What if everything you need is already there?
Many Christian churches and related institutions in the United States are struggling or, in some cases, facing imminent crisis, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Attendance is down. Funding is harder to come by. People are no longer drawn to traditional church services and programming in the ways that they once were. Often, we feel broke and powerless to do much about it. We settle for doing more with less: Less money. Fewer people. Fewer churches.
But if we reexamine our perceived limits and our assumptions about how resources are supposed to be used, then something remarkable and beautiful comes into view: we aren’t broke at all but have enormous resources at our disposal. Church and missional organizations nationwide own billions of dollars of prime property and investment assets, which, when combined with social enterprise and new expressions of mission, can be put to work for innovation and transformation. And these resources are often available to us right now.
This book is an invitation to envision a different way of putting God’s gifts to work in the world. It draws upon a remarkable story of rebirth at a Presbyterian affiliated campus ministry center at the University of Wisconsin, along with profiles of other creative social enterprises, to describe how church property and investment assets can be put to work for innovation, transformation, and financial sustainability. Theologically rooted but practically minded, it provides guidance and tools for church and nonprofit leaders, entrepreneurs, and investors of all kinds who are seeking new ways to fund and participate in God’s work in the world.
Table of Contents
Foreword by Craig Dykstra
Introduction: We Aren’t Broke
Part One: Reimagining Mission and Money for Innovation and Transformation
1. Uncovering Abundance
2. The Way We’ve Always Done It
3. Highest and Best Use—Bigger Barns or Something Else?
4. Open the Barns, Don’t Build More
5. All Investment Has Impact—What Is Ours?
6. Creating a New Future by Repairing the Past
7. Reimagining Assets—a Higher and Better Use?
8. So Much Property!
9. Barriers That Hold Us Back
Part Two: Ingredients to Make It Work
10. Ingredients to Make It Work for Redemptive Entrepreneurs and Social Enterprises
11. Ingredients to Make It Work for Investors
12. Where Do We Go from Here?
“One of our biggest challenges in the church is imagination. In this book, Mark Elsdon reminds us that there is no scarcity of resources, only a scarcity of creativity and courage. He shows us a way forward, even in the midst of a pandemic. If we believe that light shines in darkness, this is an amazing moment for us to shine. If we feel anxious about resources, we need only remind ourselves of what Jesus did with a few struggling fishermen and a few courageous young women . . . and how he took a kid’s lunch to feed the masses. Indeed, even as we look at the early church faced with poverty pressing in all around them, we can see that they were able to provide for everyone by sharing, by fasting, and by holding all things in common. Gandhi put it well: ‘There is enough for everyone’s need, but there is not enough for everyone’s greed.’”
— Shane Claiborne
author, activist, and cofounder of Red Letter Christians
“This book packs a wallop—it could not be timelier or more important for congregations today. Elsdon calls churches to reckon with the impact of their finances—not just whether they can make bank—and turns impact investing into something mighty close to a spiritual practice. Given the tectonic shifts in giving and the global hand-wringing over the future of the church, We Aren’t Broke isn’t a moment too soon.”
— Kenda Creasy Dean
author of Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church
“Mark Elsdon knows what he is writing about: a capacious Christian vision of the common good. What he proposes is not abstract but grounded—a tested way of perceiving and acting that reorders the power of money and property for the sake of a more just and thriving neighborhood or town. Elsdon points a way to a comprehensive transformation of the church and the community.”
— Mark Labberton
author of The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor
“Wise and eminently practical, We Aren’t Broke is a timely, much-needed book. Elsdon’s transformational story is inspiring, and his lessons and insights provide wonderful ways to reimagine mission and ministry in diverse contexts. Take, read, and put into practice!”
— L. Gregory Jones
president of Belmont University
“I’ve long questioned the traditional model of the church’s role in the context of today’s society. I believe innovation has been somewhat lacking in approaches to disrupt systemic issues in our community. However, now more than ever, we are in a moment to change the narrative around this, and we are seeing more and more examples of new and effective models popping up around the world. We Aren’t Broke does an excellent job of digging into these challenging topics and highlighting new ways for the church to utilize its assets and reclaim its position as the transformational agent of change in our communities.”
— Derrick Morgan
retired NFL linebacker and managing partner at KNGDM Group
“This is a book the likes of which you have never read before. Mark Elsdon has written a book on money in the church that is both smart and wise. The smart part of his book is that he opens up important specific resources for good money management and investment. The wise part of his book is that he appeals to faith in order to imagine afresh the uses of our resources. Elsdon proposes nothing less than that we ‘recalibrate our relationship with money’ in order not to keep reiterating old practices. This book is a must-read for any part of the church that fears it lacks adequate resources. Elsdon’s own life experience provides an elemental case study for his exposition.”
— Walter Brueggemann
Columbia Theological Seminary
“We Aren’t Broke offers an insightful, first-person tour through the challenges of funding church-based ministries and exploring our relations of faith and finance. By combining reflections on his own journey with discussions of the best thinking and practices of innovative finance, Elsdon offers a solid vision of how money and mission may be integrated to advance the critical work of the church in the current century. A must-read for deacons, preachers, parishioners, and laity leading today’s religious communities!”
— Jed Emerson
author of The Purpose of Capital: Elements of Impact, Financial Flows, and Natural Being
“We Aren’t Broke is a welcome resource that so many churches need now, and Mark Elsdon is just the right guide. With wisdom and expertise gained through years of working alongside religious organizations as well as entrepreneurs, investors, and community advocates, Elsdon provides the perfect mix of practical advice with hope, creativity, and theological imagination.”
— David P. King
director of the Lake Institute on Faith and Giving at Indiana University
“Mark Elsdon asks us, ‘If the purpose of capital is to make good in the world with what God has lent us, and the way we go about growing that capital makes a difference, how then are we to think about the role capital plays in perpetuating or eliminating injustice in the world?’ This is a critical question for consideration, one of many that Elsdon so thoughtfully reflects upon in this important book.”
— Morgan Simon
author of Real Impact: The New Economics of Social Change
“In We Aren’t Broke, Elsdon captures a vision for the church’s future through redemptive entrepreneurship and impact investing. Drawing deeply from the worlds of business, mission-driven organizational leadership, and personal experiences of transformational college ministry, this book is part leadership workbook and part theological/ethical reflection on the value of investing in doing good—a must-read for pastors, social entrepreneurs, and people of faith who want to change the world.”
— Frank M. Yamada
executive director of the Association of Theological Schools
“I’ve read the parable of the rich young fool from Luke 12 over a thousand times and never noticed how conventional wisdom about money is the very thing that Scripture tells us is foolish! I’m thankful for Mark Elsdon’s theological, economic, and practical road map that shows us how to be wise according to the Kingdom of God’s standard.”
— David M. Bailey
founder and CEO of Arrabon
“Mark Elsdon masterfully shares his experience of making faith-focused impact investments from the early stages through the long term. Religious traditions have much to offer the global community about stewardship and the power of money. Elsdon reminds us that there is also great power in the current economic state of religious institutions—the question is, what impact will they seek? You will finish this book feeling motivated and guided on how church assets can be directed to seek positive impact.”
— Kate Walsh
Global Impact Investing Network