With Easter Donation, Dallas-Area Megachurch Rips Up $10 Million in Medical Debt

Many churches spend a hefty sum advertising Easter services. This year, Covenant Church gave over 4,200 local families a greater gift: eliminating medical debt.

By Josh Shepherd Published on April 3, 2018

For pastors, Easter Sunday is like their Super Bowl — when even nominal believers attend once a year. In past years Covenant Church, with four campuses across the Dallas area, has spent five or six figures on a creative mailer to spread the word.

This Easter, the megachurch went a different route. Covenant partnered with nonprofit group RIP Medical Debt, which acquires unpaid medical debt at greatly reduced rates then forgives it. The church’s donation of $100,000 resulted in eliminating a total of $10,551,618 in medical debt owed by 4,229 households in the Dallas area.

“While introducing ourselves as a local church to these families, we also showed them that we aren’t trying to get something from them — but rather give something to them,” said Pastor Stephen Hayes in a statement to The Stream.

Hayes is no stranger to the trauma of a long hospital stay and the aftermath.

Struck By a Vehicle as a Teen

Only in the past two years has Stephen Hayes stepped into the role of lead pastor at Covenant Church in Carrollton, Texas. Dr. Mike and Kathy Hayes founded the nondenominational church in 1976, known for its multiethnic culture. More than 10,000 Dallas-area residents consider Covenant their church home.

At age 17, their son Stephen was hit by a car while crossing the street. The pastors prayed at his bedside for 12 days as he lay in a coma. A long recovery awaited when he awoke. Yet the church banded together to help cover their medical bills.

These events helped inspire him and church leadership to prioritize debt elimination as a community outreach. “My family has known the crushing weight that can come with medical debt,” says Hayes. “I felt strongly that the ability to buy it for just one penny on the dollar was not just a great opportunity, but also an act of good stewardship.”

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More than 64 million Americans report having problems paying their medical bills, according to The Commonwealth Fund. A registered 501(c)3 nonprofit, RIP Medical Debt was founded in 2014 to help alleviate this problem.

“We want to show the community we care — because we actually do!” says Hayes. “For those that are in our communities, if we show them what it means to be a Christian before they ever step foot in one of our churches, we believe that will have a greater impact than trying to show them afterwards.”

To steward church donations, Hayes and his team researched how the nonprofit works and who would benefit.

How Debt Elimination Works

Based near New York City, RIP Medical Debt uses data analytics to determine those most in need of debt relief due to poverty or hardship. The group acquires debt at low rates available only to those savvy in the debt-buying industry.

Their website notes a faith angle to their purpose. “The idea of debt forgiveness goes all the way back to biblical times of a ‘Jubilee,’ when all debts are canceled and all those in bondage are set free.”

Caring for U.S. veterans is also a focus of their mission. Hayes, whose grandfather is a veteran, resonated with this emphasis. The church worked with RIP Medical Debt to locate every veteran within a 20-mile radius of Covenant’s four campuses facing unpaid debt, and paid their bills as part of the $10 million debt elimination.

We began to ask the question, If our doors closed tomorrow, would our city even notice? — Stephen Hayes

“Once medical debt is purchased, RIP then forgives the debt and informs those helped that they are forever free from that particular debt and its blemish on their credit report,” says Hayes.

He and Covenant Church leaders first learned of RIP Medical Debt through the local NBC News station. Nationwide, NBC-owned affiliates have eliminated $15 million in medical debt and counting.

Doing Good Locally — and Nationally

Stephen Hayes believes Christians should be out front of efforts like this. Quoting his father, he notes a longtime prayer at Covenant has been: God, give us our city. “We recently have changed that prayer to God, give us to our city,” he says. “We began to ask the question, If our doors closed tomorrow, would our city even notice? If [local families] fall on hard times, we want to help get them back on their feet as soon as possible.”

Contrary to some reports, his parents Dr. Mike and Kathy Hayes have not retired. Since the leadership transition in 2016, Dr. Hayes and his wife have launched the Center for National Renewal in Washington, D.C. The nonpartisan public interest group seeks to pray for and advise policymakers for the common good.

Last year, Dr. Hayes spearheaded a relief effort to help churches nationwide affected by natural disasters. Churches in Covenant, an association of approximately 80 churches nationwide, backs the newly founded center on Capitol Hill. Dr. Hayes serves as head of the association, with Covenant Church as its flagship.

Watch Pastor Stephen Hayes’ Easter message at Covenant Church below. The announcement of debt forgiveness begins at the 30:00 mark.

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