THIS MEANS BUSINESS: Homegirl Cafe in downtown Los Angeles is a successful model of social entrepreneurship. Staffed by female gang members trying to leave their past behind, it’s part of Homeboy Industries.
America’s economic woes have made grassroots urban ministers open to new ways of doing things. Fundraising has always been a challenge, and now more so. Common conversation topics in urban ministry circles include cutting positions, scaling back programs, and working more efficiently.
One topic stands out. The idea of starting a business to fund an urban ministry is not just hallway conversation or Facebook chat fodder. People really want to know. Even people who are critics of Big Business or Capitalism are hungry to make private enterprise work for their cause.
If you are thinking about launching a business to supplement your ministry’s bottom line, it’s important to understand both the concept of social entrepreneurship and the management capacity of the typical grassroots urban minister.
The mash-up of urban ministry and business can best be engaged through the world of social entrepreneurship.
Social entrepreneurship is a term with a variety of definitions. One prominent description is that of Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning founder of Grameen Bank, a pioneer in microfinance.
In his book, Building Social Business:The New Kind of Capitalism That Serves Humanity’s Most Pressing Needs, Yunus writes:
Social entrepreneurship relates to a person. It describes an initiative of social consequences for a social purpose. This initiative may be a non-economic initiative, a charity initiative, or a business initiative with or without personal profit. Some social entrepreneurs house their projects within traditional nongovernmental organizations while others are involved in for-profit activities.
Take Yunus’s definition, add the desire to see people come to faith and life in Jesus Christ, and you have a grassroots urban minister. To illustrate this, three groups stand out.
Belay Enterprises, a faith-based nonprofit in Denver, creates businesses to employ and job train individuals rebuilding lives from addiction, homelessness, and prison. Last year 75 people worked in Belay’s businesses that include Bud’s Warehouse, a home improvement thrift store. While structured as a nonprofit, Belay realized over half a million dollars in revenue from sales, with very little by way of donor cash contributions. Jim Reiner, executive director of Belay, says they are growing a fund for new businesses that will increase the number of people employed or job trained per year. (Full disclosure: Partners Worldwide, the organization for which I work, co-hosted an event with Belay last month.)
Central Detroit Christian (CDC) created Peaches and Greens as a way to provide fresh produce to neighbors living in a vast urban food desert. The Peaches and Greens operation has both a storefront location and a mobile truck that sell fresh goodness throughout the community. Lisa Johanon, executive director of CDC and an incarnated resident, told NPR’s Michel Martin that prior to the creation of Peaches and Greens she had to drive ten miles for produce.
SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP IN ACTION: Through Homeboy Industries, ex-gangbangers like these women at Homegirl Cafe receive job training and employment opportunities, in addition to a new start spiritually.
Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, founded by Jesuit priest Father Greg Boyle, addresses the issue of street gangs through job training and business opportunities. Homeboy made news when it was forced to lay off more than 75% of its staff — 300 people, many in the target outreach group — because of budget cuts. Remarkably, the 60 people who were not laid off worked in Homeboy’s bakery, which was profitable and self-sustaining, and therefore capable of weathering the cuts. Since that desperate time, with the help of some compassionate and deep-pocketed friends, Homeboy Industries has rebounded and continues to provide job training and employment opportunities for ex-gangbangers in the L.A. community. (It should be noted that while Catholic faith is at the core of Boyle’s motivation, Homeboy itself does not publicly emphasize its faith roots. It is, however, an appropriate example of social entrepreneurship in my estimation.)
Most urban ministries I know — certainly those involved with groups like the Christian Community Development Association — operate and achieve as Belay, Central Detroit, and Homeboy do. If you have only seen yourself as a pastor or minister, you should recognize that you are already a type of entrepreneur that the world desperately needs.
The key to a successful social enterprise is the combination of “cause” and “good” management. The key to running a business that does good while feeding your ministry’s bottom line is the same combination.
We all have causes we are passionate about. It’s the management part of the equation that poses a challenge.
Larger urban ministries will face less of a challenge in managing a business than will grassroots groups. Sustaining a multi-million dollar operation like a rescue mission, for example, requires significant management capacity and skill. That same capacity can be redeployed or expanded to a business effort.
Smaller ministries that have survived for many years should also have some capacity to manage a new business endeavor. An outreach program with a few full-time staff has less capacity than a large nonprofit, but can still tap its network and management experience in running a business.
It’s the small grassroots groups — which are often our most innovative as well as fearless ministers — that need to truly count the cost of launching a business to fund their ministries.
I know of many effective urban ministries that are essentially one charismatic leader surrounded by a host of friends and allies. Often the leader is not paid full-time, and many times draws no salary from his work.
