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.”

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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.

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BAM and Church Planting

Business as Mission and Church Planting: Fruitful Practices for Establishing Faith Communities

Many within the business as mission (BAM) movement, especially those from church planting mission agencies, are hopeful that the BAM concept can become a key strategy in starting new churches and transforming communities. This report will confirm that indeed the potential exists for these goals to be attained. However, while there is a good rationale for integrating business and church planting, to date there has been a relative lack of working examples and resources on best practices.

The objective of the Business as Mission and Church Planting Issue Group has been to research current practices and trends in the BAM movement and to identify fruitful practices that lead to the formation of new churches. We conducted interviews with BAM practitioners to identify foundational principles, key challenges and fruitful practices for BAM and church planting. Real examples from BAM companies are shared to illustrate some of the lessons learned by current practitioners.

Fruitful practices for integrating church planting and business include:

  • Make sure that the business provides regular contact with the focus people.
  • Invest substantial time in learning language and culture before attempting to start a business.
  • Make business sustainability and profitability an essential goal.
  • Give thoughtful consideration to staff selection.
  • Clarify and communicate your strategic mission.
  • Build local partnerships.
  • Work in a team.
  • Incorporate prayer right from the start.
  • Incorporate biblical values and teaching.
  • Work with a coach or mentor(s).
  • Witness by doing business ethically and with care.
  • Provide excellent products and services.
  • Intentionally invest in relationships.
  • Be socially responsible in the wider community.

Most BAM practitioners were able to share illustrations of transformational business practices, discipling conversations, significant relationships and anywhere from one to a handful of new Christ-followers in their company or work community. In some cases the double bottom lines of profitable business and planting churches has been achieved.

Therefore, the results of our research indicate that God has already used business to launch new churches. However church planting alongside operating a viable for-profit business presents significant challenges. Furthermore, we discovered only a handful of examples that have helped initiate a new church that can reproduce itself on its own.

Areas for further consideration and research are suggested, as well as practical recommendations for making greater advances in this area of business as mission. Our hope is that in the future there will be many more companies that do business well and at the same time help establish communities of faith that will be a reflection of God’s glory.

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BAM in Hostile Environments

A Dangerous Calling? The Challenge of Business as Mission in Hostile Environments

Challenge, risk and opportunity! Managing a business as mission (BAM) venture in a hostile environment presents the entrepreneur with a unique task. Not only is there the day-to-day task of ensuring the company is safeguarded against all the known risks, but there is also the constant need to look beyond the horizon to see those emerging threats that could bring down the business. These multiple risks create complexity and a wide range of issues that must be managed with care. Given this reality, entrepreneurs in hostile environments need be able to identify and manage such risks and appreciate how they may overlap or intertwine with normal business risks.  The discussion in this report addresses the interdependent relationships between BAM ventures and their hostile environments.

In the parable of the talents and the description of the Proverbs 31 female entrepreneur, we clearly see that God asks us to be fruitful and productive and to multiply. Good stewardship should motivate us to safeguard the assets and talents with which God has entrusted us. However, as stewards called to mission, we choose to expose ourselves and our BAM venture to a variety of hostile conditions and volatility that may threaten our success. The challenge for BAM practitioners (BAMers) is to understand and cope with multiple risks within a hostile environment that vary both in their nature and intensity level.

The goal of this report is to engage BAM entrepreneurs in a discussion on how to improve skills for anticipating and managing these risks.

We have in mind at least three key audiences:

  • New BAM start-ups or ventures less than one year old.
  • Existing BAM ventures already operational for at least a year.
  • Wounded warriors who have experienced pain, loss or harmful mistakes.

Although we believe that BAMers have a better awareness of risk compared with most people who lack cross-cultural business experience, there is much to be gained from a thorough exploration of this topic. We want BAM practitioners to make better decisions and experience greater rewards from having a clearer and deeper understanding of risk.

The framework of our report incorporates:

  • A discussion of the problem and how we have approached it.
  • Important definitions, such as business ecosystems.
  • Emerging themes from case studies.
  • An overview of best practices for managing risk in hostile environments.
  • A summary of the main emerging themes in the Conclusion.
  • Appendices of case studies, tools, useful articles and collected wisdom.

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BAM Franchising

Business as Mission Franchising: Replicating Proven Businesses

Many business as mission (BAM) practitioners believe that an increase in BAM franchising would more quickly increase the number of BAM businesses worldwide and thus exposure to God’s love and the gospel. Interest has been expressed in the concept of ‘BAM in a Box’, that is franchise and business replication opportunities that would make starting a new BAM business faster, easier, and with a greater chance of success.

