum church.”

Calvary Revival is a pioneer of Momentum, an effort that includes church-wide Financial Peace University, a related sermon series, serving opportunities and lessons for kids and teens. McLeod, along with a deacon and an associate pastor, attended the first ever Momentum training in 2007 and implemented the program at Calvary Revival a few months later in 2008—before other churches even existed as models of success.

McLeod had been personally applying the principles Dave Ramsey teaches in FPU since he graduated from FPU in 2004, the same year the church began offering it. He’d seen it work in his own life—today he and his wife are on Baby Step 7—and in the lives of some church members and was prepared to lead his entire congregation down a similar path.

We figured if it worked for a few families coming through FPU, it could work for the entire church,” he says.

Though Calvary Revival had been debt-free since its 1997 founding, it got serious about saving, operating on less than it collected in tithes and offerings, and blessing others with the surplus after more than 85% of the church went through Momentum. Thanks to the congregation’s intensified efforts, buying its building in cash after 13 years of renting became reality.

“We were getting families out of debt while trying to be good stewards,” McLeod says. “We just did what we asked them to do: tightened our belts and saved. The church war chest was growing, and it took us just a few years from the start of Momentum to purchase the property. It was a long time coming. The Lord told us this was the way to do it. Property is very expensive here, and a lot of folks doubted it could be done. But God can do anything He wants to.”

There was a time when all of that would have been hard to imagine. Before Momentum, McLeod says, just 10–20 families went through FPU each January it was offered.

Things changed during Momentum, though, when 311 of the church’s 350–400 regular attendees enrolled at once. McLeod’s personal testimony served as a key to the overwhelming participation.

“The biggest driver was that I was already on board,” he says. “I can’t stress this enough. If whoever is in front of people all the time is not pushing this, it’ll just be another program among several. Trying to get 80% of Christians to do one thing at the same time is crazy hard, right? So having a senior leader really passionate is most important.”

Another motivator was the Special Opportunities Team, one of seven teams responsible for coordinating all aspects of Momentum. The team subsidized the cost of FPU memberships for those who couldn’t afford it. This act of generosity was just one of many made possible by the church’s wise financial stewardship and its members’ increased ability to give.

Momentum puts you in a place where you’re thinking about how you can bless that church or that family,” McLeod says. “It’s really amazing what happens when you’re debt-free.”

Besides lifting up disadvantaged families within the church, Calvary Revival has also been able to plant other churches; establish and fully support a Cambodian orphanage for 50-60 children; contribute to a citywide food pantry; help people adopt and foster children locally; and assist other churches.

But encouraging members to press on post-Momentum has taken effort, and it’s an issue McLeod cautions pastors to prepare for.

“You’re going to have several people get stuck at Baby Step 2,” he says. “Most people jam their way through Baby Step 1. Baby Step 2 is where they [start strong and then realize it’s] going to take a while. So the struggle was keeping track of so many people who hit the wall at some point when the class was over. That’s when you can surround them and say, ‘We can do this, let’s just keep jamming.’ You don’t want to quit on those folks.”

To address that, Calvary Revival holds FPU each year in January. The church also sent Deric and Debra Washington and Thelma Higgins, the church’s FPU coordinators and Momentum Education Team leaders, to Dave Ramsey’s Financial Coach Master Series, where they were trained as financial coaches to help church members through all kinds of financial circumstances.

The church also instituted what it calls Momentum Sunday. These special services, held two or three times each year, renew the vision of Momentum, celebrate any recent money wins and rekindle conversations about stewardship and giving. Everyone wears the Momentum T-shirts the church made.

Today, so many of our families are completely debt-free or close to it,” McLeod says. “We have plenty of folks who are on Baby Step 7. But there are always opportunities to reach more people as they come in. This is part of the DNA of the church, part of our discipleship process. When you come in, eventually, you’re gonna be encouraged to get out of debt. That’s just how it works.”

Are you ready to create a culture of radical generosity in your church? Learn how Momentum can help your congregation.


Calvary Revival Church Chesapeake
Chesapeake, Virginia
Senior Pastor Dr. Carlton C. McLeod
Denomination: Nondenominational (Member of the Calvary Alliance of Churches and Ministries)
Number of Locations: 1
Average Weekend Attendance: 400–450
Pre-Momentum FPU alumni: 80 families
Post-Momentum FPU alumni: 311 people
Personal Non-Mortgage Debt Payoff During Momentum: $5,300 average per family
Savings Increase During Momentum: $2,300 average per family
Church-Wide Giving Increase Since Momentum: 3–4%

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