A Congregation of Clubs

Salem Baptist Church of Chicago has made investingpart of its gospel of economic empowerment

In 1998, the Salem Baptist Church of Chicago came up with a five-year plan to help members of the congregation eliminate debt. Two years into the plan, the church started receiving reports that many of the members had made drastic improvements. It was then that Rev. james T. Meeks and others decided to teach members about investing, including lessons on running an investment club.

For seven consecutive Monday nights, roughly 1,100 people attended classes in partnership with the National Association of Investors Corp., the Madison Heights, Michigan-based trade group for investment clubs. The first few weeks addressed setting up an investment club and the latter part of the training dealt with areas such as how to research stocks. More than 850 people completed the program.

“We encouraged them to reach out to family members and friends to form their own investment clubs,” says Bonita Parker, Salem’s former director of investments and economic empowerment. “We gave them the tools and structure to get started, but they did the actual legwork.”

All together, some 125 clubs were formed, averaging 10 members each between ages 30 and 50. Salem’s investment program serves as the ideal model for forming investment clubs where large groups of people gather, such as churches, professional organizations, associations, and civic groups. In fact, Salem is the flagship church for Rainbow/Push’s 1,000 Churches Connected program, an effort to deliver the message of economic responsibility through the church.

Unique to Salem’s program is its registration process. Each investment club registers through the church and must present a report every month on its progress and the status of its membership. “My role is to get a snapshot of the meeting: who attended, what was covered, and how much was collected,” explains Parker, who is also a former vice president for Northern Trust a bank in Chicago. “I conducted trend analysis to see if the clubs are struggling with any particular area and to see if we needed to add new classes or modify existing ones.”

In addition, there is a team of 25 volunteers (many of whom are in the financial arena) who serve as coaches for the investment clubs. “Because we have so many clubs, we came up with a support ministry that will partner with NAIC or find other professionals to help resolve a club’s issues,” says Parker. “For example, a club may have difficulties determining how they want to handle their interest in the club in the event a member should die. We would reach out to NAIC or our own legal team to address this issue.”

As with any other investment club, Salem’s clubs’ members have complete say over their investment decisions and stock selections. Clubs that want to be considered for Salem’s annual award ceremony, which recognizes clubs, must reveal portfolio performance. The church gave out 20 awards in 20 categories.

The Millionaires-Thru-Christ Investment Club at Salem walked away with three awards, including best rate of return421% for 2001. The club, which began investing last March, has five stocks: General Electric (NYSE: GE),

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