The application for Cycle 2 of the Co-Creators Incubator is now open through December 7, 2020. Visit to apply. 

Trend #5: Missional entrepreneurialism: A new way of being

By Aria Michal Kirkland-Harris 

Missional entrepreneurialism is not a singular experiment or something the church must “try on” for a season. Rather, it’s a new way of being. Entrepreneurial thinking and innovation must begin to change and shape our identity as communities of faith.

Before digging into this challenge of changing and (re)shaping our communal identity as communities of faith, we must acknowledge that missional entrepreneurship is a current trend and “of-the-moment.” Forum for Theological Exploration has its DoGoodX Change-Makers. There is an organization called Ministry Incubators in North Carolina, and the United Methodist Church even has a ministry innovation game called Mission Possible: Design Thinking for Social Change. For American Baptist Home Mission Societies (ABHMS), the entrepreneurial way of being takes shape in the Co-Creators Incubator.

Being trendy and of-the-moment is not a bad thing. This missional entrepreneurship language and identity is attractive to millennials who stereotypically do not want to commit to an institutional way of being. Entrepreneurship is an attractive model of ministry because it is flexible, innovative, creative and potentially short-term. That appeals to millennials or anyone who does not want to be tied down. It gives ministries the freedom and flexibility to move with the Spirit.

So what does this trendiness mean for a church steeped in history, tradition and—dare we say— bureaucracy? Entrepreneurs are disruptors, so it may seem like entrepreneurial innovation would conflict with or threaten traditional institutions, but that does not have to be the case. Missional entrepreneurism can be the means by which we reconcile the demand for change with the need to preserve institutional memory. It creates a space for the old and the new to co-exist. 

Because a few months have passed since we signed up to write these responses, some new ideas have emerged. What I’m trying to get at or work out in this new reflection is the idea that embracing missional entrepreneurship is a way that older, traditional congregations can embrace millennials that have walked away from the institutional church. It’s not that missional entrepreneurship is a new way of being—churches will always have to raise funds one way or another. What missional entrepreneurship represents is a new way for millennials, unchurched and nontraditional folks to re-engage. The challenge is that newness and change always scare people.

Some congregants, pastors and denominational leaders are a bit wary, skeptical or even afraid of “missional entrepreneurship” because it is attractive to millennials who, by definition, tend to challenge and deconstruct institutions. While churches are excited about millennial enthusiasm, that fear of being deconstructed makes some people hesitant and resistant. On top of that, entrepreneurs tend to be disruptors who create ways of doing things that displace the status quo. That fear of being displaced is a real and valid feeling, but fear also threatens church growth and congregational health when we refuse to address it. A fear-based response tells us that missional entrepreneurship is a threat to tradition and institutional values, but that does not have to be the case. 

Missional entrepreneurship can be the means by which churches reconcile the millennial desire for change with tradition’s need to preserve institutional memory. It creates a space for the old and the new to co-exist, and embracing it means embracing a new (and possibly unchurched) generation of seekers. The language of entrepreneurship is attractive to millennials because it implies flexibility, innovation, creativity and willingness to take risks. It gives churches and ministries the freedom and flexibility to move with the Spirit and tells people with non-traditional ideas that they are welcome here. Fearlessly embracing the change that missional entrepreneurship brings is the new way of being, and that would be a powerful identity maker for any church.

As a concrete example, here’s an excerpt from another paper I’m writing for my Christian Education class that I also used in my ABHMS scholarship essay. The assignment is to create a new ministry or project. The man that I reference in the blurb that follows asked me to think about how I’d re-shape our church’s new members’ orientation course. Since missional entrepreneurship is about self-sustaining ventures, it would be interesting to do a fee-based series that’s open to the public. 

I wrote: “If I could create a new ministry, it would be a working group focused on intergenerational dialogue about the future of the Church. I recently had lunch with my (Generation X) pastor and a senior (baby boomer) member of our church whose family has been there for five generations. Our senior member said that young people come in and just want to take over and throw everything out. Our intergenerational dialogue helped me to not take his statement as a personal attack. Instead of taking offense, I listened with compassion and allowed myself to hear his own fear of losing something valuable. We have common ground here—he wants to preserve church traditions that are meaningful for him, and I want routinized traditions to be more meaningful for me. Our desire for meaning is the same, we just need a safe space to talk through our frustrations and explore our questions.”

Aria Michal Kirkland-Harris’ Co-Creators Incubator project is to create a think tank that will inform her research.