Check out this article by Rev. Meg Gaston about Konnoak Hills UMC (with Pastor Chris Smith) in Winston-Salem integrating into the community, offering their largely unused gym for kids’ indoor soccer! It’s an outcome of our process at Western North Carolina Conference and an example of the kind of work we’re midwifing there.
Shari Oosting, host of Princeton Theological Seminary’s podcast, The Distillery, recently interviewed Mark Sampson from Matryoshka Haus. We think it’s definitely worth sharing with you!
Titled “Gift and Social Enterprise,” the episode description reads:
The lines between business and charity are dissolving, and a new category—social enterprise—is emerging. In this episode, Mark Sampson explains that the Church is not immune to the effects of this shift. Yet, he believes that the language of gift and reciprocity enables Christians to imagine creative new economic possibilities and engage with their communities through enterprise.
We hope you’ll give it a listen!
The Distillery podcast explores the essential ingredients of book and research projects with experts in their field of study. It is a production of Continuing Education at Princeton Theological Seminary and is hosted on The Thread.
Hungry for more? Sign up for our newsletter and stay up to date on our latest blogs and Ministry Incubators news!
I spent so long groping for the right words to describe “missional innovation” (I still don’t like the phrase) that it’s easy to feel like no one else in the church “speaks” this language. It goes by many handles: Christian social innovation, faith-based enterprise, redemptive entrepreneurship, spiritual entrepreneurship.
As the church’s unofficial R&D department, youth ministers have been missional innovators forever, intuiting spiritual entrepreneurship’s ability bring young people and Jesus onto common ground. Youth ministers, working with youth themselves, have been engineering new ways for young people to be the church, in the pews and in the world, for decades. Every Christian youth organization’s history is full of stories of social innovation: Christian Endeavor fostered women’s leadership before women had the right to vote. YoungLife was an interracial organization before the civil rights movement. Church camps and conferences pioneered new forms of worship and music that, a generation later, became standard-issue on Sunday mornings. Countless vocations have been launched by mission and arts ministries that allowed teenagers to imagine church differently from their parents.
Yet without a name, we miss the force of these innovative instincts and are very likely to miss their connection to faith. Young people gravitate toward the impulse to infiltrate the world with good, but they’re more apt to see Tom’s Shoes as fulfilling this promise than the church. Young adults recognize missional innovation as a way to test-drive, in small batches, lifestyles that challenge our “me-first” relational and economic practices. They may even notice that this bears more than a passing resemblance to the last-shall-be-first teachings of the gospel. But if you ask them who is most likely to change the world, they will tell you “Spotify,” not Jesus (see http://www.
So what shall we call it? What “handle” binds our work to Jesus, and not merely to good intentions?
Both words– “missional” and “innovation”–are long past their sell-by dates. But what alternatives do we have? We could try the Trappist route: “Preach the gospel; when necessary, use words.” But we also know that, with rare exceptions, faith without words can’t reproduce. At some point, we need to claim who we work for, lest we start taking credit ourselves, or (worse) go off the rails and imply that our failings are God’s failings. We need to articulate how missional innovation is the natural consequence of following Jesus. At the very least, we need to be transparent about where the money goes. The communities we invest in want to know why we’re there. Saying that we want to take part in what God is doing in a place makes no sense (it could even be dangerous) unless we are clear about which God we mean. If we can’t tether this thing we call missional innovation to Christian discipleship, then we risk—to quote Dr. Amanda Drury–sending out ambassadors who don’t know what country they’re from.
Discipleship formation is the Achilles’ heel of missional innovation. It’s easy for us to think our actions are enough, that people will see Jesus in what we do. They will—but only if they know what to look for, cues we glean from the stories and teachings of Christian tradition that allow us to name our experience with God. Words matter. Metaphors shape us—even metaphors about God and God’s mission. Faith needs more than body language to explain, even to ourselves, the humble attempt to live a cruciform life in the marketplace. Yet here we are, called to help people who could care less imagine what following Jesus looks like—living a cross-shaped life, a life of self-giving love.
That would make Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection—the original cross-shaped life–the mother of all innovations.
So what shall we call this thing that smells like church but lacks every trapping we’ve come to associate with religion? What do we call this upside-down way of life that bears witness to the last-shall-be-first gospel of Jesus, that challenges transactionalism and economics of scarcity with a gospel of abundance? What shall we call the incarnational impulse to infiltrate human culture with grace and joy and purpose? What do we call this strategy for hope?
This week’s post comes from our friend Matt Overton, associate pastor for youth and family ministry at Columbia Presbyterian Church in Vancouver, Washington and founder of Mowtown Teen Lawn Care and Columbia Teen Enterprises. In this article, he talks about why he started a social enterprise in his church. You can find more of his thoughts on his Entrepreneurial Youth Ministry website and blog.