Replicating successful BAM businesses should make a significant contribution to the BAM movement, but an investment of time, resources and expertise is required. The BAM in a Box Issue Group has created practical business replication “how-to guidelines” for BAM Entrepreneurs (BAMpreneurs) to support this need.

BAM franchising does have many advantages for BAMpreneurs. Franchise businesses are a lower risk for business owners and investors. Franchising is built on a proven business concept and provides many resources to support the business startup. Franchises generally come with a natural mentoring network and supportive training and systems.

However, few proven BAM franchising models exist and there is little franchising expertise in the business as mission community. A BAMpreneur cannot assume he or she can create a BAM franchise by themself without appropriate training and resources. Yet a fragmented BAM community makes growing networks for BAM franchising more difficult. Franchising looks easier than it is and new resources and networks will be needed to successfully foster significant BAM franchise growth.

This Report is the first step to transition from the “what” of BAM replication to the “how”.  The target audience for these “how-to” resources are BAM practitioners who either want to expand by replicating their existing business or those who wish to start a business based on a proven model. BAM franchising will serve a particular subset of the BAM community. However, there are many alternative business models to consider besides franchising. These include: licensing, joint ventures, distributorships, company unit expansion, and numerous other hybrid replication models.

Using various forms of business replication in BAM provides a wide path to spread the gospel and demonstrate God’s Kingdom. We need BAM investors and seasoned business owners, mission agencies, churches and others to work together to leverage this business replication opportunity. We need an increase in BAMpreneurs who are fully equipped and willing to go and invest in starting such businesses.

A working group will continue to collaborate on the topic of BAM replication. Our objectives for future work are:

  1. Create a BAM in a Box business model within the Aquaponics industry to provide a template for further BAM in a Box models.
  2. Find like-minded successful franchisors and investors to partner with BAM practitioners.
  3. Create a collection of BAM business replication resources, networking and relationship building opportunities.

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BAM and Human Trafficking

A Business Takeover: Combating the Business of the Sex Trade with Business as Mission

Between 12 and 27 million people globally are currently caught in human trafficking and exploited for their labor or sexual services. To begin combating the monstrosities represented by these numbers, we must recognize that trafficking is an industry and the sex trade is a business. These are economically driven enterprises. We must intentionally and systematically acknowledge the important role of business as a strategy to fight the trade on both a macro and micro level.

Traditionally, businesses have been relegated to participating in anti-trafficking work as the funding source for the work of nonprofits. However, business as mission (BAM) entrusts businesses with much more than simply funding nonprofit work; the business itself becomes the vehicle of change. As such, both nonprofit and for-profit strategies are integral to success in anti-trafficking work.

Business and nonprofit work can come together in anti-trafficking work to focus on job creation, increasing the employability of individuals who have been victimized by human trafficking, and in their subsequent aftercare. Freedom business is a term used to describe enterprises that are involved in such anti-trafficking efforts and care of survivors.

Cultural differences between nonprofit and for-profit entities must be recognized and addressed to enhance working relationships and maximize success. With clear communications, expectations and goals, cultural barriers can be overcome and flourishing partnerships can develop.

Beyond the general best practices of fair trade and BAM, freedom businesses must take extra care when considering the employment of individuals coming from situations of abuse. Extensive training in both technical and soft skills is often required for employer expectations to be met. While having a job with dignity is a major step in the restoration process, aftercare must be intentionally structured into the business so that individuals and communities can heal physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

Creating a business that provides for individual needs while at the same time systematically attacking the larger trafficking industry is an overwhelming task for even the most enthusiastic entrepreneurs. There are three main categories of businesses currently working in this space: businesses working for prevention, businesses creating employment for restoration and businesses working in support of field-based freedom businesses. These businesses are growing slowly, but steadily. Few have achieved profitability and most benefit greatly from subsidies of some sort. For true success to be found, freedom businesses must seek (with resolute pursuit) to be profitable, sustainable and scalable while participating in traditional marketplaces both globally and locally.

Freedom businesses are uniquely positioned to strike at the economically driven foundations of the sex trade. By combining the necessary components of economic productivity and holistic ministry, the staggering numbers of people caught in the trade can be reduced through the powerful response of freedom business.

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BAM and the End of Poverty

Business as Mission at the Base of the Pyramid

In a large set (a survey of over 60,000 of “the poor”) …two of the main reasons that people gave for moving out of poverty were finding jobs and starting businesses. (Narayan, Pritchett, and Kapoor, 2009)

The Issue Group on Business as Mission at the Base of the Pyramid focused on the role of business in alleviating poverty, and the unique opportunity Christians in business have to address the needs and injustice of the 2.5 billion people who live on less than US$2.50 per day (the base of the pyramid or “BoP”).

