In my last post on this a few weeks ago I wrote about how the Northwest is a pretty good incubator for social entrepreneurship. I also said that I would write a follow up post on how one might go about launching a social entrepreneurship out of a church. That would be this post.
I cannot possibly contain all the steps and hurdles that I have cleared and fallen over along the way. All I want to do here is speak to the formation of the idea and how to execute on it in the most basic terms. My hope is that this can be a blessing to folks who are trying to figure out how to fund their own youth ministry budgets or even just fund their own jobs in some churches around the United States. More on demographics, dollars, and youth ministry in a bit.
STEP 1- Inventory Yourself
Okay, so this might be the hardest and most spiritual part of the whole process. My sense is that a few things have to happen here. First, you need to have done enough spiritual reflection that you know yourself. I don't think MOST people who engage in social entrepreneurship are going to be able to build a social entrepreneurship out of something they know nothing about (like a pay as you go restaurant). You either need something you know or something that a whole bunch of people in your church community know better than you. You need to know what your own gifts, talents, and passions are as well. Do you Myers Briggs again. Reflect on your own missionary journey. What aspects of serving Jesus and the world light you up in a way that nothing else does? What thing would you be willing to sacrifice blood, sweat, and tears for? If you don't know these things about yourself it is going to be a lost cause. If I didn't love my idea and have some roots in it there is no way that I would be willing to wake up at 4 a.m. to work on it and smell like old grass and manure when I go to my church job. You better know the field and be willing to go to the cross for it.
STEP 2- Embed Yourself-
You will also need to be embedded somewhere for a while. I don't necessarily mean geographically, but that probably will be important. Essentially we are talking about good missional principles here. In order for us to sense God's call to engage a particular group of people or neighborhood or issue we are going to need to sit with it for a while. Like a GOOD missionary we will need to reflect on the issue, know the people, know their longings, and know the place that we are about to interact with before we can even get an inkling as to what God might be calling us to do in that place. You want to make sure that you love the place/problem enough that you aren't engaging it from a place of pity, but from a place of understanding. You want to build your entrepreneurship by taking advantage of the strengths of a place rather than its weaknesses. The best kind of justice is not enacted from pity but from mutual love and mutual exchange. Learn more about this concept here.
STEP 3- Build a Team-
Anyone with half a brain can tell you that in the era of wikinomics, you don't have all the information you need in you or in your church. And you never will. You are going to need to put together a group of folks who have the skills you need to get this idea off the ground. My team was filled with small business owners and folks who were interested in mentoring teenagers. I needed folks who understood business. But, I also created a whole web of folks electronically that I could go to for key conversations. I had non-profit folks. I had folks who worked in justice in the third world. I had folks who knew the local school districts and people in them. The strangest questions will come up along the way and you are going to need strange answers. Make sure you build a team first.
STEP 4- Formulate a Vision Together-
Your Team is never going to be able to move forward with a new idea if they aren't on the same page. They need to share your passion and heart and it is going to take a while to help them do this. We are still working on ours over a year into starting. Your startup needs to answer five basic questions before it will go.
1. What is the clear picture of our future together? (Vision)
2. Why do we exist? (Mission/Purpose)
3. What will we do to accomplish that? (Program)
4. What won't we compromise over? (Values)
5. How will we measure success? (Metrics)
These question will be critical because without them, your team won't know if they are doing their job and won't have a sense of where they are headed or how they should be heading there! This process serves as a phenomenal filter that helps you decide what you do and don't want to do as an entrepreneurship. Certain things will fit with your organization and certain things won't. Certain people will fit on your team and certain people won't. You won't know how to make those choices without doing this work. It may take a long while and it won't totally ever be finished. IT IS WORTH EVERY MINUTE YOU SPEND ON IT.
STEP 5- Have a Meeting with Law and Tax Folks
At some point you are going to need to have a sit down with some legal and tax folks. They are going to keep you legal and also help you think about how to structure your organization in the ways that are most helpful for you to create change quickly and effectively. Social impact is great, but it will never be as effective if you are wrangling with state labor laws you weren't aware of! These folks might be a part of your core team or maybe not. A human resources person might not be bad either. They helped me create an employee handbook and understand a bunch about employees and benefits.
STEP 6- Pitch It To Your Church
At some point you are going to have to sell your church on this thing. It probably will come way earlier in the process than this. Here is how this step works:
A. Bring your head of staff in the loop early if you have one. You need this person in the loop and it might be the most important pitch you make!
B. You need to know whether your church understands why social entrepreneurship needs to happen in the American church. They may not even realize that the church as we know it is dying under their feet. What you are pitching might sound like a trip to Mars. That isn't their fault, but it is your job to solve. I understood intuitively why social entrepreneurship needed to happen in the American church, but I had to explain it to my board of elders. Thankfully, I am really good at explaining macro concepts in clear and concise ways.
C. You are going to need a business plan of two years. I had NEVER even seen a business plan before I borrowed one and adapted it. It was hard, but I did it with the help (build a team!) of my brother in law.
D. You will also need an F.A.Q. document. Mine asked and answered 40 questions. You will need to anticipate the fear this will strike in your church. People might wonder if you are leaving. They might wonder if this is just a money making scheme. They might wonder if you are going to blow up their beloved youth group. The will wonder how much of your time and their money is this going to cost them. (Don't freak out though, they might also wonder how they can jump on board!) Anticipate the fear based questions and don't react. Welcome those questions. They are going to help you refine your idea even further and will help you increase your social impact. These people in that room are going to share this idea! So, it is critical that you nail this pitch because they are going to be your early ambassadors. You need not just their blessing, but their buy in. If they can't see the vision this thing will blow up in your face down the road. Heck, maybe invite one of them onto your team!?
STEP 7- Pray and Buckle Up
This thing is going to be a crazy ride of ups and downs. Remember when I mentioned finding something that is worth your blood, sweat, and tears? It will be filled with that, so you better steel yourself. Prayer under-girds all of this. I pray for the right leaders to show up. I pray for ways forward. I pray that the social mission stays in front of me. I pray that God helps me find financial solutions that I can't see yet. I pray that my equipment doesn't break. I pray that I will be ready to shut this thing down if my wife and family decided they hate it. I pray that God spreads this vision like wild fire throughout the American church so that we can engage the world where God wants us to. And I pray that as it spreads that God helps us to do it with integrity and transparency. There is a lot of potential danger in business plus church.
I pray that God blesses you as you dream and launch. This enterprise has been the greatest blessing in my 16 years of ministry. I have never felt more like an evangelist. It is exhaustingly good news. May you and I proclaim it in ways that do the most good for God's Kingdom.