Finally, after 62 years, Sunset Church of Christ is about to be free.
The congregation of 1,200 members in Lubbock, Texas, has been saddled with debt since Eisenhower’s first term as president. By the time members of Sunset’s leadership team went through Dave Ramsey’s Momentum stewardship training in February 2010, the red ink had swelled to $1.7 million.
“Some of our elders were not sure a campaign was necessary to pay off the debt,” says Rodney Roberts, Sunset’s Congregational Involvement Minister. “Some felt that we could just continue to pay off the debt from our regular budget while recognizing that it would take much longer.
“Everyone we had spoken with about conducting a campaign said that it was very difficult to raise monies to retire debt and that we would need to couple it with a building project to be successful. We also were concerned about diverting a substantial amount of money that could be used to help retire the debt to pay someone to conduct a campaign.”
Eventually, Sunset’s leadership realized that the church didn’t really need a campaign. It needed a culture shift. Following up on a recommendation by Financial Peace University coordinator Dave Reed, Sunset considered Momentum and decided to take its first step toward eliminating its debt.
To initiate the culture shift, leadership focused on the current situation, but it also cast a powerful vision for Sunset’s future. That meant selling the congregation on what the extra money could do for the church’s outreach programs and other initiatives.
One of the biggest projects for Sunset Church has been the church’s building. The present facilities are more than 60 years old, and that age shows in more ways than one.
“Our building has been neglected in many areas through the years,” Roberts explains. “We have restrooms that were built in the ’60s and have not been remodeled without borrowing money, which we have committed not to do.”
“But we are casting a vision of not only making improvements to our building, but also how the monies that normally went to debt will soon be going toward evangelism/outreach, advertising and select ministries that need to be strengthened. We also want to send more of our members to the mission field to see firsthand the work our missionaries are doing.”
As leaders began planning Sunset’s Momentum journey, they discovered a paradox that sent a powerful message. At the time, more than half of their church’s families were either debt-free or out of debt except the mortgage. The fact that the members were living within in their means while the church was not added to the urgency and commitment to becoming debt free.
“Knowing this made it even more obvious that, as we encouraged our members to be good stewards and get out of debt, it was past time for the church to follow our own advice,” says Roberts.
Committed to making a difference, the congregation began its Momentum experience—called “Freedom To”—in March 2012 and launched its stewardship ministry 14 months later. In less than five years, the membership had whittled the debt to less than $100,000 and was on schedule to be debt free by late summer of 2014.
Sunset’s membership is currently planning a party to say goodbye to their decades of debt. Like the hard work that’s gone into becoming debt-free, members will focus on the future while celebrating the present.
“We are still making plans, but we will have a special celebration and will burn the note,” says Roberts. “We’ll let some of our members share their stories and have them celebrate with the church—maybe hand out some gazelle awards. But we also plan to take the first $15,000 that would have gone toward a debt payment and use it for a special project that will be revealed at the ceremony.”
It should be an awesome event. After all, it’s been 62 years in the making.
Are you interested in finding out what Momentum can do for your church? Begin the journey today.