Many people who learn about the social enterprises at our church ask me why I started them.
The simple answer: I was tired.
Mostly, I was tired of doing ministry in the same old ways. I was tired of pretending that our programs were accomplishing what they claimed to when so many of them seemed hollow. (Any youth pastor who has ever come crashing down from the post-mission-trip high can attest to this.)
I was tired of reading books by experts that framed the problem but offered no solutions beyond theological generalities, slight adjustments to existing techniques or ideas feasible only for wealthy congregations.
I saw that social enterprise — essentially, a business with a social good in mind — represented a new kind of experiment that offered a truly new way forward in ministry. The church needs more of those.
My experiments focused on jobs training with enterprises called Mowtown Teen Lawn Care and The Columbia Future Forge,(link is external) as well as Youth Ministry Innovators, a website and blog designed for writing about the church as a vehicle for social enterprise.
But a church could try any number of business models.
There’s more to it, of course.
When I arrived at my church seven years ago, I knew that the gospel was about risk. I knew that if the American church was ever going to be born again in the 21st century, it would need people willing to risk everything for kingdom ideas that were worth their very blood, sweat and tears. The church needed to start swinging for the fences.
So I started a social enterprise, first, because I wanted to attempt something great — something risky — for God.
The gospel is, at its core, a risky proposition by God in behalf of human beings. It promises no security, despite our best attempts to deify security and regularity in our worshipping communities.
I wanted to find a way to give myself more fully to the gospel and justice of Jesus Christ — something more than doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. I wanted something bolder than the staid mainline missions efforts I had grown up with.
Second, I started a social enterprise because I was tired of perpetuating disengaged faith. I wanted to help my congregation — both youth and adults — figure out what their Sunday faith has to do with their Monday life.
Social enterprise allows participants to engage a myriad of life gifts and professional gifts every time they show up. To be a part of a social enterprise-based ministry, participants must be fully engaged in whatever the enterprise is. They are essential to the success or failure of the mission.
Too often, our churches make people passive recipients of ministry and even of faith itself. When they don’t get a call from anyone at church when they haven’t been there in four months, they think the show simply goes on without them. They feel excluded or ancillary to the mission of God. They think their presence, passion, talents and dollars aren’t really needed. I wanted my congregation to discover the value of each member’s engagement.
Third, I started a social enterprise because I was tired of our acts of charity and mission taking away people’s dignity. So many of our charitable works place us in positions of power and influence over those we serve.
I had been offering the typical camperships and canned-food drives to the low-income youth in my group so they could be part of our middle-class model — only to see those students drift away, weary or embarrassed of being the focus of our love and charity. I wanted them to be a part of a ministry where they were full, vital participants.
People hear the Jesus story and want to be involved. They don’t want simply to be helped.
We need ministries that actually enable people to move forward with their lives. Social enterprise allows us to do that in creative ways.
At our church, we offer job skills, training and experience. We talk about faith and about people coming fully alive (John 10:10), but we don’t give our participants much of anything. Their dignity remains intact, and they are given a chance to move forward.
Finally, I started a social enterprise because I was tired of losing our middle- and upper-class youth and families to outside activities.
I didn’t blame them. In the current culture, parents are afraid for their children’s economic future and feel pressured to enroll them in activities they believe will enhance that future.
It’s hard for a low-accountability and low-participation youth ministry model to compete with a state robotics tournament or a soccer club in which a family has invested thousands of dollars and hours.
But I was convinced that the church could compete. What we needed was something that the kids wanted to be a part of. Something that would engage their passions and invigorate their faith.
I figured that if we used employment as our model, kids from a variety of backgrounds might actually show up. I was right.
In addition, this model required heavy adult commitment and involvement. Social enterprise gave my adults an essential role in our youth ministry. They weren’t consuming church. Kingdom work began to consume them. It was enlivening dry bones and scratching itches they didn’t know they had.
We have adults investing unbelievable amounts of time and energy and their personal gifts. We think it might be the zephyr of God, and I am gobsmacked with emotion every time I think about what I am seeing.
Social enterprises have to compete in the agora at marketplace speed. They demand risk taking, commitment, empowerment and passion. People want something to lay down their lives for. If we want to compete for people’s precious time, we are going to need to give them that.
This article is the last in our summer blog series aimed at those who are either starting a missional enterprise or thinking about starting one. During this series, we have looked at theological and practical concerns of missional entrepreneurs.
