Colonial Church Case Study

The Low Down: Colonial Church, a Congregational fellowship roughly 70 years old, assessed its assets and discerned how to marry two of its strongest ones: the highly experienced professionals in the congregation and a piece of land that could be turned into money for mission.

The result? The Innové Project—a social enterprise competition that afforded Colonial the opportunity to connect the wisdom and experience of its Boomers to the vision and energy of local Millennials who wanted to influence the city for good. To date, eleven social ventures advancing the common good in the Twin Cities and beyond have been launched, and the congregation has experienced spiritual renewal.

Dr. Amy L. Sherman

This case study was researched and written by Dr. Amy L. Sherman, a Senior Fellow at the Sagamore Institute for Policy Research, where she directs the Center on Faith in Communities. Dr. Sherman is the author of six books and some 80+ published articles. Dr. Sherman’s recent book, Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good, won Christianity Today’s choice as Book of the Year in the Christian Living category.

A passionate participant in the fight against violent injustice around the world, Dr. Sherman serves as a Senior Fellow at the International Justice Mission’s IJM Institute. Dr. Sherman is a long-time member of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville, VA.

When Colonial Church moved to its current campus in Edina, Minnesota (just outside Minneapolis) in the mid-1970s, it acquired more land than it needed. The seller didn’t want to break up the acreage. Colonial’s leadership went forward with the deal, thinking that someday they’d sell the extra land for some kind of missional purpose. In the meantime, it became a parking lot.

Daniel Harrell, formerly Senior Pastor at Boston’s Park Street Church, arrived at Colonial in 2010, shortly after the land had been sold to a local developer who planned to build a senior living community on it. Harrell says he showed up at Colonial “very passionate about how to engage the congregation in mission.” He reports that the church “had a long history of involvement locally and around the world, but it felt a little ‘hit and miss:’ a thousand dollars here, a thousand dollars there.” With the infusion of the new money from the land sale, Harrell wondered how the congregation could deploy the money “for its greatest impact and effectiveness.”

A Congregational Discernment Process

“I came at this with a conviction that there are things we can do as congregations, as bodies of Christ, that none of us can do individually as members of that body,” says Harrell. “And to figure that out, we needed to do it as a congregation. So our idea was to come up with a process where we would engage possibilities and somehow discern and decide as a congregation what we would fund, what we would get behind, what we could impact together as part of our calling to do Kingdom work in the world. And that is sort of how Innové emerged.”

I came at this with the conviction that there are things we can do as congregations, as Bodies of Christ, that none of us can do individually as members of that Body. Senior Minister Daniel Harrell

The land sale netted Colonial $1.85 million dollars. The congregation quickly decided to set aside 20 percent of that for mission. But determining exactly how to deploy those funds was unclear. Leaders gathered congregants for discussion. There was no shortage of opinions, of course, given the particular passions of individual members and Colonial’s existing network of outreach partners. Former pastor for mission, Brian Jones, recalls that “I was getting about ten monetary ‘asks’ per week”—from traditional partners and from congregants eager for investment in initiatives they were excited about. He quickly came to realize that “there’s never going to be enough money. If you don’t have a strategy and a plan—if you’re not smart about it—you can end up with nickel and dime efforts that diffuse your impact. And we wanted to have significant impact.”

Jones had his own passion: to see the church “have a head for mission as well as a heart.” Influenced by the book When Helping Hurts by Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett, Jones was eager to engage the church in asset-based development and to avoid doing any unintentional harm with these new mission dollars. He mailed the book to about 50 strategically picked leaders from the church, hoping to spread a mindset for strategic investment.

Genesis of the Innové Project

Colonial Church Senior Minister Dr. Daniel Harrell

When he was ministering at Park Street Church in Boston, Harrell had had opportunity to serve as a judge in a small, one-day social change competition among local college students. The church had decided to use some of its mission dollars to provide small grants to support the best ideas. Harrell was “blown away” by the thoughtfulness and creativity of these earnest young adults.

