Central launched the Economics of Ministry: From Classroom to Congregation project in January 2014 with a generous grant from the Lilly Endowment’s religious division. The project’s goals focused on addressing the economic challenges facing future ministers through research, education, and collaboration. Each aspect of the initiative yielded important discoveries, but the research element has been particularly informative.
A pilot cohort of seminarians participated in a pilot cohort for research. These students agreed to take financial literacy tests and other surveys, as well as work with financial coaches for the duration of the three-year grant cycle. Central has learned that knowledge does not necessarily predict behavior. Most of our students possess a passable working knowledge of financial matters as measured by a national instrument; however, they may not be practicing what they know to improve their situations. Motivated students working with a trusted coach, though, made some significant strides in behavior modification and financial goal-setting. Anecdotal evidence from these students suggests that a long-term coaching relationship can be a vehicle for bridging the gap between theory and practice.
Students working with coaches have reported a variety of accomplishments. One young woman searched for a new job, opened a retirement account, and purchased life insurance during her year of financial coaching. Another student chose to resign a position to care for a sick parent during recovery, which required monthly budgeting and careful financial planning to keep up with household expenses. A woman in her 40s developed a business plan for a counseling practice, so that she could strategize leaving her employer and venturing out on her own. Still another student disclosed her efforts to pay off credit cards. Interestingly, the majority of seminarians sharing their goals and accomplishments were female. The male students and their coaches have not reported similar results. However, at this point in the research, we cannot draw any definitive conclusions about the differences between men and women.
These discoveries have encouraged Central to reimagine the ways in which we address the economic challenges of our students. Right now we are preparing to launch a sustainability program that seeks to build on the foundation of our findings to transform the economic landscape for our seminarians and future ministers. Stay tuned for this exciting news!