LOUISVILLE – What are the similarities and differences between the church and the business worlds?
What are some of the qualities of a church entrepreneur?
Lynn Youngs, director of the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, raised those questions during a presentation Oct. 1 at the Fall Polity Conference, the annual gathering for stated clerks and executives of mid-councils in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A).
He spoke, among other things, about the importance of failure as a tool for learning. If you want to succeed, Youngs suggested, double your failure rate.
Some of these church leaders have already learned a lot about that.
Bobbi White, general presbyter of the Presbytery of Western North Carolina, told of a group of churches that got together some years ago in her region and decided to start a bilingual Spanish-English worship service, hoping to do ministry with Hispanic immigrants. “For six weeks, they scheduled it and no one came,” White said. “I think that would be a good definition of failure.”
So they cancelled the worship service and decided to try holding a bilingual Vacation Bible School in a nearby trailer park. Children did show up for that – and their parents helped the church people figure out what the real ministry needs were. More Vacation Bible Schools and English as a Second Language programs were organized, and in time a Hispanic worshipping community emerged.
“The success came from the failure,” White said.
A business term for that readjustment is “pivoting,” Youngs said. “If you’re going down a path and it’s not working, then you pivot.”
Several mid-council executives described the approaches being taken in their regions to encourage creativity and innovation – including providing resources and support to those wanting to pursue new initiatives, sometimes with funding from congregations that have closed. Pittsburgh Presbytery, for example, created a commission to support church planting – with an energy for new ideas and the power to say “yes,” said Doug Portz, associate pastor to the presbytery.
Central Florida Presbytery has created a climate “where people can dream,” said Dan Williams, the presbytery’s transitional executive presbyter and stated clerk.
Some pointed to peculiarities of how the church does business. “It takes forever to get something done in the church,” said Fred Feth, stated clerk of the Presbytery of Wyoming. Some also speculated that the church might have different ideas of what constitutes success than does the secular or business world. Jesus was crucified – an ending that most likely seemed like a failure at the time, said Jose Luis Casal, general missioner of Tres Rios Presbytery in Texas. “Faithful is the way to be successful in the risen church,” Casal said.
He also asked: “What is the meaning of success or failure in the Bible? – answering that it might be like upside-down cake, flipped from the definitions others might use.