My friend and colleague Pastor Amy Butler and I are working on the investment thesis of a fund that Faith+Finance parent company GatherLab is helping to form. It’s called, appropriately enough, Invested Faith.
As some but not all of our readers will know, an investment thesis guides a fund manager both in selecting which companies to support as well as convincing fellow investors of the value of contributing to the fund.
Amy is inviting her extended network to send her stories of entrepreneurs doing work that doesn’t just accomplish social good, but actually contributes to changing socially unjust systems.
Within that baseline assumption of a bias for system change, I am starting to drill down a bit, helping make this objective more specific and concrete. We will be asking a set of questions designed to find out which among the enterprises we identify best fits our goal.
Amy is, of course, a pastor, and the backdrop for some of these questions is the need to reckon with church assets in transition. We’re seeing major generational and institutional transitions take place as big donors move off stage and younger donors don’t give in the same way. Asking (fewer) younger members to pay to keep the lights on and keep the staff employed is proving harder than it was even just ten years ago.
The old way isn’t working: old models of running yearly stewardship campaigns among dwindling congregations, old approaches to cautious endowments that are not invested with an eye toward expanding the mission and impact of the church.
Why invest for self-perpetuation while the institution itself is in an existential crisis?
We need a narrative of hope that helps us to see the abundant resources that are ours to steward and God’s invitation to join in the work God is doing in the world – work that is not dead, but is bringing about healing and restoration of all things and a fullness of life often beyond the walls of the Church.
Many of our young leaders understand this, which is why, tragically, some of the brightest and most innovative, theologically-trained world changers are abandoning stained-glass walls and finding their vocations in their communities: launching social enterprises, creating alternative economies, and innovating in contexts beyond the institutional Church.
This movement can still be an opportunity for faith communities if they listen, respond, partner, take some risks.
As a participant in this movement, Invested Faith will be looking at companies that help create the best outcome for church assets, the communities stewarding them, and the priorities of the gospel.
As an experienced fund creator and business journalist, here is my first pass at some of the questions we’ll be considering along the way (of course, not every idea will try to tackle each of these priorities):
1. How does this idea/company change a system, rather than replicate what’s already been done?
2. How does it make the physical infrastructure of the church more economically viable, either through saving money or creating earned revenue?
3. How does it use the external property of the church: the grounds, the roof, the kitchen, the meeting, the worship space?
4. How does it help to pay the salary of ministerial staff? Other staff salaries?
5. How does it create greater cohesion and connection within the congregation?
6. How does it better connect the congregation to its local community?
7. Does it justly impact economic structures? Does it consider the question of reparations for the church’s role in slavery and the treatment of indigenous peoples?
8. Does it help mitigate climate change? Help bring about climate justice?
9 Does it connect to the participating congregations’ understanding of their missions?
10. Does it use the collective power of the congregations’ members and allies to cut costs or create revenue (such as churches as buying clubs, members investing in members’ housing through a coop, etc.)?
11. Does it have a connection to Jubilee? Is it free of usury, or does it use interest in its local investing? (Usury puts an extra thumb on the scales to the benefit of people and institutions who already have money, versus people who work for a living.)
That’s a start. The essentials, as I see them, are four questions:
Are these potential investee companies…
A. making a local church economically viable?
B. making clergy and other staff economically viable?
C. connecting the members and helping them become interdependent around an abundance model? and
D. connecting the church to its local community?
Invested Faith will be ready to tell its story at Faith+Finance: Reimagining God’s Economy, May 18-20 in San Antonio. Join us there—and consider becoming a part of its story. In the meantime, you can contact Amy at Amy@investedfaith.org.