The experience planted a seed in Harrell, and he raised with Jones the possibility of launching a similar competition at Colonial, but this time, one that would span a longer time frame and involve congregants in a far deeper and richer way. Jones caught the vision, and the two gathered a team of business and entrepreneurial types from the congregation to kick around the idea.

“If you have good idea, you can beat it up and whip it into an A+ idea,” Jones says. “We engaged the congregation in this discernment process. We wanted to do so much more than just a canned foods drive.”

We were passionate about how we could engage the talents and capacities of our congregation in mission….We wanted to have the biggest impact we could have, while also recognizing that we are just one part of the greater Church’s work for the Kingdom of God.Senior Minister Daniel Harrell

“We were passionate about how we could engage the talents and capacities of our congregation in mission,” adds Harrell. “And we were concerned—as many churches of our age are—about how we might engage a younger demographic. And then finally, we wanted to have the biggest impact we could have, while also recognizing that we are just one part of the greater Church’s work for the Kingdom of God.”

Conversation unfolded over the next several months. Colonial brought in social innovation experts like Katherine Leary Alsdorf from Redeemer Presbyterian Church’s Center for Faith and Work and Dave Blanchard from Praxis Labs. “We just sat together and began to dream and come up with this concept of a competition,” Harrell recalls, “and what was so fun was that, looking back, we saw that Innové itself was a social entrepreneurial project.”

Eventually, the team at Colonial honed in on a competition that would invite young entrepreneurs (under 35) living in the Twin Cities to submit applications describing their idea. Entrants could pitch a new start-up or ask for help to bring a fledging enterprise to scale.

Initially, the pastors thought that the congregation itself could serve as the judges to determine which projects would be funded, but that notion was quickly quashed by lay business leaders. “One of the folks who was involved in our idea group was like, ‘No! You do not let people hearing this for the first time make this decision!’” Harrell laughs. “They were very invested in this idea that the judges were going to do a deep drill into the applicants’ budgets, into their timelines and resources and just make these very informed decisions.”

Similarly, business savvy friends steered the pastors away from pairing company CEOs with the young entrepreneurs. “We learned that CEOs would make great judges, but not great mentors,” Harrell reports. “For mentoring what you needed was people with strong relational skills.” A friend of his suggested the title of “navigator” for these mentor-cheerleaders, and it stuck. Navigators would support the young entrepreneurs and connect them with resource people in the congregation who possessed relevant skills to help them accelerate their dreams.

“We wanted Innové to involve a lot of people, using what they were good at for the sake of the Kingdom of God,” explains Harrell. “So we broke it down into a system that ran from marketing, to screening applicants, to coaching applicants, to giving people skills and teaching them how to write a business plan, to making a pitch, to getting funded, to getting organized, to executing. And we were able to involve along that whole process hundreds of people at our congregation, each doing a little part for the sake of this bigger thing. And you know for me as a pastor, this was just a wonderful manifestation of our whole theology of the body of Christ, right? That each member did a piece and then together we ended up coming up not only with projects that we were excited about, but projects that we felt like, “This is our calling.”

Overcoming the Obstacles

While winning the congregation over to the Innové idea was not an Everest-like climb, concerns were raised. One of the main issues was simply that the idea was so different from anything the congregation had ever done before as “mission.” It took people a while to understand it. Another issue related to the risk Colonial was taking with a large amount of money. “A lot of folks were concerned,” Jones remembers. “’This is a lot that we’re risking on start-ups ventures,’ they said, ‘and what if they fail?’”

“My first answer to them was ‘We have faith,’” Jones says. “My second was, ‘Yes, a lot of startups fail, but let’s talk about why that happens. Maybe they don’t have the resources they need. They don’t have a clear business plan, or they haven’t looked at the market closely, or they don’t have the skills and relationships and networks that are necessary. Maybe they don’t have a viable cohort of peers.’ And when you start to check down those bullet points, you realize those are the very kind of things that Innové offered.”

