Entrepreneurial Church Planting: A Missional Approach to Engage the Marketplace

By W. Jay Moon

Marketplace as Missional Context

“Welcome to life on the fastest growing mission field in the world:  North America,” proclaimed Timothy Tennent, President of Asbury Theological Seminary, to incoming seminary students in 2016.[1] This proclamation recognizes that the Western church can no longer do “business as usual” as we move forward in the twenty-first century. While in previous generations the church was often considered to be a benevolent organization in the center of culture (like a chaplain of society), the Western church now finds herself marginalized and losing her public voice in the wider culture with decreasing church attendance in successive generations.

Entrepreneurial church planters, however, are creatively entering this mission field by engaging and gathering communities of faith in the marketplace. These missional entrepreneurs leverage the networking and value creation provided by businesses in order to form communities of Christ followers among unchurched people.

These entrepreneurial church planters are asking different questions, which leads them to innovative church planting approaches.

Guiding Questions

In the past, churches would often respond to decreasing church attendance by providing three responses: better preaching, better facilities, and more programs. While these have been good and needful interventions in the past, entrepreneurial church planters wrestle with a larger and more fundamental question,

  1. “If large segments of the population (such as millennials) will not come to the existing churches, no matter how excellent the preaching, building, or programs, then what entrepreneurial approaches can be used to reach them?”

In other words, the church cannot assume that the post-Christian population will enter our traditional church buildings. As a result, church planters need to consider creative venues outside the normal walls of the church buildings. Chris Sorenson is an example of an entrepreneurial church planter in Chattanooga, TN.[2]

The Camp House is a coffee shop and café that serves high-quality coffee and food throughout the day. On the summer night that I visited, the Camp House advertised daily evening entertainment with a cover charge. Seated at one of the tables scattered throughout the building on a Saturday evening, I enjoyed local musicians along with 50-75 others, largely millennials. The lighting near the coffee bar reflected a more contemporary appeal while the lighting and artwork became more “ancient” as one moved closer to the stage that displayed a Byzantine mosaic in the background. This artistic expression of the “ancient-future” church motivated Chris and the church planting team. On Sunday morning, the tables were moved to the side, and rows of chairs were arranged to accommodate roughly 150 people for the Anglican worship service. This church plant has now replicated itself in two other coffee shops in Chattanooga with further expansion plans already in the works.[3]

In the past, perhaps churches have been planted in venues that are too limited in their ability to connect with people in their daily patterns of life and work, much like how the bonsai tree is limited in its growth. A bonsai tree that was planted over 50 years ago will often have a thick trunk and knotted branches with a full display of leaves. Normally, families would enjoy having a picnic under the shade of a 50-year-old tree. What is unique about the bonsai tree, however, is that the treetop only rises knee high. Standing at slightly over two feet high, the bonsai tree looks just like an ordinary tree except for its unusually small size.[4] What has limited the growth of this tree that would normally tower over a five-story building? The small container is the culprit since it stifles the roots, thereby restricting tree growth to a fraction of its normal size.

Is it possible that church planters are planting churches in containers that are too restricted?

Are we limiting the multiplication of churches by limiting the locations where they are planted; i.e., churches are often planted in separate buildings that are disengaged from the daily patterns of life and work. Especially since the industrial revolution, separate spaces have been designated for home, work, and worship. For someone to come worship at church then, they would have to intentionally leave work and home activities and enter a separate building once or twice a week. Is this restricted venue unintentionally stifling the outreach of the church?[5]

This leads to the second question that entrepreneurial church planters ask:

  1. “Where are these unchurched people already gathering in the marketplace or what type of business ventures would draw them?”

Entrepreneurial church planters attempt to break out of restricted containers by planting churches in the marketplace as a means to engage those who are outside the church walls. For example, instead of asking millennials to leave their normal gathering locations such as coffee shops, cafes, pizza parlors, malls, movie theaters, etc., why not plant churches in these very venues? If these businesses do not exist, why not start a business that also serves as a venue for a church plant? Entrepreneurs recognize the capacity of business to develop networks through their value proposition. Church planters, like Shawn Mikshl in Nicholasville, KY, leverage this capacity in order to locate churches inside these businesses.

Mikschl intentionally works alongside fellow servers, waiters, and waitresses at a local restaurant in order to understand them through authentic relationships that form through working together. What is unique is that his church meets at 11 PM on Thursday evening since this is the time that they get off work and are available to gather. What is even more intriguing is that the church meets at a local bar since previous venues did not prove to be appealing in the past (including Mikschl’s own home). While this group has varied in attendance, about 15 people regularly gather for prayer, worship, and Scripture teaching.

After considering the first two questions, the third question readily follows:

  1. “How can entrepreneurs form communities of Christ followers in the marketplace through Christ-honoring business ventures?”