One man I know has a van that he uses to take aimless youth to church gatherings around his town. He uses a ministry name, but that ministry is not incorporated.
TRANSFORMING LIVES: Father Gregory Boyle, founder and director of Homeboy Industries, meets with his team. Homeboy has developed one of the largest gang-intervention programs in the nation.
Another man, an ex-gang-member, rode his bike around town, making contact with younger gangsters and talking to them about avoiding future trouble. He was connected to a number of networks and coalitions, to which he funneled many gangsters for intervention or services.
In this type of operation there is very little organizational and financial management being practiced, and therefore little on which an organization can be developed. When it does come time to grow the organization, to strengthen management and plans, the charismatic leader will either need to grow or get out of the way.
It is entirely possible for this grassroots urban minister, no matter how little formal education he or she has, to develop into a nonprofit organizational leader or business person.
But it will require a lot of hard work to get there. Even more, it will first require an act of will, a choice, to grow in an area the individual may not have a passion for.
But if you want to operate a business that functions as a business and generates a profit for use in ministry, there is no way around it: You will have to learn the management skills and discipline that any successful businessperson has.
Even if you bring on somebody to run the business you will need to learn business. How else will you know if the person you have brought on is doing a good job? Or not cheating the enterprise?
For Those Who Take the Plunge
My prayer is that great numbers of grassroots urban ministers choose to grow their business skills and launch enterprises. Take the good work you do — socially beneficial work that impacts the lives of many of the least, the last, and the lost — and combine business skills to create things like well-paying jobs and needed services for urban communities.
When it gets hard, don’t get discouraged.
For years I’ve felt like my work as an urban minister was harder than the work of an average business owner, because I had more bottom lines to attend to.
Whereas a non-performing employee in a business might quickly get fired, in a ministry setting I would give that person extra opportunity to succeed. Some businesses make this type of extra effort, but in general urban ministries are much more likely to “give a second chance” — and a third chance — than a straight business would.
Even more, our ministries often hire people that no business would hire. And yet we need to keep our doors open and maintain a basic level of financial sustainability.
You’ve trusted God in reaching out to the least, the last, and the lost. Trust Him again to help you develop the business sense and management skills you will need to grow a business that helps fund your ministry.
BROTHERS IN REDEMPTION: Chuck Colson (right) hugs an ex-inmate and graduate of Colson's Prison Fellowship program. Founded in 1976, PF is aimed at rehabilitating incarcerated men and women through faith-based education, job training, and aftercare. (Photo: Shawn Thew/Newscom)
The passing of Chuck Colson over the weekend brought to mind the issue of stewardship in ministry. Many of the headlines remembered him as Nixon’s “evil genius” in the Watergate scandal, but for many of us he was even better known for what he did after leaving prison.
Colson, as the founder of Prison Fellowship, lived his post-prison, post-conversion life as a champion for the evangelization and discipleship of incarcerated men and women. His gradual expansion of PF to an organization that included work in the area of public policy and criminal justice reform took the group beyond the norms of many predominantly white evangelical organizations. His mobilization of and influence on theological and political conservatives around issues such as the Second Chance Act, prison conditions, and prison rape showed his commitment to both rescuing fish and cleaning the fishbowl. Countless numbers of people, both those incarcerated and those impacted by incarceration (such as victims of crime, former prisoners, and family members of the incarcerated) have been helped, saved, blessed, and reconciled as God used Brother Colson in providing leadership in this area.
But I am mostly drawn to his sense of stewardship in this hour, because it had everything to do with Prison Fellowship’s ascendancy and the challenge of the organization’s future. Stewardship, because Brother Colson had a public visibility prior to his conversion that God was able to use to strengthen the organization itself and give more visibility to prison ministry as a critical component of the witness of the church. With all that Brother Colson could have done with his visibility, committing it to the service of men and women Jesus identified as “the least of these” rings nobly. This is especially significant in light of the historic tension between white evangelical organizations and indigenous African American congregations and ministries, where the competition for scarce resources often gives advantage to the former while the latter struggles in relative obscurity.
I remember once having breakfast with an NFL quarterback who had just made a five-figure donation to an urban youth ministry organization in Philadelphia. He talked about the great needs there, and the fact that this organization was “on the front lines.” I countered that they were indeed, but that there were countless African American and Latino congregations in that city that could use support — they just don’t have leadership with the visibility and clout of some in the white evangelical community. Colson chose to use his clout to answer Christ’s call to remember the prisoner.
