Seattle Pacific University
Eli Ritchie, program assistant, Center for Biblical and Theological Education
Matthew Sigler, assistant professor of Wesleyan theology/United Methodist liaison
The city of Seattle evokes a number of strong and diverse images – the bustling docks, posh new tech headquarters on the shores of Lake Union and the logos of native brands like Starbucks and REI. Intricately linked to the city’s spirit and identity, many of these images convey a sense of commerce, culture, and innovation – concepts that have been applied broadly by businesses, nonprofits, and church ministries. For many years, Seattle Pacific University (SPU) has attempted to engage these concerns and identities from a faith perspective, an effort which continues with the creation of the new Program for Christian Social Entrepreneurship.
This summer, the SPU School of Theology, in collaboration with the School of Business, Government, and Economics and the Center for Biblical and Theological Education, will launch the Program for Christian Social Entrepreneurship. Designed for church leaders who want to combine business-school savvy with meaningful theological grounding, the program offers an accessible, experiential and practical option for professional development and community transformation.
Common church-based social entrepreneurship ventures include pay-as-you-can coffee shops that train homeless or troubled youth as baristas, but Program Director Matthew Sigler hopes the new program will encourage the churches to think outside the coffee shop box.
“We’re hoping to meet a need for those in the church who realize that the way we do church needs to change, and to give them a comprehensive vision for what a holistic approach to ‘business as mission’ might look like,” Sigler says.
Local partners include organizations like Urban Impact, a church-connected nonprofit organization that runs a thriving gym and manages affordable housing units. Students will also explore sites like 415 Westlake – an event and wedding venue that also serves as a storefront and church building – and Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission’s 118 Designs, which salvages building materials to provide job training and discipleship opportunities through a furniture shop. These, and many other Seattle-based organizations offer social change models that generate revenue while simultaneously providing economic opportunity for the local community.
“The church must go outside its walls – if we only bring people in to our bubble, it’s not good ecclesiology, and we are missing the point of the gospel” says Celeste Cranston, director of the Center for Biblical and Theological Studies at SPU.
Following a 10-day period of instruction on campus, participants receive ongoing support from peers and coaches as they attempt to begin thriving social ventures, or shift the direction of existing programs and ministries. This support will help students take hold of opportunities and overcome the challenges that can arise when launching a social venture.
Home to the West Coast’s largest Wesleyan theology faculty, the SPU School of Theology has particular expertise regarding missiology, ecclesiology and the challenges of a post-Christian culture. Participating faculty within the School of Business, Government, and Economics offer special expertise on business plan development and models of social enterprise. The integrated approach of the Program for Christian Social Entrepreneurship is built upon a history of effective partnership between the two schools.