Instead of shying away from business, entrepreneurial church planters recognize the synergy that can be developed between a business and a church plant. While not being naïve about the potential for harm in business, Willard described the tremendous kingdom potential through business that is done with integrity, honesty, and transparency,

[L]ocal business people may be farther ahead in the ways of the kingdom than those leading a local church. Business is an amazingly effective means of delivering God’s love to the world by loving, serving, and providing for one another. God loves the world (John 3:16), and because he does, he has arranged the enterprise and organization of business as a primary moving force to demonstrate this love throughout human history. Thus, the field of business and its unique knowledge fall perfectly into what can and should be understood as an essential realm of human activity that can and must come under the influence and control of God’s benevolent reign.[6]

To neglect the marketplace then is to overlook a missional opportunity in a vital sector of society.

Following the above questions, a few clarifying definitions can be offered.

Definition of Entrepreneurial Church Planting

Entrepreneurial Church Planting (ECP) is defined as: Entrepreneurial approaches to form communities of Christ followers among unchurched people through businesses in the marketplace. ECP addresses the need to engage public society through the marketplace via entrepreneurial means. Such entrepreneurial church planters either start new businesses or work within existing businesses to plant churches in business venues. While many traditional church planters were reluctant to combine entrepreneurship and church planting, entrepreneurial church planters are eager to combine the two in order to realize the synergy gained by joining forces.[7]

The marketplace is used as a broad term to describe the network of relationships whereby people exchange value with one another. Businesses often have a network of relationships that form as a result of their supply chains and their distribution networks. Instead of regarding these networks as simply secular venues, entrepreneurial church planters regard these relationships as fertile soil for church planting. This is not necessarily easy work, but it is missional and vital from the perspective of the missio Dei. The need for ECP, then, is rooted directly in the mission of God to redeem humanity.

Last Thoughts

Due to the missional context that the North American church now finds herself, entrepreneurial church planters are engaging the marketplace as a mission field. After serving the Anglican Church in the UK for many years, retired Bishop Graham Cray concluded, “The long-established ways of doing church are working less and less.”[8] He recognized that innovative approaches for church planting, including those in the marketplace, are needed to stem the decline of the church’s influence in the Western world.

In true entrepreneurial fashion, I will conclude with some questions for further exploration:

  1. What business talents are there in your church that are not being fully stewarded for church planting? Accountants, lawyers, marketers, financial managers, etc. can serve vital roles in ECP. For the first time, perhaps, these “secular” workers may realize that their work really matters to God.
  2. Who are the entrepreneurs in your church? How could these entrepreneurs be missionally engaged to reach the unchurched in the marketplace?
  3. What historical and contemporary examples can you learn from? In addition to Chris and Shawn mentioned above, you may be surprised at the number of historical and contemporary examples of ECP (e.g., Celtic missionaries (6th century), Benedictines (7th century), Nestorians (7th century), Martin Luther (16th century), Matteo Ricci (17th century), Moravians (18th century), John Wesley (18th century), Hans Nielsen Hauge (19th century), to name a few).

For further exploration on this topic, check out Jay’s recent book providing biblical, theological, and historical roots of Entrepreneurial Church Planting (ECP), as well as contemporary examples, paradigms, and approaches to get started with ECP: Entrepreneurial Church Planting: Innovative Approaches to Engage the Marketplace.

 

[1] Timothy C. Tennent, “Homiletical Theology” (Opening Convocation Address, Asbury Theological Seminary, September 2016), http://timothytennent.com/2016/09/13/my-2016-opening-convocation-address-homiletical-theology/.
[2] For more information, see http://thecamphouse.com/
[3] http://mchatt.org/
[4] For a colorful portrayal of the beauty of bonsai trees, see: http://www.bonsaiempire.com/blog/bonsai-movie
[5] A similar argument is made in: Ken Hemphill and Kenneth Priest, Bonsai Theory of Church Growth, Revised and Expanded ed. (Tigerville, SC: Auxano Press, 2011).
[6] Ibid., 203.
[7] The author still affirms the value and need for traditional approaches to church planting. This as a “both/and” instead of an “either/or” in order to reach various groups of people.
[8] Personal conversation with the author and Graham Cray in York, England in January, 2017.

Other references:

  • Hemphill, Ken, and Kenneth Priest. Bonsai Theory of Church Growth. Revised and Expanded edition. Tigerville, SC: Auxano Press, 2011.
  • Tennent, Timothy. “Homiletical Theology.” Opening Convocation Address, Asbury Theological Seminary, September 2016. http://timothytennent.com/2016/09/13/my-2016-opening-convocation-address-homiletical-theology/.
  • Willard, Dallas, and Gary Black Jr. The Divine Conspiracy Continued: Fulfilling God’s Kingdom on Earth. New York: Harper One, 2014.
Jay Moon
Author

Jay Moon served 13 years as a missionary with SIM, largely in Ghana, West Africa among the Builsa people focusing on church planting and water development, along with his wife and four children. He is presently a Professor of Evangelism & Church Planting and Director of the Office of Faith, Work, and Economics at Asbury Theological Seminary. He authored three books, including Intercultural Discipleship: Learning from Global Approaches to Spiritual Formation in the Encountering Mission Series by Baker Academic.

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