Gospel-Driven Transformation: Savings Groups in West Africa
A unique ministry is spreading throughout churches in West Africa. For the past year, the Chalmers Center’s ASSET program (Advancing Stewardship, Social Enterprise, Training) has been training indigenous church leaders throughout Togo and Mali, equipping them to start savings groups as practical ministries of the local church. These leaders see themselves as “ambassadors of reconciliation” sent by God to the poor. Leaders are trained with our biblically integrated curriculum that demonstrates God’s care and restorative power over all aspects of life. A recent study by two Covenant College Community Development interns serving in Togo demonstrated that savings group members have experienced not only financial changes, but also significant social and spiritual transformation:
61% reported a significant change in their Social wellbeing.
50% reported a significant change in their Spiritual wellbeing.
36% reported a significant change in their Financial wellbeing, even though some members have not yet received their payout or savings.
38% reported an “increase in tithes/church-giving.”
26% reported “being more involved in the church.”
Two of our staff members, Gregg Burgess (ASSET Program Director) and Andy Jones (Director of Stewardship Development), recently traveled to Lome, Togo to take part in a three-day training event for national church leaders. Gregg and Andy also visited several new church-based savings groups. Andy was struck by what he witnessed. “The spiritual integration aspect was very vivid. For these savings group members, the dynamics of being part of the group fellowship is as impactful as the savings. The social and spiritual aspects are as significant as the financial and material benefits.” One savings group member, reflecting on his experience with the program, said, “God cares about every aspect of my life, including the material.”
|Image Courtesy of Jonathan Meisner, LifeChurch.tv|
Will Kendall, ASSET Technical Advisor based in Lome, Togo, coordinated the training event. However, two Togolese trainers conducted almost all of the training. Andy shared, “It was exciting to see the Togolese trainers leading their peers. We were just there as a support.” Fourteen church leaders from four people groups and two different countries (Togo and Ghana) attended the training. These leaders represent various denominations and church-equipping organizations, including the Assemblies of God, the Presbyterian Church, and Pioneers. Each leader received training in setting up and facilitating church-based savings groups as a ministry to low-income people. They were also tasked with starting at least one group at their own churches in the coming months. If successful, these leaders may be invited to become part of the ASSET program, which seeks to rapidly disseminate training throughout the region to build up the local church’s capacity to minister to the poor.
Church-centered savings groups provide a self-sustaining and gospel-centered ministry to address the real needs of the poor. Unlike other models, Chalmers’ savings groups do not require outside funding to be maintained. Once leaders are trained, groups are set up and maintained by utilizing the gifts and resources of the church and group members themselves. Gregg Burgess shared how one trainer demonstrated this concept: “The first group that we visited did a skit demonstrating making the community’s favorite soup. She then asked, ‘How does this demonstration relate to our group?’ The group responded, ‘We all have different gifts and talents God has given us, and when we all come together we are sweet and savory like the soup.’” Savings groups are not just sustainable – they also truly build up and strengthen the body.
As opposed to traditional savings groups, Chalmers’ savings groups are centered on the gospel, giving members a clear understanding of the God who is redeeming all things. “Our program is designed to proclaim the gospel in word and deed to the poor,” Burgess shared. “Traditional savings groups that teach people how to save are good, but the gospel is what is truly powerful and transformative.” In the words of one of our recently trained leaders, Jeanine, “Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. That is what this training is about.”