Meghan Easley is the Project Coordinator at the Fuller Theological Seminary Youth Ministry Institute. She is also a graduate student at U.S.C working on a Masters Degree in Social Entrepreneurship. She has agreed to offer her perspective on social entrepreneurship/impact investing and the church. She also reflects on why the church needs to incorporate this way of thinking about it's missional identity in order to reach young adults who desperately want to impact their world...and remain a part of the church they have loved.
I write from a myriad of perspectives, to a myriad of audiences. I'm the 24 year old you desperately want in your pews and engaged in your ministries. I am the graduate level student of theology, social entrepreneurship, and young people. I have my fingers on the pulse of the academic side of church, impact and young people, and breathe it in everyday as a young adult that all of my professors are writing and lecturing about. I'm the fly on the wall, engaged in two worlds oftentimes disconnected but looking for a bridge.
While we're mostly a group of dreamers with unrealistic visions for how early adulthood is supposed to unfold, my generation of young people are desiring to make a difference. Both Millennials and women are entering the global workforce in larger numbers than ever before, and within a few decades, baby boomers will transfer $30-40 trillion of their wealth to this new generation. With the majority of wealth control in the hands of young adults and women, and their commitment to jobs that are focused around creating value, the marketplace can't help but stop and listen to the growing noise in this arena. Few can deny that young people are eager to make a difference, and the church would be foolish not to stop and pay attention.
There is the undeniable fact that the church has long been a place of community, spiritual formation, and support for people. I grew up in the church, and have many wonderful memories of the bonds of true community I found there. The spiritual growth I experienced is truly something church does well and reminds me of each week. But as a young person looking to discover a career and a calling, the church has largely abandoned me. Less than a year into a degree I thought would lead me to a pastoral staff role, I realized I did not feel called to dedicate my life in a predetermined course of ministry. I began studies at the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California Soon after, which revealed new sides of myself that tied my desires for social impact in with a marketplace-driven formula. This has changed everything for me, and I know I am only one among many in the younger generation that is seeking after impact with creative and sustainable manifestations.
Yet my church continues to be a place for my heart. I am engaged in activities of service where I can support the spiritual development of my peers or youth, I can paint a sidewalk for a service day and I can usher on a Sunday service greeting team. Is there a place for me to wrestle with my desire to live a meaningful life, faith and work?
My everyday life demands a place to wrestle with the large questions of values and vocation. I sit in class after class at business school surrounded by people longing to make a difference, live a full life, and care for the people and places that are most important to them. Most are not people of faith, but are driven by the gut-wrenching feeling that they can do something to change the world. It is admirable, and they are constantly proving they have what it takes to impact others through development and impact enterprises. But I can't help but realize their desires to help are in no way driven by a vision of God's kingdom or the goodness of his created order.
Why such disconnect? Why are the most passionate people about changing the world not in our churches? What is it about church that does not resonate, that causes the chasm between the impact enterprise world and the churches in our communities? My church inspires me to examine my life, my faith and the ways I am embodying the life of Christ. But, for the most part, my church does not care about how I use my career.
In my mind, this is a shame and is a continued nail in the coffin of the growing irrelevance of the church to emerging adults. We do not want more programs, more volunteer days, or more Sunday School classes. We want causes, we want innovation, we want spaces crafted for us to dream, reflect and do the things we are most passionate about and cannot not do with our lives. We want the intersection of should and must to carry the great weight of both our faith and our work. What happens when they don't overlap? In some cases, young people feel the pull of the Monday-Friday workweek carrying greater significance than sticking around for a weekend church service.
My hope is that whether you are a senior pastor, an elder, or the college or youth pastor, is to look around you at the emerging adults in your midst. Look at the passions they have, the books they are reading, and the things they post about on Instagram. These young people, the ones about to accept the biggest wealth transfer in history, will be making significant decisions about the life of the church with their wallets and how they spend their time. Their values matter. Their voices carry increasing weight, and it is to the detriment of the church not to listen to what they most value and want to spend their time doing. This is not about getting us back into your pews. This is about forming us into your communities to grow, build and dream with both young and old. This is the revolutionary concept of social entrepreneurship in the church: our communities have older generations with a lifetime of professional business experience seated next to the young people looking to make a difference in the world. It gives opportunity to tap into the gifts of the older generation along with the budding talent of emerging adults. To shape a vision for life that is not categorized into church here and my work over there, but a vision where our lives and deepest passions can bring economic and community development from within the walls of our churches.
Church, I am your biggest supporter, the one rallying behind you and recognizing that you have played a significant role in who I am and what I choose to pursue with my life. But if you want to keep me around, you have to prove to me that you care about my passions and the career I am seeking to develop. We have the potential for great partnership, but I need to know that you care and are willing to devote the time and resources necessary to make it happen. I propose that the untapped field of social impact is the very place for us to play and innovate together, crafting a holistic picture of transformed lives and communities.
Let the dreamers and doers in your congregation find space to delve into their deepest passions, to figure out what they must do with their one life and make it a sustainable reality.