The group built its call to action on several foundational understandings:

1. We are all created in God’s image: equal, creative, and imaging God in our work;
2. All Christians are called to care for the poor; empowering those at the BoP is part of our mission, responding to God’s love by loving our neighbor and building God’s kingdom;
3. Business is essential, and uniquely positioned as a sustainable solution to poverty; and
4. We are at a tipping point with the emerging global technologies, attitudes, movements and opportunities to end poverty.

Our conclusion is that there is a unique and timely opportunity for the global Church and the business as mission (BAM) movement to make poverty alleviation a central, achievable focus, now. It is time to engage, affirm and support a global movement of entrepreneurs and businesses of all sizes in achieving the end of poverty – bringing God’s Kingdom on earth, as it is in Heaven.

The great news is that entrepreneurs of all nations, as well as local and global institutions are rising to this challenge and making an impact on poverty with sustainable businesses, and dignity, even in some of the most challenging places on this globe. This report highlights profiles of a few of these champions, as well as their major challenges, emerging global opportunities and trends, and promising practices of those focused on business ending poverty.

The solution here is not the old missionary and development models of “North to South” or “West to the Rest.” Recent books, like Dead Aid and When Helping Hurts warn us of the destructive tendency of “us to them” aid that erodes the dignity and productive capacity of people and communities. Rather, sustained impact on poverty builds on local business talents and leadership, and provides “access to the pond”.

I began to protest the oft-used “give a man a fish and he will eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.” No, I thought, these folks already know how to fish.  They just need access to the pond!  They know how to farm, but they own only half an acre to feed seven hungry people! (Seebeck, 2009)

With entrenched structural barriers that limit “access to the pond”, it is not an easy task to end poverty, but progress is being made; extreme poverty (those that live on US$1.25 per day) has been cut in half in the last 20 years.

The question is, how many more could be freed from the injustice of poverty? What could happen if every Christian who sees their business as mission embraced their role and ability to end poverty?

Come join the dialogue, and join the movement of business as mission ending poverty.

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Biblical Foundations for Business as Mission

Your Kingdom Come, Your Will Be Done… In Business

The Biblical Models of Transformation Through Business Practices Issue Group (BMIG) focused on developing a Biblically sound and practical understanding of business.

The group defined its purpose as identifying principles, models and practices of business that give expression to its role in advancing God’s purpose or mission in the world. The group operated on the basis that, broadly speaking, God’s purpose is to establish His Kingdom—a Kingdom to be fully consummated with the second coming of Jesus Christ, but inaugurated in ‘this present age’ (Tit 2:11–14).

The group acknowledged that profit matters in any business, but that profit is not the raison d’etre for business as mission (BAM). Profit is necessary to sustain an enterprise and it can also finance good works of various kinds. But a different p-word motivates BAM practitioners—purpose, specifically God’s purpose.

The group set about its work in four areas, namely the overarching or integrating theme of God’s purpose in the world, the role of business in serving people, the role of business in creation care and the role of profit.

Regarding God’s purpose, the BMIG proposed that the creation mandate is foundational and that redemption of all of creation is God’s desire. An important barrier to the role of business was identified as the sacred‒secular (Sunday‒Monday) divide. Although this divide is now widely recognized the remedy is quite possibly to let the world see evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in business.

Jesus was a servant. He served his Father and he served humanity. Serving people ought therefore to be characteristic of BAM. All business does this in a sense—by being the primary means of delivering material blessing to people. Beyond that, business can serve people by delivering social justice.

God loves all of His creation. It is true that humankind is special and we, of all of creation on earth, have the special privilege of fellowship with Him. Nevertheless, God cares for all He created and there are a number of metaphorical scriptures that confer personhood on non-human creation. Business must engage in creation care if it is to fully embrace God’s purpose in the world.

Regarding profit, most of the leading thinkers on business as mission agree that BAM businesses ought to make a profit. Profit is an emotive word that elicits negative comment. However, what is actually objectionable about profit is not profit per se, but greed (and, perhaps surprisingly, consumerism and the idolization of freedom). There were antidotes to economic excess established in the Old Testament that have counterparts in the New Testament and they are discussed in this report.

Dotted throughout the report are the experiences and thoughts of a number of BAM practitioners (BAMers) who were members of the BMIG. They did a sterling job of balancing the contributions of the academic members who research and write about BAM, but are not experienced practitioners themselves.

Finally, some recommendations are made that might be considered by the business as mission community. These mainly concern the way in which BAM is defined and focus on whether  the spiritual ‘bottom line’ should be added to the three bottom lines of Corporate Social Responsibility. This report suggests that, properly understood, the bottom lines of economic, social and environmental outcomes are all spiritual bottom lines. A new way of conceptualizing business as mission is presented for consideration by the BAM community.

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