A lot of folks were concerned. ‘This is a lot that we’re risking on start-ups ventures,’ they said, ‘and what if they fail?’ My first answer to them was ‘We have faith.’ Brian Jones, Executive Director of Innové Studios

Jones also emphasized to congregants that Innové was not replacing the church’s other missions efforts. “What helped us was that we thought of Innové as a both/and,” he explains. “We told people we were not abandoning prior ministries but rather that we were also going to try something new. That helped us get buy-in.” A second “lesson learned” that Jones offers for other congregations is to “start with what you have.” He emphasizes that every church has assets that can be activated, even if it doesn’t have the kind of money Colonial had from the land sale.

Says Harrell, “Because this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, we needed to leverage that money for something more than simply funding good work. We needed to ignite our own congregation’s passion and imagination for mission in the world. A sure way to do that was to get them involved at a level that, for many of them, they had not been invited to participate in before. And I think the fruit of that was not only projects that launched in ways that— the entrepreneurs would say—could not have otherwise launched. We had our own people invested not just financially but with time and talent and with sweat equity in these relationships with entrepreneurs. As a pastor, I think that one of the big fruits of Innové was not only a deeper and greater investment in the mission of the church but also a recognition by congregants of their own capacity to be involved in ways that perhaps they hadn’t recognized before. It was a genuine experience of church renewal.”

Launching Innové

As a pastor, I think that one of the big fruits of Innové was not only a deeper and greater investment in the mission of the church but also a recognition by congregants of their own capacity to be involved in ways that perhaps they hadn’t recognized before. It was a genuine experience of church renewal.Senior Pastor Daniel Harrell

Jones and Harrell remember well the night before the applications for Innové were due. Some weeks had gone by with a mere trickle of entrants, and the two were starting to sweat. But as the midnight deadline loomed, the Innové website started receiving a flood. “We were texting each other back and forth late that night,” Jones recalls with a laugh. The two were both thrilled and relieved. “We thought, Well, social entrepreneurs clearly are either working on these projects until the last minute or they’re terrible procrastinators,” Jones laughs. “And so we went from ‘Are we going to have enough applications to do this thing?’ to ‘Do we have too many applications that we’re not going to be able to manage the enthusiasm behind this?’” In the end, over 150 people submitted applications.

To generate interest, the pastors had turned to the congregation’s marketing and PR people for advice. “We needed a promotion strategy that got the word out beyond the typical church networks,” Jones says. “So we asked ourselves, ‘Who in the congregation knows PR? Who knows the media?’” The subsequent Promotions Committee created informational fliers and encouraged all members to distribute them far and wide. Jones went and spoke about the competition at business classes at the University of Minnesota.

In the end, the entire congregation caught the vision.

A congregant with a media contact got Innové highlighted on the local news. “In the end, though,” Jones recalls with a chuckle, “it was the grannies who were the secret sauce.” Colonial’s older ladies caught the enthusiasm, if not all the details, of the idea, and spread the word about Innové among grandchildren and neighbors—anyone who was under 35 or connected to a young adult.

One volunteer committee from the church screened applications, narrowing the pool down to 40. Meanwhile, Harrell and Jones hit the phones, contacting individuals in the congregation they felt would make great mentor-cheerleaders. Some had business backgrounds but that wasn’t the most important qualification. The pastors were looking for congregants with passion and strong relational skills who could earn the trust of the young entrepreneurs and steer them through the long process of devising a business plan and a persuasive “pitch.” Volunteers who agreed to serve as these “Navigators” then reviewed the 40 applications and selected 24 semi-finalists. At an evening that one Navigator described as “the NFL draft,” the Navigators indicated their top choices for the semi-finalists with whom they’d most like to work. This meant that Navigators were able to follow their passions and connect with a social change idea that strongly resonated with them.

Jeff Siemon sits among both applicants and congregation members.

