Mark DeYmaz: The Church as a Benevolent Owner—Part 2

How economic impact can be an evangelistic tool.

In part one of our interview with Mark DeYmaz, founding pastor of Mosaic Church in Little Rock, Ark., he defined Church Economics and explained why the 21st-century American church must institute it in order to ensure long-term ministry impact and economic sustainability. Here, the author of The Coming Revolution in Church Economics: Why Tithes and Offerings Are No Longer Enough, and What You Can Do About It (with Harry Li, Baker) shares more about the ways Mosaic has embraced church economics in its own context. He also explains how economic impact can actually be an effective evangelistic strategy and explores how operating a church with economics in mind is actually biblical, and possible for churches of any size.

Renting half your building to a fitness club is one example of how you’re using Church Economics in your own context at Mosaic. What are some other ways you’re using economic principles to sustain your church and bless your community, not to mention to find favor with your local government?

We have the largest food distribution in Little Rock that serves about 20,000 unique people from our ZIP code every year, and there are only 32,000 people in our ZIP code. So 63 percent of our community depends on our church for healthy food. We have 31 percent poverty, so we have a major impact. Five years ago, the mayor asked me if we could export fresh fruits and vegetables into 17 food deserts in this city if he gave us a city bus. I said, Yeah, we could do that. I had no idea how, but we figured it out. The mayor didn’t go to the church of 5,000 white people in the suburbs. He didn’t even go to the church of 5,000 black people in the inner city. He came to the church of 600 people from 25-30 different nations that was actually getting work done, bringing diverse people together to worship God as one, executing through our nonprofit programs of compassion, mercy and justice, and at the same time, creating jobs, businesses and tax revenue.

Recently we started a two-room massage studio in our church run by a woman business-owner. We used church assets to build out two massage rooms for her business inside our building. The church doesn’t own the business, but we get 20 percent of the profits, and that sustains our work. If you’re a masseuse and you work at, say, Massage Envy, they give you 40 percent of the massage fee, and they keep 60 percent. In our model, we give the masseuse 80 percent, and we keep 20. We both win.

We also recently opened the first specialty coffee shop in our community. Obviously we’re not the first church to do a coffee shop, but in our urban, inner-city community, there is no Starbucks. That generates income, and we’re doing it in a way that blesses the community. I’m not renting space to, say, pawn shops. No, we’re creating vibrant businesses that bless the community, create jobs, and generate tax revenue.

How can practicing Church Economics actually support an effective evangelism strategy?

As with an American football team that has three teams—offense, defense and special teams—local churches today must become a team of teams with each team playing to advance the common good and gospel. On the spiritual front, churches must become healthy multiethnic and economically diverse reflections of their community to advance a credible witness. The social team exists to advance justice and compassion work through an umbrella nonprofit, and the financial team to generate for-profit sustainable income. As it stands, the American church is pitched to just one team: a spiritual team, and we’re basically getting nowhere with that right now. No one’s listening. The way you’re going to get them to listen is through job creation, the repurposing of abandoned property and reduction in crime. I believe economics is the evangelism strategy of the 21st century.

Today, then, we need both proclamation and demonstration to actually advance a credible witness. Think about it: The 20th century was built primarily around the explanation of the gospel. That’s how people got saved. You brought Billy Graham to the city. He would clearly and simply explain the gospel, and people got saved. Or you walked up and down the beach explaining to strangers the story of salvation using in a little pamphlet called “Four Spiritual Laws.” They listened and got saved. You gave your friend a book called Evidence That Demands a Verdict. They read it and got saved. It was all about explanation. Do we still do that today? Of course we do. But in these times, in an increasingly diverse, painfully polarized, cynical society, words are not cutting through. They’re a dime a dozen. What this culture is looking for is not just explanation, but actual demonstration. This is Matthew 5:16. Let them see your good works, Jesus said. And this will shine a light on who God is, glorified in the Father of heaven. It’s through works that we get the attention of the unbeliever today. What people pay attention to is justice and economics.

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Again, here is partly what we did: We bought an 80,000-square-foot building, now 100,000. It was an abandoned inner-city Kmart that had been sitting dark for eight years. In the parking lot at night were prostitution and drugs, but we redeemed that property. We purchased it, cleaned it up, and made it an excellent facility. We’re not doing it just for our church. We’re serving the community. We’re feeding the poor and clothing those without clothing and working with immigrants and kids who age out of foster care. I don’t have to preach redemption. I just demonstrated the power of the gospel to redeem. It was dark, and now it’s light. It was dangerous, and now it’s safe. There was no tax revenue being generated, and now there is. There were no jobs, there was no business here. Now there are. That’s good works, and it’s what’s bringing people our way.

If a church leader is hesitant to embrace a church economics philosophy, it might be due to the implication of an absence of faith in God to provide.

Have you ever been to the doctor? Have they ever prescribed you medicine and you took it? Have you ever consented to surgery? Have you ever cosigned a loan to buy a house or car or send your kid to college? Where’s your faith? It’s erroneous to expect that the church collectively would live like we personally don’t even live. It’s a false assumption that being intentional and practicing smart economics is somehow a demonstration of a lack of faith, because we Christians don’t even live like that in our own lives.

If you read about the theology of good, biblical stewardship, it’s this: You gave me five, here’s your five and I made you five. You gave me two, here’s your two and I made you two. But we have it in mind that it’s just managing your facility, making sure we give proper accounting, and clearly communicating where donations went. Yes, that’s all part of good stewardship. But technically, biblically, exegetically, good stewardship is, I doubled your money. You gave me an asset and I knew what to do with it.

