By Shannon Hopkins, RootedGood Co-Founder and Lead Cultivator
“If we stay where we are, we’re stuck, where we’re comfortable and safe, we die there. … When nothing new can get in, that’s death. When oxygen can’t find a way in, you die. But new is scary, and new can be disappointing, and confusing-- we had this all figured out, and now we don’t. New is life.” ― Anne Lamott, Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers
I love Anne Lamott and her words here are wise. If we stay where we are, we are stuck. If nothing new can get in, that’s death. We had this all figured out, and now we don’t. True. True. True!
What does this mean for the church? The church has been static, in decline, and operating with an insufficient resource model for too long. We know things have to change. Just relying on an attractional mission model or pass-the-plate resource model isn’t enough. Instead of that being bad news, what if it is good news, life-giving news to our congregations and communities? What if by exploring and experimenting with other resource models, we move towards something better, deeper, more qualitatively rich?
Perhaps you have recently read my colleague Mark Elsdon’s book We Aren’t Broke: Uncovering Hidden Resources for Mission and Ministry. Or Sam Wells’ book The Future is Bigger than the Past: Towards the renewal of the Church. Or Tim Soerens’ book Everywhere You Look: Discovering the Church Right Where You Are.
All three write about a church that is vibrant, local, and resilient. And all of them talk about commercial activity in line with mission. This is the work of Social Enterprise.
In this short piece, I want to explore on a basic level some of the gifts that Social Enterprise brings for the Church. Before I go there, let’s start with what Social Enterprise is.
A Social Enterprise is an organization that applies commercial strategies to maximize improvements in financial, social, and environmental well-being.
This is sometimes noted as a “triple bottom line” enterprise: making a qualitatively positive impact on people/community, the planet/ecology, and profits/economy. Some will add a fourth bottom line of personal and social transformation/spirituality
Social Enterprise as a concept has been growing in the past few years, but it isn’t something that came to be overnight. It has a rich history in the Church, beginning in the 1800s with the Quakers, Mennonites, and Catholics. Social Enterprise was a way to align money and mission, to see a broader context for the work of the gospel. For instance, abolitionist Quakers established stores where no items for sale were produced by slave labor.
So, what are the gifts of Social Enterprise to the Church?
Those are just some of the gifts of Social Enterprise. But--as with all business--we should acknowledge it is risky. When we are trying to derive both social, financial, and environmental benefits from a venture, it isn’t all going to go well all of the time.
So, what are some of the risks and dangers in Social Enterprise?
In his book The Future is Bigger than the Past, Sam Wells proclaims:
“It may not be necessary, possible, or desirable for every congregation [to engage in commercial activity]: but it could be the single most dynamic step in revitalizing the church for a future that’s bigger than the past.”
At RootedGood, we believe that Wells is on to something, that churches that engage in Social Enterprise--commercial activity connected to its mission--will expand the reach and impact of their local church, leading to a brighter, bigger future.
Are you or your congregation being called to launch a Social Enterprise? Does your institution want to train individuals and teams to launch social enterprises? We have interactive tools and equipping resources to help you!
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