Navigator Jeff Siemon, who works in finance at General Mills, was drawn to Anna Brelje’s application. Anna was proposing to start an alternative to payday lending. “Since I work in finance, this project felt like it would be a good fit,” Jeff says. “And I just really loved the idea. Payday lending is a huge problem in the community and a really big thing to wrestle with. I was excited by the challenge.”

Later in the process still another volunteer group from Colonial organized “Immersion Day” for the semi-finalists and their Navigators. This was a one-day blitz of skills coaching offered by professionals from the congregation with communication, legal, financial, sales, marketing, and accounting backgrounds. They met personally with entrepreneurs and also offered training workshops.

The day wasn’t only about coaching, though. “What we’ve heard is that it’s lonely to be a social entrepreneur,’” says Jones. “You’re just out there on your own. You have a million things to do, all this trying to pull it together. And so with Immersion Day we wanted two things. We wanted to give them the basics that they would need—whether that’s marketing or how you measure your results—those sort of things that every single project would need. But we also wanted to develop a cohort. We wanted to develop a sense of cooperation, the experience of shared learning, and just a celebratory atmosphere for these young social entrepreneurs to get together with others like themselves and form new relationships.”

It’s lonely to be a social entrepreneur…. So we wanted to develop a cohort. We wanted to develop a sense of cooperation, the experience of shared learning, and just a celebratory atmosphere for these young social entrepreneurs to get together with others like themselves and form new relationships.Brian Jones, former Minister of Mission, Colonial Church

Four months after the application deadline, semi-finalists took turns standing before a six- member judging panel and making their pitches. Navigator Jeff Siemon recalls that he, Anna, and the rest of the Exodus Lending team worked late into the night polishing the pitch and practicing answers to likely questions from the judges. “I used to play sports and this felt like the night before a championship game,” Siemon laughs.

Judges heard from a young man who’d designed a technology to coordinate affordably priced home visits by medical practitioners; from Anna about her alternative to payday lending; and from a guy passionate to address the scourge of sex trafficking by dealing with the men who formed the demand side. They listened to 20-something logistics guru Rob Williams, who’d already started a weekend “food backpack” initiative for hungry kids in one school but dreamed of being in 100. Leah Porter stood before them and spoke of her vision to turn a city bus into a mobile food market. To these and the other entrepreneurs the judges posed tough, searching questions. In the end, they chose a portfolio of winners (called Protégés) who received from $30,000 to $60,000 each.

The Mobile Market parked in front of Colonial Church.

Innové: For the Good of the City

Porter, founder of the Twin Cities Mobile Market, was one of the 2013 Protégés. She’d grown up in a family where there wasn’t always enough to eat, and had a passion for addressing hunger issues in the community. Her pitch at Colonial won a $37,000 start-up grant from the Innové judges, a $3000 bonus award from the congregation, and a $250 award from Colonial’s Sunday School kids. “I think I’m most proud of that $250 award,” Porter says. “It showed us that our pitch was understandable even to kids.”

Porter studied “food deserts” while earning her Master’s degree at Hamline University. The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines a food desert as a census tract in which at least 33 percent of residents live at least 1 mile (for urban settings) or 10 miles (in rural settings) from a large grocery store or a supermarket. Nearly 24 million Americans are estimated to reside in food deserts. According to Porter, the twin cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul compose the 5th largest urban food desert in the nation.

Leah Porter in the days before the bus seats were tossed out in favor of grocery shelves.

Porter conceived of the Mobile Market after studying what other cities were doing to address their problems of food insecurity. She heard about the Innové competition when it was highlighted on the local TV news.

The money was the initial draw, Porter admits. “We needed start-up funding and that’s just so hard to get.” But once engaged in the Innové process, she saw how much more the church was offering. “I don’t think I realized at the front end that there would be all this volunteer help and coaching from business professionals,” Porter recalls. “And everyone there was really welcoming and inviting and seemed to really care about the social justice aspect.”

“Colonial had people with a lot of experience and connections. And it was really the connections that were especially helpful,” Porter continues. “They were to higher level people in corporations that I would not naturally have access to—especially having worked in the nonprofit sector my whole career.”