Of course, one alternative to white paternalism in urban ministry is for white evangelicals to take all their marbles and go home — leave the places of pain where, as Bible scholar Dennis Kinlaw has reminded us, “God always gets there first.” And so the fact that organizations like Prison Fellowship continue to witness to a holistic gospel in this era of mass incarceration is important. And Brother Colson took good care of his name as a steward of the visibility he gained from his days at the White House, involvement with Watergate, trial and incarceration, conversion and release. He lived as a vibrant example of a life redeemed — a man of influence, thoughtfulness, and compassion.
FROM 'EVIL GENIUS' TO GOD'S SERVANT: A White House special counsel during the Nixon administration, Colson was a key player in the Watergate scandal. He became a Christian in 1974 before serving a prison sentence.
Like many organizations before it, Prison Fellowship will now face the so-called “founder’s dilemma” in staying the course without Colson’s critical stewardship. But there are other obstacles as well: notably the downturn in the economy, which has affected the bottom line of all non-profits, and PF’s continued search for a way to strengthen its work with indigenous African American and Latino congregations. During one of his Breakpoint broadcasts in 2009, Colson lauded the prisoner-reentry partnership which had been developed between Prison Fellowship and the Progressive National Baptist Convention, the historic African American denomination that counted Martin Luther King Jr. as one of its founding members. Colson’s attempts to bridge this gap between conservative and progressive Christians reflected his sincerity, even if the organization’s infrastructure continued to struggle with how to give this vision legs.
As a sociologist who studies congregations, I have seen such infrastructural challenges from Richard Niebuhr’s original documentations in The Social Sources of Denominationalism, through case studies, to my mentors Bill Pannell and Tom Skinner warning us that your ministry can grow into a monster. Whether it’s a large company or big congregation, infrastructure can outgrow mission both in the size of the organization and the attention of its leadership and staff. But even as PF wrestled with these dilemmas, Chuck Colson worked as a steward of his visibility — championing Angel Tree ministries for the children of the incarcerated, advocating compassion for inmates in overcrowded and inhumane conditions, and demonstrating a dogged commitment not only to the evangelization of inmates but to their discipleship as well (no small feat when the predominant mode of prison preaching follows the script: “You messed up, you got caught, you need Jesus”).
Indeed, there is an irony in saying that Chuck Colson has gone to “be with the Lord.” After all, if we take Matthew 25 seriously, Chuck had already been “with Him” more than most.
The Cross at Ground Zero.
Sunday marks the tenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and Flight 93, so we asked three urban leaders who will be participating in memorial events how the attacks impacted urban ministry.
Here’s what they said:
Jeremy Del Rio, Esq., New York
Jeremy Del Rio is executive director of Community Solutions, Inc. a faith based youth and community development agency in New York City. On September 10, Del Rio will participate in Reaching Out, A Sacred Assembly, a prayer and worship service in New York City.
September 11, 2001 exposed gaps in urban ministry in ways that could not be ignored any longer. The church’s response to those gaps demonstrated grace and hope and provided a glimpse of what might be one day. For me, here are three lessons learned over the last decade:
1) The magnitude of the attack and the scope of its impact required a Jesus who was far bigger than any one ministry or personality to heal. It forced the Church to confront the sad reality that we were too disconnected from each other to be a useful partner to our city during a crisis. It’s impossible to mobilize 7,000 churches quickly when they aren’t already connected and coordinated, so the city didn’t call us initially for help. Pastors and church leaders had to repent for being lone rangers and intentionally link arms during the common crisis in order to respond effectively and be Christ to a city that was collectively grieving in unprecedented ways.
2) September 11 also exposed fear and bigotry among many Christians towards our Muslim cousins. Suddenly, many who professed a love for Christ and people were parroting suspicions about our immigrant neighbors and perceiving threats where none existed. The Church had to embrace that Jesus’ imperative to love our neighbors as ourselves includes those individuals and communities we might otherwise fear, and wrestle with how to build bridges during and beyond the crisis.
3) The inertia of normalcy has obscured the need to remain vigilant in nurturing the kind of relationships that build trust across denominations and congregations, and with neighbors regardless of their faith and cultural traditions. My prayer for the Church on this tenth anniversary is that we would recapture what it means to love each other in such a way that the world will know we are His disciples.
To read more about how Jeremy and his father Rev. Richard Del Rio ministered in lower Manhattan post-9/11, go here.
Rev. Dr. DeForest Soaries, Somerset, New Jersey
DeForest “Buster” Soaries is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset, New Jersey, and a pioneer of faith-based community development who has also served as New Jersey Secretary of State and chairman of the United States Election Assistance Commission. On September 11, Rev. Soaries will speak at the September 11th Remembrance Service in Ocean Grove, New Jersey.
