“A Christian social entrepreneurship is a socially conscious business that is focused on solving social problems, such as access to food, money, and education. The stated goal of these companies (or organizations) is to make the world better (although, for most, the ultimate purpose is still to make money). Such companies develop products and services with the purpose of achieving these lofty goals. This model sometimes describes nonprofit organizations as well.”  This is the description of social entrepreneurship according to the article on fool.com entitled, “5 Types of Entrepreneurships: Which One Should You Pursue?”

Often church leaders are reluctant to pursue social entrepreneurship.  Typically, the reasons are one or more of the following:  1) The church is not/should not be a “business,” 2) It’s against “the rules” for the church to make any profit, 3) No training or understanding of social entrepreneurship, 4) Never needed to think about it because the offering plate covered expenses, 5) Never considered it.  With the acceleration of the already declining church during COVID, the wake-up call to most leaders has now been answered out of necessity.  But now, some find themselves behind the eight ball (or at least without as much time or resources as they once had) to pursue options all while still struggling with some of the reluctance.

As Methodists, we need to be reminded that we have been rooted in entrepreneurship from the very beginning.  In the book, John Wesley, Compassionate Entrepreneur: A Wesleyan View of Business and Entrepreneurship, by Moon, Cho, & Bettis, these writers describe Wesley’s social entrepreneurship as this, “He provided believers with practical guidance and theological foundations for business and entrepreneurship particularly in the context of poverty. We argue that Wesley should be viewed as a compassionate entrepreneur—with the compassion of a liberator and the practice of an entrepreneur, as he encouraged believers to actively participate in economic activities, and recognized entrepreneurship as a sustainable and significant way to empower the poor. Wesley’s example challenges the church today as his case study serves as a radical and faithful application of biblical economic teachings on business and entrepreneurship.” 

Methodists were once known to build and operate schools, orphanages, and hospitals because they were needed in the community AND the profits could be re-invested into the ministry.  Clive Murray Norris also reminds us of how Wesley started the Methodist movement by integrating the church and the marketplace.  In his book, John Wesley: Prophet and Entrepreneur, Norris states, “Wesley created social enterprises to meet the needs of the poor and sick; he established a highly profitable publishing company; he found a range of ways to encourage businessmen and businesswomen to become financial supporters of Methodism; and in some ways, his whole movement can be seen as a large and successful religious enterprise, competing in a religious marketplace. Wesley and his associates sought to maintain the integrity of this prophetic vision, while yet working closely with the beneficiaries as well as the victims of the Industrial and Consumer Revolutions and the many social changes associated with them.”

Notice that social entrepreneurship is rooted in solving a community problem, bridging a community gap, or making the community a better place to live.  Too often, the church has a passion for a ministry, but it is not rooted in meeting a community need or desire.  Another mistake churches sometimes make is that they decide to start a ministry that their church does not have the passion or capacity to maintain, so they outsource it (i.e., daycare, preschool, food pantry). This means the church is no longer involved and the chance for “ministry” within the social entrepreneurship to occur grows ever more unlikely along with the mission and vision being upheld. An additional mistake I see churches make is they don’t continuously evaluate and pivot as needed.  Once they settle into a model, it’s as though the plan is written in stone even if it no longer meets a community need or is no longer effective or profitable.  Besides the five reasons mentioned above for being reluctant, these three common mistakes must also be overcome for churches to truly be fruitful and vital as social entrepreneurs.

Is your church considering entering into social entrepreneurship, but would like some assistance?  Contact Creation Incubator for guidance from practitioners who have already pioneered their way through entrepreneurship and can help you blaze your path in your community.