BAM Scholarship and Research

Scholars Needed: The Current State of Business as Mission Research

Great strides have been made in recent years to challenge the “sacred-secular” divide that is so deeply entrenched in the church, and to raise awareness of business’ potential to serve the common good. Yet the resources produced thus far offer little in the way of practical help for Christian business professionals. Few resources—whether books, websites, blogs, etc.—go beyond what might be called “cheerleading,” that is, encouraging Christians to “take their faith to work” or to embrace business as a vehicle for positive community impact.

As valuable as such “cheerleading” may be, there is a growing chorus of complaints by practitioners and educators about the lack of helpful resources, especially the lack of rigorous research that takes an unvarnished and critical look at what’s working, what’s not, and why. This is more than an academic problem; without quality research—and the resources that are generated by it—practitioners are forced to “figure things out” on their own, and the long-term impact of business as mission (BAM) will continue to be mixed.

One way to stimulate the production of such resources is by creating an association of BAM scholars. Such an association would include outlets (scholarly conferences and journals) for such research. Another way to address this need is by drawing from the closely related field of social entrepreneurship (SE). SE is similar to BAM in its emphasis on multiple “bottom lines”. The main difference is that SE accommodates all religious perspectives, including non-religious and humanistic perspectives. Still, there is much that can be learned through respectful dialogue between the two fields, and BAM scholars should actively engage this field by attending SE conferences and contributing to SE journals.

The following review is intended to help scholars get quickly up to speed on the research that has been done and what is still needed. This report is a slightly modified re-publication, with permission, of an essay previously published in the Journal of Biblical Integration in Business entitled “‘Business as Mission’ Hybrids: A Review and Research Agenda.”

BMTT-IG Scholarship cover 300


Measuring BAM Impact

How Are We Doing? Measuring the Impact and Performance of BAM Businesses

Business as mission is hard. Very hard! Missionaries with little business experience but plenty of vision start businesses and struggle. Experienced business people start businesses in new countries or cultures and struggle. Too many business as mission (BAM) companies wander in the desert aimlessly. They need a compass to guide them—something to remind them of their direction and tell them if they are on track. Well designed and implemented metrics can help.

Metrics are measures. They are like the control panel on a car—the gauges, lights and dials that tell you how fast you’re going, how much fuel is left and whether you’re headed for trouble. You can drive a car without a fuel gauge or a speedometer, but you will likely run into serious trouble before too much time has passed.

The same is true for metrics in business. Without some consistently applied metrics it is very hard to know if the business is on track to achieve what it set out to do. That is dangerous for any business. However, since BAM businesses set out to bring glory to God and to expand the Kingdom of Christ, the consequences of being off track have eternal significance!

The Measuring Impact Issue Group included a number of experienced BAM entrepreneurs from restricted countries and experienced executives and coaches from a variety of backgrounds: corporate, entrepreneurial, western and eastern. Together we grappled with questions of how and what to measure in a BAM business, as well as why to measure.

We believe it is not only possible, but highly valuable for a company to have practical, intentional goals for ministry and then to evaluate (measure) their performance against these goals. We also believe it is right and appropriate for outside agents, whether owners, investors, ministries or researchers, to have tools to evaluate and compare. Benchmarking and the development of best practice indicators are valuable for the entire BAM community.

There are many pitfalls in metrics and this report attempts to highlight these. A significant issue is of course that what we call good is not always what God calls good. Collecting data is one thing, analyzing and evaluating it is quite another. We need in our evaluations to leave room for the Holy Spirit to work and to guide. Not all issues lend themselves to hard, numeric evaluation. One of our members reported a regular story telling time that allows clients to share how they were impacted by encounters with the staff. The stories themselves are a type of metric. This metric can be made more useful, however, if the stories are categorized so that trends can be tracked. Discovering which way you are moving is a valuable input.

Possibly the most important aspect of metrics is their application—what do you do with the measure after you have prepared it? Metrics should not be about punishment. In fact the best use for measures is as feedback for secure and capable leaders who want to improve. Good metrics are a compass that enables good leaders to stay on track.

BMTT-IG Measuring Impact cover 300