Why Startups Matter

Continuing on my “Startup” series, here’s my article from the March 2015 issue of Christian Computing.

Last month I started a new series titled “Startup.”  In that first column I defined what I mean by “a startup.” This month I’ll discuss why Christian Computing readers should really care about startups.  Starting next issue I’ll take a couple of months to discuss the latest thinking on how to successfully launch a startup.  After that we’ll consider specific Christian startups (within the church and outside the church), hopefully with meaningful application to your work.

Last month I talked through different aspects of the definition of a startup, but I didn’t provide a concise definition that we can use for our purposes in this series.  To correct that oversight, I’d like to use a slightly modified version of Neil Blumenthal’s definition: A startup is a new venture working to solve a problem where the solution is not obvious and success is not guaranteed.

Many people care about startups, and for good reason.  It has long been recognized that small businesses are the drivers of economic growth and job creation, but recent analysis has actually shown that “young” businesses (i.e. startups) create virtually all net new jobs in the United States.

Should Churches Care About Startups?

That’s an interesting statistic, and I guess that economic growth and job creation are important to churches for the secondary benefits that the church can enjoy.  But do startups have any direct impact on churches and the work of the church?  I would argue that the answer is “yes” and I can see strong evidence in the realities of our local churches, in the work of missionaries around the world, and in the church’s own “startup” activities.

According to a recent article in Christian Media Magazine, the number of bi-vocational ministers is approaching one-third of all ministers.  In some denominations, the numbers are much higher, with 75% of Baptist churches having fewer than 100 members, and 40% of ministers in the Nazarene Church being bi-vocational.  This fact has led the Nazarene Theological Seminary in Kansas City to add entrepreneurism to it’s curriculum.  The school has recently been certified to offer the Kauffman Foundation’s FastTrac NewVenture program.

“Many of our graduates are likely to find that they need to have a second source of income as they begin their ministry career,” shares Chet Decker, Dean of Administration and Student Services for Nazarene Theological Seminary.  “Their strong desire is to be able to have their second career as aligned as possible with their ministry focus.  Starting a business provides the freedom to do just that.”

There are two basic models for funding Gospel missionaries around the world.  The one that is most common and most visible to Americans is where the missionary is financially supported by others who feel called to participate in the ministry by praying for, encouraging, and providing funding for the work.  We see this model in the Bible (e.g. Philippians 4:14-15) and it still works today.

“Another model for fulfilling the Great Commission is the tentmaking model that the Apostle Paul exemplified,” asserts Jason Fisher.  Jason should know; he is a co-founder and CEO of Cornerstone Technologies International in Romania and a co-founder and investor in Highland Harvesters in Ethiopia.  He also recently completed his Masters of Divinity at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Memphis.  “Tentmakers can have a tremendous impact on the country where they serve.  As successful businessmen, they have credibility with the locals and often have access to the true leaders in the country.  God can use their business success to open many doors that are closed to other missionaries.”  For tentmakers like Jason, tentmaking is a term reserved for those using their business as a platform for taking the Gospel to the nations.  Often, but not always, this is a new business.

Finally, I think it’s important to recognize how many activities in the church today are actually startup activities.  A church plant is often referred to as a “startup” church for good reason.  It is a “new venture working to solve a problem (the need for a strong gospel presence in a specific location) where the solution is not obvious (how to reach that local community) and success is not guaranteed.”  Launching any new ministry will face many of the same challenges as launching a new business and the process lessons that have been learned around successfully launching startup businesses should not be ignored by the church.

“When we moved to Manhattan, Kansas, I had some ideas from others who had started new campus ministries, but there were a lot more unknowns than knowns,” shares Rev. Jon Dunning who has spent the past couple of years establishing a new Reformed University Fellowship ministry on the Kansas State University campus and helping plant a new PCA church in Manhattan. “We’re learning to see that we don’t know what we don’t know.  We’re taking the time to get to know the campus, it’s traditions, and patterns in order to serve effectively here.  What ‘works’ on one campus, in one part of the country doesn’t necessarily work everywhere.  The confidence we have is that this is God’s campus in His world, and He is at work.”

With that as encouragement, I hope that this series will prove beneficial to you and that you will see yourself as an entrepreneur pursuing new ventures for the glory of God!

Titus 3:14 tells us “And let our people also learn to maintain good works, to meet urgent needs, that they may not be unfruitful.”  It is my hope and prayer that these articles will help you be fruitful to the glory of God.

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