Church as an Economic Being

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A graphic published in Christianity Today magazine in April 2011 offered a telling picture of the economic value of a church to the local community. Based on the research by sociologist Prof. Ram Cnaan of University of Pennsylvania and published as The Other Philadelphia Story: How Local Congregations Support Quality of Life in Urban America in which he uses a new set of metrics to make this calculation. (A similar research project in Chicago is currently underway. We will post more information on this when it is available.)

Joy Anderson, the founder and president of Criterion Ventures who organized a Convergence (a set of conversations) points out that the moment someone turns on the light in the sanctuary, the church is connected to an economic network from which it draws and to which is contributes. Two weeks ago, Criterion Ventures convened a convergence between church and business leaders as well as social entrepreneurs in Simsbury, CT. Social entrepreneurship is clearly on the rise.

Access to information and therefore opportunities for networking has taken a quantum leap in the past few years. Churches that used to depend on denominational and ecumenical structures in order to fulfill their mission or to make their ministry more effective, now only need to turn to their hand-held devices. Social media is revolutionizing the way we will create community in the future, and has profound implications for churches and church-related organizations.

Many who gathered at the Criterion Ventures event were social entrepreneurs who were also engaged with the church. Some had a clear commitment to help the church think theologically about these new questions.

Questions such as:

  • Why is it so hard to talk about money in church?
  • How can churches embrace that reality that they are economic beings and become active economic agents?
  • What is the theology of risk that the church needs to embrace?
  • What signs can we name that churches and the world of social capital markets (defined broadly) are awakening to new possibilities in the space where the two connect? What kinds of adjustments/changes/initiatives should churches think about to lean into this awakening?
  • How do we train pastors to engage in this reality?

The convergence was very timely for me, because the following week, I convened a group of business leaders and social entrepreneurs for a breakfast meeting to talk about how to create a dialogue between church and business. In that remarkably short time, the group’s came up with the following:

  • In most of our churches’ theology there is a sacred-secular divide. This is demonstrated in thinking that what happens at church as sacred and what happens at the workplace as secular, clergy as doing sacred work and laity as doing secular work. The theological problem may be one of appropriating to our theological self-understanding the theology of the “priesthood of all believers.”
  • How can we bring the standards of excellence that is demanded by the marketplace to the church? The thinking that ministry does not need to use metrics and evaluative tools that demand excellence is a problem. The sacred-secular divide tends to validate mediocrity.
  • Few seminaries are addressing this question. Therefore, the next generation of pastors do not have the tools to become social entrepreneurs even though this is a much needed skill today. The research, thinking and teaching on social entrepreneurship is done in business schools. Can SCUPE connect with business schools to offer a MBA in Gospel (not necessarily social) Entrepreneurship?
  • Could SCUPE convene churches for a conversation with business leaders? Could it invite people who can share best practices?

These are challenging questions. SCUPE will continue to convene such gatherings in the future to explore how it can be in the fore-front of such conversations. If this is a conversation that excites you, please leave a comment. If you want to participate in this conversation, please leave an email address so we can contact you.

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