The American church is sitting on billions of dollars in assets: programs, buildings, undeveloped and developed property. It’s the large churches with 40 empty acres 30 miles away. Or the churches of 65 members where nobody’s getting saved, there’s no advancement of the gospel, but the first thing its members will tell you is how proud they are to have a $2.5 million endowment in the bank. Billions of dollars in assets are being squandered. Imagine the economic impact that ultimately leads to incredible witness through good works and evangelism if those churches would just put those assets to work. Imagine if you could wave a magic wand and turn loose those billions of dollars into America’s inner cities, into the community, into job creation, business creation, repurposing of abandoned properties. What could that investment do to change people’s lives, to see cities flourish? The church would get credit for that. The world would see our good works, validate our presence, and run our way in terms of salvation.

But we’re sitting on those billions in assets, and why wouldn’t Jesus look us in the eye and call us wicked, lazy slaves?

What about a concern about mixing the secular marketplace with the sacred church. Is that valid?

This is why I tell pastors, you don’t have to be the guy doing it. You don’t want pastors doing this. What we advocate is a synergistic three-part team where a senior pastor leads the church and focuses on spiritual dynamics. An executive director leads your non-profit, social justice, compassion and mercy ministries. And a CEO, business director, or committee of business people oversees church economics. Now some pastors are entrepreneurial by nature, and I probably fall into that category. In our church, we’re raising money for this position. Our goal is to put a business leader on staff to run the business side. Right now I’m running that. Most churches didn’t sign up for the pastor to run a business. They signed up for a pastor who would preach the gospel. So pastors shouldn’t feel pressured to go out and make this happen themselves. What they should feel pressured about is the problems we’re currently facing and figuring out long-term solutions. You need to prayerfully and intentionally pursue marketplace leaders and entrepreneurs and bring them close to you. Hiring a business leader keeps the pastors in their lanes and doing what they’re good at.

Paul did not separate the sacred and the secular, but many pastors think the job of the marketplace entrepreneur is to make money and give it to the church so we can spend it on spiritual things. Marketplace leaders and entrepreneurs are sick and tired of feeling like the only way they contribute is by giving money, though. And whenever I include business or marketplace leaders in the conversation to find a solution to these bigger problems, they lean forward and sit on the edge of their seat. Secular is intrinsic to the sacred.

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Could this work in small churches too? Well, our church was planted from scratch and not part of any network or denomination. Three years in, at 100-150 people, we started to think like this. Because in a multiethnic, economically diverse, inner-city community, the more people that join your church, the more money it costs you! So if I’m in a small church, sure I could exist on tithes and offerings alone. It would be me, 80 people, a secretary and a janitor. But if you have passion and a vision to advance the gospel and a desire for outreach, then tithes and offerings alone aren’t going to cut it. But again, pastors don’t have to be the ones directly involved. They just have to be the head coach of the team and empower others to make it happen.

What can church leaders do if they’re interested in incorporating Church Economics into their own context?

First you must lean in and embrace Church Economics as a matter of sustainability and stewardship. You have to understand this. Secondly, you want to keep it simple. Start with what’s in front of you, like free coffee. Virtually every church in America gives away free coffee. What does it cost you to give away free coffee every Sunday, and how could you monetize that service to recoup the cost and save the money for ministry, while still giving away free coffee? On a more macro level, think about your rent or your mortgage payment. In our case, our mortgage is $16,000 a month, and we have businesses and business activity in the facility to the tune of roughly $12,000 a month. Right now we’re 75% of the way to our goal of generating enough money to cover our mortgage, so that not a penny of tithes and offerings goes toward that. What could be done in your church through benevolent ownership, monetizing existing services, and flat out starting new businesses to cover the mortgage or the rent payment?

I’ve also anticipated this question from pastors, and we’re doing something about that. Mosaix Global Network, my nonprofit, is launching The Church Economic Accelerator in partnership with a company called OCEAN out of Cincinnati. OCEAN is a high-tech accelerator that fast-tracks high-tech business ideas to market. We’re taking my understanding of Church Economics and merging it with all of the accelerator content that would work in a business or church setting. We launch our first cohort in January to help pastors figure this out for their own churches. You would start with us in Cincinnati, two days and two nights, get immersed, and then there’s homework and projects. In months two, three, and four, we do live Zoom workshops. In the third month we help the church audit its assets and consider what they’ve learned contextually. In the fifth month, you finish the course over two days and nights at a local church practicing Church Economics, graduate, and we commission you. The goal is that pastors and the business leaders from their churches would walk out with a one- to three-year business plan. We’re going to help you figure out how you can leverage your unique assets to bless your community and create sustainable income.

Any final thoughts?

Folks are fearful of mixing business with the church, since some pastors have done that in order to chase their own money and build their own kingdoms in a nefarious or self-serving way. So could people misuse Church Economics to build their own kingdom? Of course they could, but that’s already happening. They don’t need my permission! What I’m doing is freeing the minds of all the other good-hearted, hardworking, Jesus-loving, community-centered pastors to say that they don’t have to settle for docile acquiescence. They don’t have to succumb to the belief that nothing’s going to change. Most pastors, whether they know it or not, aren’t necessarily leading the church into the future. All they’re doing is managing decline. But this is a way to light their fire again to say, no, you don’t have to settle for that. You can actually get to the forefront of community transformation, gospel advancement, and church sustainability through smart economics. We’ve got the get churches and pastors to realize they can do more than manage decline. They can actually reposition the church for long-term impact in the future.