It's December 28, two days after the last Sunday of 2010. Dick Giesler has just reviewed the year's financial numbers—three years after the start of the country's worst economic disaster in nearly a century. Giesler, administrative pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church in Gurnee, Illinois, is fully aware of the challenging financial position of both the church and many of its members.

But Giesler is aware of something else. In addition to his administrative responsibilities, Giesler leads the church's two weekly meetings of Financial Peace University, a personal finance course produced by radio and television host Dave Ramsey. More than 800 people have taken the course since the church started offering it three years ago, and at least 250 of them do not attend Immanuel. In those meetings, Giesler has heard the stories of mounting debt and seen struggles with budgeting. But despite the personal challenges, for the third year in a row, giving to the church is up more than 5 percent, placing Immanuel among the minority of congregations that have seen giving rise since the economic downturn.

"I can't attribute it to anything specifically other than Financial Peace University," Giesler said, "and obedience to the Lord's principles about handling money."

Shredding the Debt

Giesler himself is a former Financial Peace student and enthusiastic convert to Ramsey's financial system. Ramsey preaches frugal living, generous savings, and, most of all, avoiding debt. (If you must borrow to buy a house, Ramsey instructs, make it a 15-year mortgage.) Giesler's office displays a clear, cylindrical tower about two-and-a-half feet high. Inside are the remains of 950 credit cards representing millions of borrowed dollars that Financial Peace students ...

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