We hear stories every day from people who otherwise wouldn’t get healthy food. One customer who was living in a public housing high rise told us that before the Mobile Market, she had been living entirely off of food from the vending machines because she didn’t have a car and also had mobility issues.Leah Porter, Founder, Twin Cities Mobile Market

Randy Larson, a Colonial Church regular attender and a founding partner at the advertising agency Shinebox, was impressed when he heard Porter’s presentation at the competition day. “I remember her sales pitch because it started a lot like we start our sales pitches. She set it up very simply by saying, ‘This is a picture of what a grocery store looks like for most of us here in this room.’ And of course everybody could empathize with that and understand it. And then she turned to the next slide and said, ‘This is what a grocery store looks like for X percentage of people who live in the inner city.’ And it was a picture of a convenience store and all you saw was candy, and chips, and pop, and that sort of stuff. And I was hooked right then because I was like, she knows how to sell and this is a super compelling story. Because I actually had no idea that these food deserts existed.”

Larson looked for Porter in the foyer following the pitches. “I walked over to her and handed her my business card and said, ‘Maybe we can help you.’ And then she actually called me!”

Larson met with Porter and then took her project to his two partners:

“I said, ‘I want us to do this; it’s worth doing.’ And they agreed because we knew what they needed was the service that we actually do as an agency. We build brands from the ground up and then we launch them and that’s what they needed…. So I brought Leah in and sat her down and showed her what we did for other clients like 3M and told her that we wanted to do that same type of project for her.”

Shinebox ended up creating a logo for the Mobile Market as well as the colorful—and normally very expensive—“wrap” that adorns the bus. “It was so great to meet people who really cared, who really supported the mission, and wanted to do what they could to help,” says Porter. “I feel like I have a family there [at Colonial].”

A customer shops on the Twin Cities Mobile Market
(photo credit: J.D. Larson)

Today the Twin Cities Mobile Market sports two buses that reach 33 stops each week. Elderly shut-ins, the disabled, and single moms without cars all speak enthusiastically about the “food bus.” It’s convenient and affordable, they say, and it gives them a chance to buy healthy, fresh produce.

“We hear stories every day from people who otherwise wouldn’t get healthy food,” Porter reports. “One customer who was living in a public housing high rise told us that before the Mobile Market she had been living entirely off of food from the vending machines because she didn’t have a car and also has mobility issues. The nearest grocery store to her is a high-end store in St. Paul and she couldn’t afford anything there. When we started serving her complex she started shopping on the Mobile Market and she’s lost 73 pounds already.”

“We hear stories from people with diabetes about how their blood sugar is under better control because they’re eating healthier,” Porter adds. “There was one woman who bought all berries the first time she shopped on the bus because she said she hadn’t eaten any for two years.”

Anna Brelje’s road to the social innovation project that brought her to Innové is similar to Porter’s. She too has a very personal passion for the issue her project sought to address.

“I was personally victimized buy payday lenders when I was in my 20s,” Brelje explains. “I had a lot of medical debt and I got myself trapped for two years in a payday loan. I ended up paying $3000 in fees on an initial loan of $300.”

Exodus Lending’s Executive Director, Sara Nelson-Pallmeyer, with a client.
(photo credit: J.D. Larson)

Brelje, a union organizer who belongs to Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in south Minneapolis, hadn’t told anyone about her experience. “I was very ashamed about it,” she says. But then a payday lender moved into a storefront right around the corner from the church—and Brelje realized that sharing her story could help the church respond effectively:

“We had started a community organizing group at our church to work on issues affecting the neighborhood and when the payday loan store opened up people wanted to understand more about this business. And I’d say almost everyone in the church didn’t know anything about payday lending. When they found out that it’s about charging 400 percent interest, people were really mad. And at one of the community organizing meetings I ended up telling the story of what had happened to me. And that was eye-opening to a lot of people.”

