Culture Topics

The Future of Adventism is for Entrepreneurs

January 28, 2018

If your mindset set is on preserving our church organization as it currently stands, your days are numbered.

I’m not referring to theology, I’m referring to the way we think and act methodologically in order to fulfill the Great Commission.

Entrepreneurs have a certain way of thinking and acting which can actually benefit the way we intersect our mission with methods. Hopefully, by the time we get to the end, you’ll think so too.

1. Entrepreneurs can read the cultural landscape.

When starting a new business, a good entrepreneur knows that you first need a quality product. Then you have to consider the market to see if your product meets a need or has a demand. Next, you have to identify your market niche and formalize a strategy to reach that niche. As the market changes, you may realize the need to adjust your strategy to maintain product marketability.

A failure to understand and adapt to changing market trends is the fastest way to go out of business. See Kodak, Blockbuster, and Sears for examples. In Adventism, there is no better case study to look at than the Review and Herald.

The last ten years have seen a seismic shift in the way people absorb and distribute information. The advent of the digital market with the e-reader, audiobooks, YouTube, and blogs, has changed the nature of the game completely. Then comes the fact that it has never been easier and more affordable to be an author by releasing an e-book or self-publishing and you virtually eliminate the need for large publishing companies.

Other ministries that are on the endangered species list are literature evangelism and Adventist Book Centers that primarily sell physical books.

For conference literature evangelist, book stores, and publishing houses that still hope to be around ten years from now, the answer should not be to blame the market for changing any more than Kodak complained when polaroids were quickly fading away. The overall strategy need to be rethought.

Again, we can’t blame culture for doing what it does. There is an aspect of running a functioning church that is similar to a business. David Franklin once said, “the church is the only business on the planet the blames the customer for not reacting to its marketing strategy in the way that it wishes.” If your outcome isn’t what you expect, it’s time to rethink your strategy.

Note that this has nothing to do with our theology and everything to do with cultural awareness. It has everything to do with the way you package and market material that could positively impact someone in this life and the next.

2. Entrepreneurs aren’t afraid to change methods to reach their audience.

Innovation usually makes waves and opens the door to criticism. It comes with the territory.

As times changes, methods must change, and throughout our church’s history, some of our most innovative leaders have understood this. HMS Richards received his share with accusations that he had succumbed to entertainment by using the “devil’s tool” (radio) to reach the people of Los Angeles in the 30s.

In the 50s, the people who made felt boards were ahead of their time. They incorporated contemporary fashion styles (for the day) with Bible stories as a way to bring the ancient stories of Scripture to life for children. The fact that we’re still using them today speaks volumes to its success.

Dwight Nelson and his team at Pioneer Memorial Church have been pioneering (see what I did there) multimedia outreach since almost the very beginning of the Internet! They brought the Net series all over the world and recently tried a new approach by integrating social media through their HopeTrending series. People have complained that “people don’t like looking at screens” but forget that we look at screens at church anyways when it’s a large church and you can’t see the preacher up close.

Let’s face it, our entire society today is starting to revolve around screens…otherwise, how are you reading this blog? I rest my case.

All of these are signs of good entrepreneurs. It doesn’t matter if something doesn’t work, that’s not the point. The idea is to keep trying new things until something does stick and not being scared of failure! Innovation is a key part of entrepreneurialism and churches must be laboratories for new methods of outreach.

Too often we assume that God’s Spirit is present only in current methods that are successful in reaching people and not in the innovation that birthed it. Good entrepreneurs aren’t afraid of changing their method if the times require it. As Roger Hernandez says, “we must date our methods, but be married to the mission.”

3. Entrepreneurs have a vision that creates abundant financial support. 

A compelling vision will attract followers. Great entrepreneurs use on this concept by setting up their businesses in a way that adds value to their customers and, as a result, gain contributions though various ways.

It’s no surprise that the United States is facing the reality of an increasingly aging population. A very large segment of the population, the Baby Boomer generation, is gradually entering retirement age. I’ve noticed that some conferences have capitalized on this by promoting estate planning more aggressively. The idea is that by having members leave the church with an inheritance, the organization will have the funds it needs to sustain future work through trust annuities of those investments.

Many churches though are trying to understand how to get younger members to give like their older counterparts. This is a real challenge because, generally, younger people are not systematic givers like other generations

Now, this doesn’t mean that we aren’t philanthropic. For example, Millennials frequently get bashed for supposedly being selfish. Yet, we are the driving force behind a movement that is rapidly disrupting the $241 billion market in the U.S. alone for charitable giving: crowdfunding.

The website Entrepreneur notes that millennials are a whopping three times more likely than Baby Boomers to donate to a crowdfunding campaign and 70 percent more likely than Gen Xers.

Why is this? They suggest the following reasons:

First, it suits their lifestyle. Eight out of 10 crowdfunding donations are made via mobile—most of them through social networks—combining two technologies that Millennials take to as naturally as breathing. In contrast, a majority of older generations say they still aren’t comfortable donating through a smartphone or social network.

Furthermore, crowdfunding provides two things that Millennials demand with their charitable donations: transparency and accountability, as discovered in a study by Blackbaud and Sea Change Research.

How often do millennials know where their tithe dollars go and to what causes? Often, little more than a pie chart is provided to justify spending. Going back to the article:

Millennials want specifics about the people at the receiving end of the donation chain. Surveys find that many Millennials view charitable organizations as faceless, sprawling entities that amass donations into a giant pool from where they will eventually be doled out to someone whom some bureaucrat deems worthy. Millennials want to know everything about who ends up with the money: their life story, where they live and details about their situation and need. They want to see photos and oftentimes want to hear them tell their own stories via video.

Do you know who falls into the “faceless charitable organization” that Millennials tend to distrust? The Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Here’s something to think about: how are evangelism funds allocated in your conference? Is that process transparent all the way though from local church, to conference, to union, to General Conference? Personally, I’ve always found the rationale for evangelistic funds distribution to be arbitrary and subjective.

Lastly, they want to give to a cause that aligns with their values. They won’t simply give to a church because their parents or even they are members. If the actions of the organization are out of harmony with the values that Millennials care for, the will withhold giving. This is why crowdfunding is so powerful. Crowdfunding provides reassurance that there’s a real individual at the other end whose story aligns with their own values and desire to help.

Recently, a member of Miami Temple, was shot multiple times. A GoFundMe page was able to raise over $30K dollars for his medical expenses not in a month, not in two weeks, not in a week. The funds were reached in a day and a half. A day and a half!

Entrepreneurs do not operate under a mentality of scarcity, but rather out of a mentality of financial abundance. If you articulate a clear and compelling vision and gain support, funding will flow.

In conclusion, our options as a church are clear. We can either continue to do things the way we’ve always done them, or meet the demands of an ever-changing world with the never-changing truths of the Gospel in ways that will be both relevant and sustainable.

Even if you disagree with everything I’ve said, understand that God himself will turn into the ultimate entrepreneur in the Last Days. Check this quote out:

Let me tell you that the Lord will work in this last work in a manner very much out of the common order of things, and in a way that will be contrary to any human planning. There will be those among us who will always want to control the work of God, to dictate even what movements shall be made when the work goes forward under the direction of the angel who joins the third angel in the message to be given to the world. God will use ways and means by which it will be seen that He is taking the reins in His own hands. The workers will be surprised by the simple means that He will use to bring about and perfect His work of righteousness.–TM 300 (1885).

Do you want to see how all of this might look when it works together? Here is a case study.

Let’s face it. The future of Adventism is for entrepreneurs!

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