What will the faith and work movement look like in 2067? What are we doing today that could genuinely last for 50 years, and even reshape American culture?
These are tough questions. Not only because 50 years is such a long time, but it forces us to think not only of our own organizations, but the larger networks across the US involved in this space, and the institutions that can outlast individual personalities.
It also forces us to think: what, specifically, are the long-term goals shared among overlapping networks of churches, businesses, universities and nonprofits involved in spreading a Christian message about the far-reaching effects of Jesus’ death and resurrection for our work, culture, economy, and world?
After pondering this question, I’ve come to believe something rather disconcerting. The single biggest problem with the faith and work movement today is fragmentation and the absence of shared goals.
In April of this year, Jeffrey Walker penned a provocative article for the Stanford Social Innovation Review, “Solving the World’s Biggest Problems: Better Philanthropy Through Systems Change.”
“It’s one of the perennial questions facing the nonprofit world,” Walker writes, “Why, despite the sector’s collective resources and best efforts, do so many social problems remain so persistent?”
The gap between outcomes and intentions has long drawn attention from America’s largest foundations trying to solve social problems. And today, more funders are growing wary of the creation and growth of lifelong organizations with ever-growing budgets and staffs (or, in the faith and work world, with ever-new efforts that come today and vanish tomorrow).
Walker writes, “Perhaps what we need instead, according to the emerging line of thinking, is an emphasis on what is called ‘systems change’—on identifying the organizations and individuals already working on a problem, and helping to join forces to achieve their common goals.”
The idea is simple: instead of focusing on creating new organizations and multiplying social entrepreneurs, we need to think about creative collaboration, or on funding “systems entrepreneurs” who can bring together diverse actors and act as a facilitator and negotiator between network leaders, with the objective of finding common goals that can produce collective impact.
I think fragmentation is the single biggest challenge today for those leading institutions committed to the integration of faith, work, and life – and for key funders in this space who want to see long-term, systemic social and ecclesiastical change.
According to David Miller at Princeton, the faith and work movement certainly qualifies as a genuine social movement. But it is an enormously fragmented and disjointed social movement. Dizzyingly so. Without even mentioning the organizations themselves, here’s just a sample of the organization types in this space:
Years ago, I read an entertaining article by my friend Lukas Naugle titled, “The Faith-Work Frankenstein’s Monster.” Frankenstein, indeed.
Just before I started Denver Institute for Faith & Work, I drafted an article for publication (just for my own sanity) on how people were using language in the faith and work arena. After putting these organizations in seven categories – faith and work, “work matters”, work and business, work and economics, work and vocation, work and the common good, and work and mission – I gave up. The article was over 20 pages, and didn’t begin to touch on all the issues being addressed in these diverse language circles.
I said to myself, “This thing is an octopus. I’m sure it’s all connected to a single head (Christ himself), but all I can see is a bunch of arms flailing about wildly.”
We’re so fragmented, how might we go about finding common goals among networks this disjointed? Whereas in Walker’s article he could mention aligning groups that all care about, for example, human trafficking, they all had a clear definition of the problem.
When I talk to my peers and friends in the faith and work movement, I’m actually not sure we agree on either the problem or the solution. Some would say it’s workplace evangelism and others job creation for the poor; some a healthy economy, some all-life discipleship; some cultural renewal, others cultural conquest, and still others cultural retreat (thank you, Rod Dreher).
So what can be done? Here’s my view: we need to take manageable slices of this Frankenstein monster called the faith and work movement, and begin to work on shared goals, and thus, collective impact. For example, City Gate 2017 which begins today in San Diego.
Two years ago I asked: who is broadly trying to do similar work as the Denver Institute for Faith & Work in American cities? And how would I define our work in contrast to the multitude of other organizations? Here was what I came up with: The purpose of City Gate is to create a relational and strategic space to start and grow institutions focused on (1) the integration of faith, work and life by those with (2) a shared commitment to the church, (3) a particular region or city, and (4) the far-reaching effects of Jesus’ death and resurrection for the world.
This is a very specific group. But the specificity, I believe, allows to us begin on the same page, and ultimately to learn from one another and perhaps agree upon shared goals. This year, City Gate attendees include the following organizations:
And we’re also blessed to have four start-up “city hubs” join us:
Alone, Denver Institute for Faith & Work is a relatively small organization: with 4 full-time staff and a budget of $650,000/yr, we reach about 1,000 people a year through programming and work with 25 churches. Yet together, the combined budgets of organizations at City Gate are $60 million/yr. We reach 15,530 per year through programing, work with 329 different churches, and function in (at least) 15 different cities.
Because we are now dealing in systems, this community will allow us to reexamine my initial question about how we might impact American culture in 50 years. And because we’re all peers, and no one organization is calling the shots, we can openly discuss collective impact through shared goals.
Hurdles exist, clearly. Alignment, open communication among partners, discovering workable models, measuring impact. And most importantly, relationship. Can we remain in community, and even develop friendship among pseudo-competitors? But minimally, we’re setting down early tracks for long-term systemic impact on both the American church and our secular culture.
For a nonprofit executive director of a small organization like me, it’s tempting to think, “If only we had enough money, we could change everything.” But one line from Walker’s article on systems change has been enduringly encouraging for me: “Let’s not kid ourselves: Money is not the only resource in limited supply. In fact, cash is positively abundant compared to other, more abstract necessities like hope, imagination and social cohesion.”
Hope. Imagination. Social cohesion. Perhaps that could last for 50 years…
Jeff Haanen is a writer and entrepreneur. He founded Denver Institute for Faith & Work, a community of conveners, teachers and learners offering experiences and educational resources on the gospel, work, and community renewal. He is the author of An Uncommon Guide to Retirement: Finding God’s Purpose for the Next Season of Life and an upcoming two-book series on spiritual formation, vocation, and the working class for Intervarsity Press. He lives with his wife and four daughters in Denver and attends Wellspring Church in Englewood, Colorado.