Reimagining Our Resources: Ready, Set, Go
Reimagining Our Resources: Ready, Set, Go
Written By: Elizabeth Lynn
In the anxious spring of 2020, as this nation and globe navigated rough seas of uncertainty, Lake Institute surveyed you, dear Insights readers. Among other things, we asked you to look ahead. What did you hope would be happening in your organization in a year’s time?
Responding to this question, nearly 30 percent of respondents hoped for stability and a return to known patterns of work. However, a majority also expressed hope for some kind of lasting change—either a reset, significant growth, or meaningful innovation. In other words, despite immediate challenges, many of you felt hopeful that positive new possibilities and directions would emerge from the crisis.
Fast forward (please!!) to spring 2021. Again, we surveyed you, dear readers, asking for your sense of the year ahead.
What we heard, quite strikingly, was that the time for reset has arrived.
Many leaders who responded to our spring 2021 survey are prioritizing strategic thinking and planning, grounded in mission and purpose, and strongly oriented toward addressing needs in their communities. Most significantly, they are ready to focus on repurposing existing resources to produce a more streamlined and sustainable future to serve those goals. They want to think more broadly and imaginatively about the kinds of resources they have, and how those resources might be best used to serve their communities, repair past injustices, and build a better world.
Another way of putting this important point is to say that faith-related organizations are seeking new models for mission and ministry within local and institutional ecosystems.
As leaders of congregations and other faith-related organizations enter this moment of reset and re-imagination, they are asking questions and looking for help. How do we start a conversation in our congregation about the use of our endowments or our aging buildings? Are there stories or case studies to help us explore what we might do in partnership with other congregations or non-profits to address our community’s crisis in affordable housing? What would it mean to invest our endowment for social impact? What is the difference between a gift and a micro-loan, and which best fits our mission? How can we more creatively deploy assets and build partnerships for ministry to our community? What have other congregations done that might spark our imagination?
The questions multiply. So do the opportunities. A range of organizations and coalitions are mobilizing to help congregations, especially, to engage hopefully with this moment. To name a few:
- The S4 Program, a partnership between Bricks and Mortals, Hartford Seminary, and Partners for Sacred Places, will organize and guide congregational cohorts in Chicago, IL, Long Beach, CA, New York City, NY, New Orleans, LA, and Pittsburgh, PA through a learning process focused on “sustainable solutions for sacred sites” (hence the S4).
- The Ormond Center at Duke Divinity is creating a Congregational Social Entrepreneurship Field Guide (expected in Fall 2021), offering practical, theological, and evidence-based tools for thinking about and implementing ministries that could expand a congregation’s outreach and produce income.
- The Oikos Institute for Social Impact is partnering with seminaries, universities, foundations, government agencies and denominational judicatories to help congregations harness the power of their assets to be a catalyst for communal transformation and economic renewal.
- RootedGood, a social innovation organization, is creating tools and games to help congregations implement design thinking, produce creative ideas, launch new ventures, generate revenue consistent with mission, measure impact, and more.
- Mark Elsdon (a co-founder of RootedGood) has just published a compelling new book, We Aren’t Broke: Uncovering Hidden Resources for Mission and Ministry. (See below in our Expanded Perspective for a Q and A with the author.)
- And last but surely closest to home, Lake Institute has launched Shifting Ground, a three-year initiative to develop research and conversational resources that can help religious and philanthropic leaders attend to the changing landscape of faith, giving, and community.
Today we at Lake Institute are especially pleased to announce the debut of Let’s Talk about Resources, a free tool to facilitate creative conversations about how congregations can use their resources in service to their local community. Co-created by Shifting Ground and RootedGood, Let’s Talk about Resources uses case studies, games, and reflective small group conversation to spark new imagination and action. Scroll down here to download the tool in two different versions—one for clergy cohorts and another for congregational teams—along with tailored facilitation guides.
The time for reset has arrived. Ready, re-set …. go.
We Aren’t Broke: Q&A with author, Mark Elsdon
Who is this book written for?
We Aren’t Broke is written for anyone who is concerned about money and mission in the church as well as anyone who desires to think critically and creatively about the impact that investment and property assets have in the world.
This includes pastors, church members, investment professionals, denominational leaders, seminary students, or anyone interested in the role money plays in mission and ministry. Individuals unaffiliated with a faith tradition are also finding the book helpful as it raises important questions about money and meaning.
What are the hidden resources you want to help religious leaders and organizations recover for mission and ministry?
If we re-examine our perceived limits and our assumptions about how resources are supposed to be used, then something remarkable and beautiful comes into view: we aren’t broke at all but have enormous resources at our disposal. Church and missional organizations nationwide own billions of dollars of prime property and investment assets, which, when combined with social enterprise and new expressions of mission, can be put to work for innovation and transformation. And these resources are often available to us right now.
Why are they hidden at all?
They aren’t really! We too often silo our money and our mission. We keep them apart from one another. We typically invest billions of dollars of accumulated wealth across the church solely to maximize financial return. And we use church property either for church program activities OR sell them to the highest bidder. But both invested assets and property are hiding in plain sight for us to use differently. These “hidden” resources can be put to active use for mission activity AND to generate sustainable revenue.
What is one fundamental shift you encourage churches and missional organizations to make? What would change if they acted on your advice?
Imagine if every church-related organization took just 10% of its endowment out of the stock market and invested it in social entrepreneurs making a difference in the world. That would lead to hundreds of millions of dollars at work directly transforming lives rather than funding the development of the next Alexa enabled device or expansion of Facebook.
Or imagine if every church building that will be sold in the next 5 years (which unfortunately, will be many) is considered as a site for affordable housing, a grocery co-op, a community center, or some other social enterprise. That would continue the legacy of churches serving as anchor institutions for good in neighborhoods all over the country.
To me the message of We Aren’t Broke is one of hope, imagination, and promise. Despite decline in some traditional measures of church strength we are not broke. The church owns enormous capital wealth lent to us by God to do God’s work in the world. If even a few institutions, churches, and people shift some of their investment assets into missional and impact activity as a result of reading this book we will change lives.
How might a congregation use your book?
Congregations are using the book in a small group discussion or church-wide visioning for the future as they think about how to serve their neighbors, fund their ministry, and use their buildings. Some are using it this fall as a study guide in preparation for thinking about economic justice during Advent. The book contains a discussion guide with reflection questions to spark good conversation on these important subjects. I am offering to drop in (via Zoom) to the final meeting with any group that uses the book for a discussion group.
Mark Elsdon lives and works at the intersection of money and meaning as an entrepreneur, pastor, consultant, and speaker. He is cofounder of RootedGood, which seeks to create more good in the world through social innovation; executive director at Pres House on the University of Wisconsin’s Madison campus; and owner of Elsdon Strategic Consulting. Mark is president of the board of directors of Working Capital for Community Needs (WCCN) an impact investing fund that provides micro-finance for the working poor in Latin America. Mark can be reached via his website, melsdon.com.
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