On entrepreneurial models of ministries

The past two decades have seen a big shift in how churches "do church." Because of demographic changes and cultural shifts, many historical churches and megachurches alike have reorganized, downsized, or reimagined themselves. Some of such congregations have opened up their buildings as "community commons" and offer many different kinds of services that appeal to the local residents. An increasing number of pastors are now bi-vocational. Some churches support themselves through their for-profit business arms.

A model of a church as a non-profit corporation with its senior minister as its executive director, once mainstream, is beginning to go out of fashion just as ossified denominational bureaucracies have failed to adapt to the contemporary realities. The disruption caused by COVID-19 for nearly two years only has forced many churches and ministries to innovate and evolve.

Mind Geographic has adopted an entrepreneurial model of ministry. The fee-based spiritual direction practice operates as a for-profit, sole proprietor business. The revenues from this supports me as well as to raise funds that can be used to further the ecclesiastical missions of The Expeditioners' Church Global (ECG).

As a digital-first, borderless spiritual community, ECG will operate as a "free church" with a leadership that will be decentralized over time.

These models allow for a maximum flexibility and minimum bureaucracy, able to adapt to the ever-changing world and to diverse cultures.

Why an entrepreneurial model is important for the neurodiverse community

In modern mainstream Western religions, including Christianity and Judaism, ministers have been expected to act both as a spiritual leader of a faith community and an executive director of a non-profit religious corporation. As such, most seminaries and ministry schools often require their students on the ordination track to develop skills as a career nonprofit executive. While such curricula are designed with good intentions, they unwittingly exclude neurodivergent people who may otherwise be great spiritual leaders, teachers, or ministers.

Being a corporate executive in the neurotypical world is challenging enough for neurotypical folks, let alone for autistic and other neurodiverse individuals.

Personally I have met several autistic individuals who were interested in pursuing ordination in a mainstream denomination such as the Episcopal Church or the United Methodist Church but had to give up because of this.

An alternative model of ministries and "doing church" in a less corporate, less bureaucratic, more relational, and more entrepreneurial manner not only serves this community better but also a return to the pre-Constantine ecclesiology.

Another reason for this is for financial sustainability. In a marginalized community with an extremely high unemployment rate, ministries cannot depend solely on donations (or else, potentially compromising our integrity by receiving outside grants with lots of strings attached). In fact, very few churches today rely entirely on tithes and offerings from congregants. Most historical mainline Protestant churches in major city centers sustain themselves financially by capitalizing on the prime real estates they own. Other churches often rent out event spaces and office rooms to outside organizations. A few but an increasing number of churches are becoming more entrepreneurial: for example, The Oregon Community (an Assemblies of God church in Portland, Oregon) owns and operates a for-profit pub and event venue business and in turn use the event hall for worship services. Another Portland area church (formerly affiliated with the Church of the Nazarene) owns several for-profit business enterprises (a construction company, a whitewater rafting company, a coffee shop, and a cigar store) to create employment for church members and to raise funds for the church.

Responding to some concerns

Wouldn't this entrepreneurial model of ministries turn your church into what Jesus condemned as "a den of thieves"? Will this become classist, in which only people with money matter?

In Matthew 21:13-14, there is a story of enraged Jesus throwing out merchants who set up shop in the outer court of the temple. These merchants were selling doves (required for offering a sacrifice) and exchanging Roman coins for the official temple half-shekel coins. In other words, worshipers were required to buy from them if they were to approach what they believed was where God dwelled. The underlying theme here was that these merchants were ripping off the pilgrims, selling doves and coins at a huge markup taking advantage of the location and preying on potentially desperate and vulnerable people in need of God.

The entrepreneurial model I propose maintains a separation between the fee-based services and the church activities. No one is required to be my client in order to join the church, and no client is required to join the church either. Nobody is required to pay to join the church. The Expeditioners Church is being formed as a way to respond to the needs of neurodivergent people who may prefer to have an alternative spiritual community; I do not for a moment believe that all neurodivergent people I come in contact with should join this church -- many are already part of another established congregation, and if they are happy with their own churches they should remain there.

I know of too many 501(c)(3) non-profit churches that pressure their congregants to pay for various classes (sometimes even membership classes!) or pressure them to go to a retreat that costs them hundreds of dollars to attend. That I think is classist. I try to ensure that everything I offer is equitable and accessible to everyone, though many challenges do exist (for example, broadband internet connections may be inaccessible or limited to houseless folks -- this means that in addition to streaming I would need to create low-grade MP3 files that can quickly be downloaded at a library, so they can listen to the service even without a live internet connection). And even for the fee-based services, as you see on the fee chart, equity is built in to the prices.