One of the questions our team gets a lot at Ministry Incubators sounds something like this.
“Why would social enterprise belong in the church? We already do ministry and run our own programs!”
Our answer to that is perhaps not as fun or simple as one might expect.
Riding on this answer is a lot of uncertainty about the future of the church, its relevance, and its financial sustainability to remain in their current capacity much longer. It doesn’t take long to find staggering statistics about the decrease in church attendance, and shrinking church budgets to boot. While we continue to trust in the provision of God and the ability for our church communities to fund the work being done both inside and outside of our church walls, there is a growing sense of urgency about how church ministry and mission might continue to thrive in the world today.
For us, the growing discussion around social enterprise and entrepreneurship with impact is a buzzing topic worth paying attention to. We’ve watching people like DC Central Kitchen and Homeboy Industries take the work of community development from charity to partially or fully self-sustaining, allowing their reach to expand year after year. Their models inspire community practitioners to reimagine how helping others can drift from charity to a social business model.
While business has always seemed like a world entirely distinct from the four walls of the church, we think the conversation is changing. What if our church ministries and missions could incorporate good practices of social business to provide a long-term vision of their kingdom work? What if our models shifted from donations to empowering techniques that spark lasting change in individuals and communities?
Let’s think of it like this. Take something as simple as a bar of soap. We’ve all been a part of church ministries or missions to take hygiene items like soap to the local homeless communities, or even take them abroad to developing countries. In our minds, this has been the best way to hand out goods and share the gospel in a tangible way. This method of outreach is socially focused in well-intentioned ways, encompassing our moral imagination of how we help others. But we see in the hand-out model of passing out soap that we only empower the needy to be reliant on us as the providers of what they need. In the long term, this creates systems of dependence and ultimately stalled economic growth in places that not only need the gospel, but need ways to support their families and making a living.
What if our money went from buying soap handouts and instead was focused on teaching local artisans to make affordable soap? What if that money was micro-loans to spur local entrepreneurs into starting community businesses? What if that money was used for job training resources that allowed the very people we want to help to start helping themselves?
We think questions like this cause us to reexamine the parameters of sharing the gospel and how our attempts to share the love of Christ can extend in even more powerful ways to the hurting and hungry among us. Social enterprise, the blend of social impact with the tools of business, can allow our churches to do the ministry they want to do, without worrying if this year will bring the end of the funds used to support their work. The beautiful thing about social enterprise colliding with the world of the church is that churches have incredible resources within their own congregations and they are fully equipped to launch all types of creative initiatives. Are you passionate about mentoring? Social enterprise can help with that. Does your church care about specific social justice issues or have a heart for urban renewal? There are dozens of innovative models in social enterprise tackling these very problems.
Why does social enterprise belong in the church? Because without it, our programs might die. With it, our ministry grows and finds expression in new ways within our communities. What more could we dream of, than a world filled to the edges with the gospel and those carrying such good news?
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