On April 21-22, 2023, Sent Church in Plano, Texas, launched a workshop called “Unlocking Entrepreneurship,” aimed at helping attendees grow their network, refine their ideas, launch sustainably and become marketplace multipliers — people who approach their “secular” jobs as an opportunity to do sacred work in their communities.

The workshop was the brainchild of some leaders within Sent Church who noticed post-pandemic trends in their community. As many in Plano were downsized from jobs, their next move was toward either education or entrepreneurship. Some started new ventures as their main profession; still others were pursuing part-time side jobs or “passion projects” outside regular work hours.

As the entrepreneur population in Plano continued to grow, Sent Church saw a chance to be a resource for innovators. “We thought, ‘Maybe there’s a role for the church to play in equipping the surrounding community to know what it’d take for them to start their own business successfully,’” reflected Rev. Kyle Ray, lead pastor of Sent Church. “It was outreach and born out of a dinner where Promise Phelon — a venture capitalist who attends our church — made a pitch that we do a kind of equipping event.”

The idea born from that dinner became the “Unlocking Entrepreneurship” event. While the Sent Church team planned the event with community support, it became clear that the church had great potential to be a convening place for the kinds of resources and relationships that help new ventures toward a sustainable launch.

The gathering was a tremendous success: 30 participants from various cross-sections of Plano entrepreneurship attended. But beyond the impressive quantity in attendance, attendees left with was an impressive quality of relationships that’ll far outlast the workshop.

One community bank attended the workshop hoping to give a $500 grant to one participant; when Gigi — who plans to open a food truck with her husband — was awarded the $500 grant, another participant heard Gigi’s story, and matched the $500; and when the “Unlocked” team shared that story the next day, another person wanted to match the $1,000.

Sent Church paired Gigi with another husband-and-wife entrepreneurial team within their network. The following day during a Sunday morning worship service, the Sent Church team shared Gigi’s story with their congregation. Some leaders of an organization in town heard, and contributed another $2,500 toward Gigi’s food truck.

“She spent $25 to come to this event, and walked away with $4,500 for her business,” reflected Rev. Ray. “Then she went to set up a small business account at the bank that sponsored the event, because that relationship was built during the workshop.”

As the Sent Church team reflects on the weekend, they hope this kind of partnership can be a model for other churches looking for ways to invest in their community.

“This kind of partnership encourages folks to be innovative — we’re all wondering how to connect with lost people in the community … we can all talk about the obstacles our churches are facing and do the ‘woe is me’ thing; but we serve an innovative God … and this is a different approach to disciples who make disciples … entrepreneurs — much like military leaders — are often underutilized in a congregational setting,” said Rev. Ray.

“These are people who are self-starters, risk-takers and who are connected to people, but who may not fit into our traditional service categories. If we get curious about this and help them create their own ways of serving the church, we may be amazed by what God will do.”

Communities are hungry for groups of people who seek the good of their city in prayerful presence, justice-oriented work and creative ideas. If congregations and innovators find common cause in their communities, the relationship benefits both parties: entrepreneurs stand to gain connections, resources and support from others looking to do good; and congregations benefit from people in their midst who develop trailblazing ways to love God and neighbor.

For more information about the Unlocking Entrepreneurship workshop, click here.

Rev. Ethan Linder is the pastor of discipleship at College Wesleyan Church in Marion, Indiana, and contributing editor at The Wesleyan Church’s Education and Clergy Development Division.