Social Entrepreneurship & the Mission of God pt. 5 | Our church has always done it this way.

It’s a chilly Thursday morning here in Santa Barbara as we get ready to share part 5 of 6 in our series on Social Entrepreneurship and the Mission of God. If you haven’t had the chance to read our previous installments, you should give them a quick read. Of course, we’re a bit biased, but we think that they’re worth reading and thinking about. Writing them has helped us clarify and shape our own thinking on social entrepreneurship the mission of God.

Grab a cup of coffee or a bowl of soup (I told you it was chilly here today) and let’s get into today’s post.

I want to start by saying that I love the church. I spent 26 years working for churches. I still attend church regularly. Being part of a church is vital for my spiritual life and formation.

I also stopped working for churches when I got the opportunity to do the kind of work that I was passionate about but wasn’t conducive to the church system. In my new role, I am excited about being able to think outside the church ministry box and to put some entrepreneurial muscle to work to try and solve some of the problems of our world with some new and innovative programs and initiatives. I am excited to be able to ask different questions, to think differently about resources, to take different risks as we try to create pathways for children, youth, and their families to be able to flourish.

When it comes to social entrepreneurship and the church. I think there are some real opportunities and also some real challenges.


We live in a time unlike any other in the history of the world. We are seeing unprecedented change happening at breakneck speed. We are seeing established businesses being disrupted daily. We have access to global information and events that were impossible 20 years ago. We can ride in strangers’ cars and not be reckless. We can sleep in strangers’ houses and not get arrested for trespassing. We can order just about anything we want and never leave the house. 

This rate of change is not just changing how we do business, it is changing us. This change also brings new opportunities to do new things. At Pro Deo, we like to say that today’s problems won’t be solved with yesterday’s ideas.

There are opportunities for the church to raise up entrepreneurs and business leaders who are willing to flex their business acumen for the betterment of society. There is an opportunity for churches to include as part of their discipleship programs how Christians can use their gifts to make the world better. There are also opportunities for the church to think outside of their current ministry/program boxes and to act like an entrepreneur. I can image what churches and church members could do if they began to think like entrepreneurs and looked to solve the problems that exist right around them. What if the church created its own skunkworks program to find innovative solutions to the issues in their neighborhoods?

Given the resources that churches possess in their people, property, and budgets, there are lots of opportunities for the church to engage in social entrepreneurship.

There are also significant challenges.


Remember, I love the church.

In my opinion, the current church system is built largely for self-preservation and maintenance. Almost every dime in church budgets goes towards paying staff and maintaining the building. Most church budgets allocate only a tiny percentage of their budgets towards programs and most of those programs only serve those who already attend. I would guess that in most churches 90-95% of their budgets go towards salaries, buildings, and programs for members and attendees. This internal emphasis isn’t necessarily a bad thing (although this statement might be up for debate by some), but it is a thing. It does present a challenge for a church that might want to engage in some form of social entrepreneurship. Social entrepreneurship will push against how the church functions. Social entrepreneurship asks different questions than the church asks.

Social entrepreneurship also requires some risk and churches are very risk-averse, particularly when it comes to their resources and their established way of doing ministry and church.

Let’s take a look at the skunkworks idea again.

Let’s imagine that a church recognizes that its neighborhood has some real needs, and the church wants to take some form on an entrepreneurial role in meeting those needs and changing the conditions that cause those needs. Let’s also imagine that a church wants to engage its neighborhood in some new ways. Typically, a church will form some type of committee (some might use a sexier word like taskforce, but they function essentially the same) and brainstorm some ideas. This committee might come up with some plan and try to get the church to help fund it. If the church is able to come up with some funding, then perhaps they will launch something and try to get their parishioners to volunteer and help run the new initiative. The new initiative ends up being relatively innocuous and ends up fitting into the mold of what the church is already comfortable doing. I’m not trying to be harsh here, but I’ve seen way too many of these types of things happen just like this. 

Instead, what if that same church set aside 15-20% of their budget and gave it to a skunkworks type group to do whatever they wanted to do to try to solve the problem the church was trying to address. What if the church set that group free and didn’t give any unwanted input into how the money got spent? Imagine a group with some funding and a mission and the freedom to do whatever they wanted to accomplish the mission. What if risk, iteration, collaboration, and outside the box thinking was encouraged. What could the church accomplish? My guess is that there would be some failures, some mediocre attempts, and perhaps that church could create something that accomplishes what it set out to achieve.

I would love to say that doing what I propose in the previous paragraph would be easy for a church to do, but in reality, it would be complicated. A church would have to be willing to fundamentally change its mission to include trying to solve the problems around it. The church would need to see its mission as not just for itself, but for other and would need to change the questions it asks.

I came from a church that said the Lord’s Prayer every Sunday as part of its worship together.  One of the lines in that prayer is “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” I think if we take that prayer seriously, then social entrepreneurship should have a place in the church, even if that means the church has to shift some of its resources and priorities to do so.

We are in a time of unprecedented change, and if there was ever a time for a church to renew its mission seriously, now seems like a good time.

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Social Entrepreneurship & the Mission of God pt. 5 | Our church has always done it this way.

Dave Roberts

Dave Roberts is the Executive Director of the Pro Deo Foundation and when he's not working, he loves to spend time with his wife and two daughters finding fun things to do in the Santa Barbara area.

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