Elmer and Dawn Jones had almost hit rock bottom. Homeless, in recovery from drug abuse, and struggling to regain custody of their three children, they had recently made professions of faith in Christ and had connected with a local church. Still, there were a lot of missing pieces in their journey toward stability — one of those being money management. But then, through Love INC in Millersburg, Ohio, the couple joined a Faith & Finances class.

Since 2011, the Chalmers Center has been training churches and other nonprofits to use its Faith & Finances curriculum to facilitate financial stewardship classes for low-income individuals. 

Assets and Learning Curves

Running 12 weeks long and tailored for groups of five to 20 people, the course is geared for those who would be deemed “financially vulnerable” — those with little financial training and likely no more than a high school education; likely some debt, no emergency fund, and a net worth at or below zero. 

A trained facilitator begins the class with a biblical worldview conversation — how do relationships with God and others, attitudes, values, and obstacles impact one’s approach to money? All the practical elements follow: setting savings goals, creating a spending plan, taking loans, getting banked, preparing for emergencies, living simply, and giving joyfully. 

Along the way, participants consider not simply what challenges they face, but also what assets they bring to the table. 

“So much of poverty alleviation ministry starts with ‘What’s missing?’ instead of ‘What is already there?’,” said John Mark Bowers, director of program design and engagement at the Chalmers Center. “We’re convinced that everyone has something. God has given everyone gifts that they can use.”

According to Bowers, Faith & Finances has done far more than just help those with less means. Because the course relies heavily on the participation of “allies” — trained volunteer mentees — it’s put the materially poor in the same room as those with more means. The result is a forging of unlikely friends.

“The ultimate end goal isn’t wealth-building or self-sufficiency, it’s to create new communities of people in churches across economic lines who are being challenged and changed by one another,” added Bowers. “Faith & Finances has started new conversations across socioeconomic lines through financial education.”

Stable Ground

The most recent Faith & Finances class in Millersburg brought together a diverse group, including a woman with a full-time job who had never learned to budget and a young couple who wanted to make wise financial decisions while selling one home and building another. The Joneses found themselves among friends. 

“Everybody in the class made me feel really comfortable from the get-go,” said Dawn Jones. “It really felt like the little group that we had become a little family; that we could honestly open up and talk and feel like we’re not being judged.”

It was also a catalyst for a better life situation. 

The couple began by keeping a record of all of their purchases, not spending frivolously, and living simply.  

“Taking out instant gratification spending — you can take one addiction out and still be addicted to that instant gratification,” Elmer Jones said.

During that time, he got a decently paying job at a milk farm and the couple was able to purchase a mobile home. Vicki Conn, the group’s facilitator, said she was delighted to see the Joneses give a gift to another participant to help her fund an Easter celebration for her family.

“The lady was overwhelmed!” Conn explained. “She said she had never had anyone do anything like that for her before. She said not only did it help her with Easter, it touched her spirit to consider that people did care about her.”

To learn more about Faith & Finances or the Chalmers Center, visit www.chalmers.org.