This week’s post comes from our friend Matt Overton, associate pastor for youth and family ministry at Columbia Presbyterian Church in Vancouver, Washington and founder of Mowtown Teen Lawn Care and Columbia Teen Enterprises. In this article, he talks about the various phases of launching a social enterprise through a church. You can find more of his thoughts on his Entrepreneurial Youth Ministry website and blog.
The Three Phases of Launching a Church-based Social Enterprise
Starting a Christian social enterprise is difficult and passion-filled work. It comes with a ton of setbacks and self-doubt. And a ton of excitement.
I believe that social enterprise — a business with a social good in mind — can offer a new way forward for the church.
But I realize as I evangelize about this new model that people will have questions about how to get started. How can a local congregation or minister launch a social enterprise that maximizes missional impact in a community?
I have identified three initial phases for this work: habitation and discernment; consulting with the community; and testing.
The advice here is aimed at ministers and congregations interested in starting a small-scale enterprise that has a relatively low bar for entry into the marketplace. Launching a large-scale idea for social innovation requires much more capital and risk.
Habitation and discernment
As Christians, we have an obligation to prayerfully inhabit a place in order to do this work in ways that honor God and neighbor.
I have participated in several programs that help launch social enterprises, and one problem I’ve seen is that they often encourage people to ideate quickly.
This worries me. We Christians have a long history of doing things to others in unhealthy and wasteful ways. I think we have a theological obligation to take the time to inhabit a place, to listen well and to pray, and only then, after a period of discernment, to come up with an idea.
Ideally, I think would-be social entrepreneurs should live in a community at least three and a half years to discern the context and to build up leadership capital and trust within the local church before formulating ideas. That time is also important for discerning whether the needs of the context and the specifics of a potential enterprise line up with a leader’s God-given gifts.
I happen to love physical labor and mentoring teens, and I know something about lawn care. So launching a teen landscaping company made sense for me. It was also something that our state’s highly restrictive teen labor law would allow.
It’s critical for churches preparing to launch a social enterprise to understand the social needs and marketplace of their particular community. And since the purpose of social enterprise is to place the mission ahead of the profit, it is crucial to think about the mission thoroughly.
Consulting with the community
The next step is to look at the cloud of witnesses.
One of my favorite lines in the book of Acts is when the apostles and the elders at the Jerusalem Council, trying to discern how Jewish and Gentile converts are to interact with one another and the standards of faith, arrive at their answers and say, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us …” (Acts 15:28 NIV).
The idea here, at least in my Reformed mind, is that the discernment of God’s will seems to have been a group, rather than an individual, process. This is an important ethic in starting a Christian social enterprise.
That’s why I began by talking with the leadership at my church.
My initial conversation was with my head of staff. I made sure he understood why I was trying to do this and what the potential implications were in time, energy and dollars.
I also shared a couple of books to help explain the concepts behind my project, such as asset-based community development and social enterprise in general.
What was critical, in my case, was that my head of staff understood missional theology, allowed the staff a good deal of autonomy and was not opposed to marketplace-based thinking. We also had trust in each other.
My next step was to inform our Session, which is our church’s governing body. I worried that they would find my idea confusing or frightening, so I prepared a presentation on my own ministry journey, my idea for the enterprise, the financial implications for them and a critical FAQ.
I wanted to make clear that I wasn’t proposing to detonate their existing youth ministry. I also was not planning to leave the church. I made sure to help them understand how my idea linked directly to my job reaching out to teens in our county.
I also framed it as a six- to 12-month experiment and asked for four to eight hours per week to work on it during the initial phase.
To my utter amazement, they really liked the idea and thought it fit well with the stated mission and vision of our church.
I gathered eight key people on an informal team. I invited people who had run their own businesses, people who would be good mentors and people who were trusted by the church. I also consulted with folks who had legal and tax experience.
For a church that doesn’t have folks with particular experience, I’d recommend exploring congregants’ connections to people in the community who support the idea and consulting with the local community foundation.
The last phase is experimentation and testing.
I started small. I hooked up my V-6 to a church trailer and mowed a few clients’ properties each week. I also shadowed a local landscaping company’s crews and paid close attention to people I saw out working.
The point is to start with a manageable volume of business to see whether the ministry leader is cut out for the work. This also provides a glimpse of what the actual market looks like in the area — sort of like an informal market survey.
But most importantly, this phase offers a test of what ministry looks like in this setting.
Is it possible to do effective ministry within the context of this business? What is the actual potential of kingdom impact on customer and employee? This is essential.
At the heart of Christian social enterprise is the mission. Whatever shape it may take, the mission must be the focus in a church-based business.
Hungry for more? Sign up for our newsletter and stay up to date on our latest blogs and Ministry Incubators news!