The church group eventually divided into two teams: one looking to protest the new store and foment opposition to the industry in the state legislature and the other to explore potential alternatives to the payday loan store. Brelje says the latter group had plenty of passion but “no one could figure out how to go from idea to reality.” And just when they were stuck, a church member heard about the Innové project.

Jeff’s a businessman who has an MBA and does financials for a giant company. And we were a scrappy set of community organizers who didn’t know anything about business! Jeff was such a unique supporter in that he was able to provide a lot of hands-on, technical business analysis that we would have had to pay a lot of money for otherwise.Anna Brelje, Co-Founder, Exodus Lending

Brelje applied and was matched up with Jeff Siemon. “Jeff and I met for breakfast
and you know he’s a businessman who has a MBA, who does financials for a giant company. And we were a scrappy set of community organizers who didn’t know anything about business!” Brelje laughs. “Jeff was such a unique supporter in that he was able to provide a lot of the kind of hands-on, technical business analysis that we would have had to pay a lot money for otherwise. So very early on in the process we realized Jeff was a really special person who was going to be a big help to our team.”

Immersion Day was also a huge lift to Brelje and her team:

“Immersion day was a very helpful day for us because we were still early enough in the idea phase that when we were able to be in a room learning about fundraising or messaging, branding, communications, it was all so relevant. We were able to soak a lot of information up and kind of put it into our file of resources so that when it was time to work on our messaging, for instance, we were actually able to connect with one of the guest speakers that had been there that day. And she helped us come up with our name of the organization: Exodus Lending.”

Exodus received a $40,000 grant from Colonial, enabling the group to hire an Executive Director and begin making loans in 2015. Since then, 111 individuals have received loans (the average amount is $680) and 50 have already paid them off in full. (So far the repayment rate has been 95 percent.) These participants had been facing an average APR of 404% in their payday loans.

With Exodus’ help, the total amount saved by participants has reached over $300,000. “That money is now going into the community,” enthuses Exodus Lending’s Executive Director Sara Nelson-Pallmeyer. “It’s going into grocery stores, it’s going into daycares, it’s going into all the other expenses that people have. We feel really great about the fact that we are strengthening our community by offering these loans to individuals in our program.”

Innové: For the Good of the Congregation

Daniel Harrell says he was confident that if the church took the risk to break new ground by doing something like Innové, it would be transformative for the congregation as well as the community. “I could see so clearly that, at the end of the process, the investment that we would have in the folks that we’d fund, it would create a sense of ownership in these mission projects that would have been completely impossible otherwise,” Harrell explains. He continues: “Oftentimes mission programs struggle to have their projects embraced by their congregations.” Not so for Innové. “Everybody knows the projects we ended up funding and they continue to support them to this day.”

Colonial member Jeff Siemon agrees:

“The church I grew up in participated in many wonderful mission work opportunities. We gave money to missionaries that were all over the world and that was really compelling. But I felt like, at least personally, I was removed from that process. It wasn’t that the missionaries weren’t doing wonderful things, because they were. But just writing a check or giving money in the donation plate is one thing, but actually participating and allowing the congregation to participate in a more real, tangible way—I thought that was really profound. And I certainly saw that all the way through the Innové process as different people in the congregation were engaged in different parts of the process and different phases, whether it was as Navigators or the people who were screening the applications, or the skills coaches that brought so many different capabilities and skills to bear. I was just really struck by how engaging [Innové] was across so many different aspects of the congregation.”

In the first Innové project, in 2013, 170 congregants participated in one way or another. Enthusiasm for the initiative was so high that almost immediately upon its conclusion people started asking when the next Innové project would happen. Brian Jones remembers he sort of had to put the brakes on and help people see that the church needed to do a good job first of seeing the initial winners get their projects launched before repeating the competition. Enthusiasm remained high; in fact, when Innové unfolded in 2015 even more people were involved and many from the church had financial skin in the game. The church had $120,000 from its mission budget to put towards Innové II (which they called “Deux”). Congregants themselves raised the rest of the $250,000 project total through a series of fund-raising dinners put on in people’s homes.