I’m not sure the impact was greater in urban areas or not. The short term impact was to motivate people to think more about God, faith, and church. But long term, we have seen a return to a preoccupation with materialism versus a focus on God. The major ministry need that I’ve experienced and seen around the country is a greater need for focus on mental health ministry. We’ve added a full time therapist to our staff.
Black America has historically been the most optimistic and today all of the data describe African Americans as being more optimistic than the general population on the one hand. On the other hand, in terms of concrete expectations, we’re finding that there’s a greater sense of hopelessness and despair. The way that’s related to 9/11 is that prior to 9/11 our culture perceived itself as being almost invulnerable. What 9/11 did was begin a process of perceived vulnerability. After 10 years of being constantly reminded how vulnerable we are, it has begun to affect us emotionally and psychologically. The church has to create the connection for people between our emotional, psychological, and spiritual status.
While 9/11 was a terrorist attack, we’ve also been victims of a global economic meltdown and I would argue that our sense of helplessness in response to the economic meltdown is directly related to the decline in our sense of national self confidence. Prior to 9/11 we had this sense of “we can make it if we try.” In post-9/11 America, we have a sense of “there’s no way out.”
The economic crisis that we’re experiencing is probably more difficult to climb out of emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually then it perhaps would have been before 9/11. In 1987 we had a tremendous stock crash, but the general sense of the country was “we can make it through this.” Then in 2001, we had another traumatic decline in the stock market, but now what we’re finding is that the kind of optimism that would normally accompany economic decline seems to be accompanied by a general sense of pessimistic projection. I think 9/11 was the singular date when we began to question our ability to really manage our circumstances. The challenge of the church is to make the case that our psychological, emotional, and therefore poltical status, hinges on our spiritual strength.
Shane Claiborne, Philadelphia
Shane Claiborne is co-founder of The Simple Way community in Philadelphia, a best-selling author, and a social justice/peace activist. On September 10, he will co-host Jesus, Bombs, & Ice Cream, a 90 minute variety show, with Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream co-founder Ben Cohen in Philadelphia.
My initial thoughts about the impact of 9/11 on urban ministry relate to the increases in military spending where we’re spending like $250,000 a minute. As the country goes bankrupt, it raises all kinds of questions. In our neighborhood, we can really see what Dr. King meant when he said, “Every time a bomb goes off overseas, we can feel the second impact of it right here.” We’ve got thousands and thousands of abandoned houses, a bankrupt school system, folks needing healthcare. The interconnectedness of that is really evident.
In addition, I think that what one veteran from Iraq called the “economic draft” has become a really urgent reality for our kids in the urban neighborhood here, where they’re selectively recruited. The fliers that they give out say, “Everybody told you to go to college. They just didn’t tell you how to get there. Join the Army.”
We have a drop out rate over 40 percent in Philadelphia. At a graduation I attended this year, they said more kids will be going into the military than will be going to college. That really struck me. The post-September 11 military ethos has grown and affected things dramatically.
This year we’ve got a mentoring program called Team Timotheo, where young men are mentored and discipled by older men. It’s a football league that was started by guys in our neighborhood. Part of what we’re trying to do is to teach young people non-violence and out of it, deeply rooted faith in Jesus and the non-violence of the cross. We’ve got a homicide rate that is almost one a day in Philadelphia right now. All of that is very interconnected because we’re trying to teach kids not to hit each other and then they see this mess of redemptive violence kind of perpetuated all over the world after September 11.
There’s a kind of spiritual dimension to it. There’s an economic dimension to it. So those are all things that we’ll be talking about on Saturday. Particularly the testimony of the Iraq veteran, Logan. He’ll be sharing about his collision with the cross and the gun. Terry Rockefeller, whose sister was killed on 9/11, has said there was never a moment when she thought violence would be the answer or would solve the tragedy of September 11. Those are credible, important voices. We planned Jesus, Bombs, and Ice Cream before we realized it was the tenth anniversary of 9/11, but then when we realized it was, we decided that there’s no better way to honor those who died on September 11 and those who are continuing to die now than to try to celebrate the possibilities of another, better world.
*DeForest Soaries’ and Shane Claiborne’s comments were edited for length and clarity. Jeremy DelRio submitted his via email and those were not edited.
Trust is vital to any relationship, but when it comes to funding African American-led urban ministries, it can mean the difference between success and failure. At least that is what Urban Faith heard from several notable leaders who identified lack of trust as a key factor in race-based funding disparities.
Brian Jenkins is director of Entrenuity, a ministry that helps urban youth start their own businesses. Although the organization has been featured on public television and has trained more than 700 adults and 4,000 youth since 1993, Jenkins says, “What I have found is that when it comes to people saying ‘we’re brothers and sisters in Christ,’ that’s fine, but when it comes to supporting my work and me as a minister in Christ, that’s where the breakdown occurs.”
