Business For Mission as a Model For Church Planting

An Incredible Need

Oftentimes, the strategic church planting areas of greatest missiological need also have the highest cost of living expenses. A recent report by the Housing of Urban Development reveals that the cost of living in cities is becoming astronomically more expensive.  When comparing the cost of living across US counties and cities, the report notes that $117,400 is considered to be low income in San Francisco. While that may be one of the highest rates in North America, the rest of our cities are not far behind.

Many of these densely populated cities with high living expenses have only a fraction of a percent of evangelical presence.  For example, the Salt Lake Metro area is, on average 2.2% evangelical Christian.  Montreal has only 0.7 percent of the population identifying as evangelical; the Quebecois, who are the least-reached people group in North America, are located in this diverse city.  The most expensive places to live have immense needs spiritually and prove to be very strategic mission fields for church planters.  If that is true, how can we afford to send and support planters and missionaries in unreached cities?

To address the spiritual needs and population growth, we need missionaries who make new disciples who are innately starting multiplying churches. Funding church plants solely in traditional ways will fall short of the multiplicative need for healthy, Gospel-centered churches. One answer to this dilemma may be answered in covocational church planting, a term popularized by Brad Brisco. Covocational church planters are called to strategically utilize their job as a missional platform to engage a specific sector of the community while at the same time planting a church.  The profession of covocational planters also provides a financially sustaining model while they plant and pastor churches. Missionaries who already reside in high need areas with high paying jobs make great candidates to be covocational church planters. This avenue is a fantastic model to open the gates a little wider to more church planting. The challenge is to expand the church planting paradigm and shift the collaborative thinking to find and develop new covocational missionaries.

An Answer – Business For Mission

A nuanced option in the covocational stream that is worth exploring is business for mission. Business for mission, or entrepreneurial church planting, is the idea of establishing a business that fuels and sustains the missions endeavor through providing financial support for the missionary, or helps fund the mission in other ways such as meeting space or team member financial support. This could be a church planter who has his own window cleaning business or a planter with a buy low, sell high model who spends his Saturdays going to yard sales and flea markets and sells his purchases to bigger markets on Amazon or Ebay. Business for mission gives a missionary the flexibility to run their business as they see fit with the flexibility of time to use as needed. Business for mission should not be the only church planting model, but it can and should be explored as a valid model to start new churches.

Business As Mission vs Business For Mission

Business as mission should not be confused with business for mission. Business as mission has been around for quite some time with many practitioners outside of North America, often in third world countries. Business as Mission is defined as making “a positive impact through for-profit business, along the ‘quadruple bottom lines’ of people, planet, profit, and eternal purpose” (http://businessasmission.com/get-started/#tab-id-1). The mission and the business are linked in such a way that the business should help the local economy, hire locals with good wages, build trust in a community, and see the community reached with the Gospel.

While a business for mission approach can do the above things, the primary purpose is to fuel the mission financially as a means of sustainability. This approach is presupposing those in this model will already have a good understanding of mission and being a missionary. Business for mission could also be a business with the goal of hiring and training missionaries in a new trade.

Benefits of Business For Mission

The beauty of a planter with his own business is that he can be free from the constraints of a traditional time for dollars job where money is traded for his time following his employer’s wishes. While owning and starting a business is difficult and time-consuming work, a business owner is not limited by an arbitrary wage cap set by an outside entity. Profit can grow, and the owner can use the profit intentionally to support himself and the mission.

Business for mission allows a missionary more freedom and flexibility with his time. For instance, a web developer in New York City has clients all over the world. He works from home or his favorite coffee shop building web apps throughout the day whenever he wants. He skypes in the developers he has working underneath him on Monday nights to talk through current projects. His job allows him the flexibility to drop his kids off at school in the morning, grab lunch with a new friend, and invest in intense spiritual conversations at the local the coffee shop with those he is engaging. Due to the growing demands in web development, his business has been good. In fact, good enough to afford him an apartment in Manhattan.

Biblical Precedent

In Acts 18, Luke introduces us to Priscilla and Aquila, two tentmakers, or possibly two leatherworkers that Paul meets on his journey. While it is unclear in the text exactly the connection of their working relationship, it is clear that God uses tentmaking to facilitate disciple making all throughout the known world. Priscilla and Aquila were refugees, but they were tradesmen using their occupation to put food on the table. At the end of Acts 18, Priscilla and Aquila become Paul’s traveling companions to Syria, Ephesus, and Antioch. In Romans 16:3-5, Paul calls them “his fellow workers in Christ Jesus who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well. Greet also the church in their house.” It’s quite plausible that Priscilla and Aquila settled in Ephesus where they continued to plant churches. While we don’t have much info on this power couple, it is quite possible that their business fueled their travel across the known world and allowed them to settle where the mission needed. Their business provided for their mission and allowed them to meet many people along the way even through their trade.

Even Paul is careful when he would take money from churches and when he would not. Second Corinthians 11:7 says, “Or did I commit a sin in humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached God’s gospel to you free of charge?” Paul realized in Corinth that taking money from the Corinthians endangered their growth in discipleship by enlarging their egos. In First Thessalonians 2:9, Paul says, “For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.” Working, presumably in his leatherworking business, provided the Thessalonians a good example to remember and follow for their growth. Paul saw the idolatry that his congregations faced when it came to money and used his financial model to help the people grow in their walks with Christ.

Action Steps For Networks and Church Planting Leaders

Business for mission has been happening for a while. Most have simply referred to it as bivocational work, but I believe it has the potential to exponentially expand Kingdom impact in North America. Here are a few things we can start today in exploring this model.

  1. Celebrate Those Already Doing It!  Find and celebrate those using this model already in your areas of influence.  You may have missionpreneurs, or business for mission practitioners, already in your area of influence. Ask around and find out who they are and what they do. Work with them to encourage them and to learn from them. They may be the key to the next generation of business for mission church planters.
  2. Utilize Businessmen and Businesswomen For the Kingdom. One of the most underutilized groups of people in the church is business people. A business for mission model can mobilize business people like no other church planting model. Professional business men and women can be approached for their savvy in turning a profit, and they have resources available to invest. Imagine a network of these high-powered entrepreneurs in the corner of our missionaries looking for ways to help them develop streams of income to continue and further the mission.
  3. Learn About New Marketplaces and Creative New Business Approaches.  The internet has opened up a world of opportunity and business growth. Entrepreneurs are making money on online courses, retail arbitrage, dropshipping products, web services, and many more ideas. Business savvy missionaries can also utilize these approaches, redeeming them to create profit to fuel the mission.

 

For further information on planting in the marketplace, check out Brad Brisco’s FREE COVOCATIONAL CHURCH PLANTING EBOOK!

Bobby Wood
Author

Bobby is a Church Planting Catalyst for the North American Mission Board in Salt Lake City and southwestern Utah. He is currently pursuing a DMin at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary writing a research project on the concept of business for mission. He lives in Ogden, Utah, is married to his wife Lindsay, and has four children.

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