This Pastor Preaches Financial Literacy–and His Flock Responds on Sunday
By Jeanne Doran
June 27, 2017
Financial literacy is a calling for DeForest Soaries, 65, a prominent pastor at First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset, New Jersey. Pastor DeForest, as he’s known, developed a faith-based financial education program called Dfree Financial Freedom Movement, which he hopes will help close the financial literacy gap between white and black communities.
Dfree uses a 12-step model that incorporates education, accountability, encouragement and evangelism. Participants learn basic financial skills such as paying down debt, creating an emergency fund, building wealth through investments and saving and managing risk through proper insurance. The 12 steps help students get to the root of their money management problems.
Step #1 begins with Admit the Problem. Subsequent steps are titled Address the Mess, Address the Attitude, Start the Plan, Steer the Power, and so on through step 12—Impact the Culture. The goal: become debt free and understand how to avoid the traps of poor money management.
The idea for Dfree came to Soaries in 2003, when his church ran into budget problems. A $20 million building campaign had spiraled out of control. Church leaders pushed Pastor DeForest to ask his congregation for more donations. He declined, noting that his church members were of modest means.
His epiphany came when he later looked out on the parking lot and saw it was full of high-end vehicles—Cadillacs, Mercedes and Audis. He wasn’t wrong about his congregants’ resources. The only thing wrong was that so many appeared to be driving cars that stressed their household budgets.
“Our members were driving late-model luxury cars, wearing designer clothing, taking exotic vacations and dining in the best restaurants,” Soaries said in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network. “But could they really afford such lavish lifestyles? Our people did not give to the church because they did not have it to give.”
Soaries decided that if he could help congregants get out of debt they would, in turn, help their church get out of debt too. So he developed the Dfree program with a three-word mantra: debt, delinquency and deficit. Within six months he says the church’s income had risen sharply.
The disparity in financial literacy among blacks and whites is well documented. Despite efforts by churches, banks, and schools to close the gap, financial literacy rates for black high school students remain about 20% lower than for white high school students, according to a study from the JumpStart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy and the State University of New York at Buffalo.
A Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. report last year found that more than 20% of African-American households don’t have a bank account, compared to just under 8% of all U.S. households. Many rely on high-fee check-cashing operations and payday loans. African-Americans also have higher rates of student loans.
Soaries hopes his Dfree program will narrow the gap—through education, action and some good old-fashioned evangelism. When families in his church become debt free, gives them a shout-out at Sunday services. “It forces families to talk about finances,” Soaries says. “It’s never too late.” Hallelujah to that.