Jenkins (left) was honored to be a presenter at a recent urban-ministry event with an audience of 200, but disheartened to find that he was the only black speaker when every organization there was working with minority populations. He says, “I just felt like, Wow, how can I be the only one here? … I have a directory full of people, you know, good Christian leaders, black men, black women, Latino men, Latino women, yet I was the only one there, and it was so frustrating because their stories weren’t being told, relationships weren’t being created, and the funding kept going to these same [white-led] organizations.”
The event organizer later told Jenkins he was limited by the people he knew. Jenkins responded, “You have to be intentional in finding and creating new relationships and also relationships that you don’t necessarily try to control.” As an independent, free thinking urban leader, he says, “A lot of times when you work with another organization — when you work with anybody — you give part of your freedom up, but what I have found is that some African American men and women who are successful in majority-culture organizations oftentimes have given up some of their cultural identity, and I’ve just refused to do that.”
Mark Soderquist is a Christian philanthropist, urban minister, and a good friend of Jenkins. He sits on several nonprofit boards and has lived and ministered in the predominantly black Chicago neighborhood of North Lawndale for the past 20 years. Jenkins says of Soderquist, “He didn’t come in and try to use his family’s wealth or resources. He came in and served under a church. He didn’t come in starting a ministry; he came in serving.”
As Soderquist (left) talked to ethnic pastors (including his own), he kept hearing things like, “We could use help, but we don’t need another white organization to move in and set up shop and act like we don’t even exist.” It was an education for him. “Here I had grown up in the church outside of a major city, gone to a Christian college, had five years overseas with a great mission organization, got a master’s degree [from Wheaton College] in Intercultural Studies, and none of those experiences challenged me about the issue of race in this country and how it relates to my faith and how it relates to justice.” Soderquist, who serves as U.S. Director of Urban Ministries for International Teams, approached his pastor and elders at Westlawn Gospel Chapel about moving his work under the church’s local leadership. “I was saying the right words,” he says, “but what I didn’t realize at the time was they had very little faith or hope, based on their experience, that I would actually minister under their leadership.”
Fred Smith is founder and president of The Gathering, a group that encourages Christian philanthropy. He has seen similar dynamics in the Dallas area and agrees that lack of trust and latent racism can be factors, but says, “I suspect the predominant cause is a lack of networks that are peer-based.”
Soderquist acknowledges the reality that white-led ministries often have an easier time getting funding than black-led ministries. “It’s like urban ministry’s dirty little secret in that we are often the ones who speak prophetically to the majority culture church about issues of justice and issues of race, and yet we continue to fit into this system where we seem dependent on the white leadership of organizations.” He says it’s a catch-22, because inner-city ministries need resources, but funding more easily flows from white resources to white-led organizations. “There is the issue of contacts and connections at work here,” he says, “but I also believe race is a factor. I believe there still is mistrust of black-led organizations by white funding sources and we don’t openly recognize or acknowledge this since white-led organizations are dependent on those same resources.” (For statistical data on nonprofit funding bias, see the sidebar below.)
Another nationally recognized black ministry leader who asked not to be identified told Urban Faith about the painful experience of having to ask white associates to elicit funds from donors who had turned him down. “At least I was smart enough to say, ‘This is life as it is.’ I could either fight it or take advantage of it.”
After three decades of success, this leader has the clout to court donors independently, but says, “I’m watching 30-year-old white guys … Everyone wants to give them the world, and they haven’t done a thing yet.” His voice trails off. “But I’ve had to build this whole history of successful ministry that goes 30-plus years, and now maybe, maybe somebody might trust me that I might be able to do something constructive on their investment.”
Elmer Jackson sounds a similar note. As the charismatic founder and principal of West Side Christian Academy in Asbury Park, New Jersey, Jackson says, “What I’ve found is that I’ve had to make relationships and show myself faithful. People are looking to see what our end product is.” (Among West Side’s early supporters was musician Bruce Springsteen.) Jackson says he’s had to outperform his white peers in order to secure comparable levels of support, but the former Marine adds, “I’ve been doing that my whole life.”
For all these leaders, race-based funding disparities present a significant spiritual challenge. Though they remain confident that God has called them to their work, they find it difficult to have confidence in the current system. Says Jenkins: “There’s just this lack of trust, and oftentimes I feel that if the body of Christ cannot be representative of a new model, then how will we have any credibility to speak about what the kingdom looks like?”
Nonprofit Funding Bias: The Numbers