Christian Social Innovation

Renewing Wesleyan Witness

By L. Gregory Jones Published
Christian Social Innovation
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Churches need innovative approaches that provide renewal, re-establish trust and cultivate sustainability.Everybody seems interested in innovation and entrepreneurship these days. Start-ups are generating new jobs, creating wealth and providing solutions to longstanding problems. People are also aware that old-line social institutions need innovative approaches that provide renewal, re-establish trust and cultivate sustainability.

What do faith communities have to do with innovation and entrepreneurship? Faith communities have their own need for innovation, demonstrated in a growing interest in starting new churches, developing fresh expressions for gatherings of community and discussions about how to cultivate a renewed sense of mission.

But do faith communities have anything unique to contribute to conversations about innovation and entrepreneurship, especially in social entrepreneurship? At first glance, the answer seems to be no. Burgeoning literature on social entrepreneurship barely mentions the church or other faith-based institutions  and when it does theyre often described as part of the broken institutional landscape.

Recently much of the most innovative and entrepreneurial work in these sectors has been done apart from faith communities, whether through secular non-governmental organizations (e.g., Teach for America, Knowledge is Power Program schools) or for-profit businesses (e.g., hospitals and hospices). Indeed, it is now often assumed that faith and faith communities either are irrelevant to social innovation and entrepreneurship or are a significant obstacle.

We believe too many people in faith communities, and faith-based organizations themselves, turned inward. They became preoccupied with managing what already existed rather than focusing on innovative renewal of their organizations and entrepreneurial approaches to starting new ones.

However, Christian social innovation, at its best, depends on a conception of hope different than the optimism that often characterizes secular endeavors, a hope that acknowledges personal and social brokenness. Further, faith communities, at their best, have embodied perseverance, often bringing people together across generations and diverse sectors to imagine how common effort and faith might overcome obstacles.

Although some faith communities have lost the at-their-best focus, new conversations and experiments are emerging beyond the goal of starting new congregations. But they tend to be and conversations: faith and innovation, faith and entrepreneurship, faith and leadership. We dont think this goes deep enough. Faith might truly animate social innovation and entrepreneurship. In this perspective, faith is not held at a distance from the activities of life but is instead its vital force, providing the imagination, passion and commitment that lead to transformation.


"This book is an invitation into a fresh, wise, and faithful set of Christian practices deeply rooted in the Wesleyan tradition, yet informed by the latest intellectual and cultural currents. Greg Jones offers a powerful, agile, and instructive message of hope. "

-Laceye C. Warner, Associate Professor of the Practice of Evangelism and Methodist Studies, Duke Divinity School, Durham, NC

Dont let this book undersell itself. It is a revolutionprecisely by being so traditional. Wesleyan Christians and other evangelicals have long known in our bones what weve forgotten how to say with our mouthsthat we should be about building institutions (colleges, hospitals, seminaries, orphanages, businesses) as part of Gods inbreaking reign. Greg Joness work of reminding us who we are is absolutely groundbreaking and overflowing with hope. This is the one book this year I wish I could put in every pastor and institutional leaders hands and say Stop what youre doing and read this.

-Jason Byassee, Butler Chair in Homiletics and Biblical Hermeneutics, Vancouver School of Theology, Vancouver, BC

About the Author

L. Gregory Jones

The Reverend Dr. L. Gregory Jones is Executive Vice President and Provost at Baylor University. Prior to that he was senior strategist for leadership education at Duke Divinity School and Ruth W. and A. Morris Williams Jr. professor of theology and Christian ministry where he served as senior strategist for the Fuqua-Coach K Center on Leadership and Ethics at Dukes Fuqua School of Business. A noted scholar, teacher, and church leader, he is the author or editor of more than a dozen books, including the acclaimed Embodying Forgiveness.