Inviting people to serve in a way that drew upon their particular vocational skills and experiences was key to the high voluntarism rate, Jones and Harrell say. “We looked out into our congregation and we realized we had lawyers and business people and accountants and professionals of all sorts,” Jones explains. “We were literally sitting on a mountain of human resource potential.” Innové offered a way to activate all that talent, as well as the networks possessed by these members.

Participating in Innové grew Jeff Siemon’s faith. “I’ve served in other roles at church, like teaching Sunday School, which I love, but may not be the best use of my gifts,” he reports. “Innové was really the first opportunity to use my formal training and my education and the skills I’ve built over my career, which has been fantastic.” He continues:

“Innové has brought my worlds together in some ways—my work world with the world of my faith and my heart. I think that it’s really helped me merge those a little bit more… I think it’s easy to go through life compartmentalized. With Innové there’s this idea that I can take what I’m doing at work and connect that with my faith, and see my work actually impacting people positively in the community.”

Institutional Investment

Church people have long been about starting hospitals, starting universities, starting banks. That was very much in the DNA of the Church—that idea of social innovation: what can we do with, among, and for our neighbors?Brian Jones, former Minister of Mission at Colonial Church
Harrell and Jones have a robust understanding of the importance of congregational investment; that what the church can do together is more than what individual believers acting alone can accomplish. For them, the Innové project was an expression of institutional investment—drawing on all that the congregation had to offer in order to tackle significant, structural problems in the city.

“I live a quarter of a mile from Methodist Hospital and I went to a Methodist Seminary, and so I know that rich history of social innovation in the Church,” Jones reflects. “Church people have long been about starting hospitals, and starting universities, and starting banks. That was very much in the DNA of the Church—this idea of social innovation: What can we do with, among, and for our neighbors? And that [conviction] has always been in this church, too, but unfortunately churches have a way of starting to think about themselves. And so we just wanted to rekindle that commitment,” he says. “We wanted to help people start to think again outside these walls and pull again from that rich history of social innovation in the Church and do our part.”

Colonial had a special asset that not many others churches possess: over a million dollars from the land sale. But Harrell insists that other congregations can still advance the common good in their communities without a lot of money. “I’ve talked to so many pastors about this stuff and what I tend to say is two things,” Harrell explains. “One is: learn the value of congregational assessment. Ask: What do we have in our congregation that we can leverage for doing the work of the Kingdom in the world? Too often as pastors we don’t tend to do that. We tend to come with ideas sort of pre-cooked and then ask people to volunteer for those things rather than saying, “What do we have? And the second is: It doesn’t matter whether your church is large or small. It’s about what you do have, and what your calling is. What is your calling as a congregation? Go do that. Spend what you have well; steward it well. And then you’ll be participating in this greater work of God in the world.”


1. Start with what you have. Conduct a 360° inventory of your assets and then steward what you have creatively. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a lot of money!

2. Involve many congregants in the initial discernment process of how to strategically deploy the church’s assets in fresh ways.

3. Don’t push a total replacement of everything the church has invested in in the past. Rather, taking a both/and approach will facilitate buy-in. As enthusiasm grows for a new paradigm, initiatives that are less strategic will gradually lose support.

4. Communicate the “when helping hurts” mindset to the church’s key leadership. Colonial’s mission pastor did this by literally sending the book When Helping Hurts to about 50 leaders.

5. Offering congregants ways to serve that draw particularly on their vocational expertise is a great strategy for gaining enthusiastic participation. It can reenergize their faith and it invites them into mission in a fresh way.

6. Be sure to offer a variety of onramps for involvement, both short-term and longer term. Give people a menu of serving options.

7. As much as possible, connect new initiatives to traditions or core values long cherished by the congregation.

8. Remember that love requires risk. When a community embraces risk together, it is transformed. Our contemporary age offers few opportunities for truly shared purposes, and even if the ventures failed, Innové would have stilled provided this shared purpose and its consequent congregational transformation.