"In down economic times, charities complain about money, but a lack of money is a symptom, not a cause," said Bob Shank, one of the founders of the Barnabas Group, a network of business leaders who help Christian ministries. "The cause of the problem is more often a lack of creativity and collaborators. That's where we can help."
The Barnabas Group has its roots in the 1997 book Half Time, by Bob Buford. The book asks the question: If you've had some success in the first half of your life, what do you do with the second half? The book inspired Shank to start a seminar called The Master's Program that now operates in more than 20 cities, including Atlanta, Charlotte, Houston, Phoenix, Chicago, Toronto, and Los Angeles.
The Barnabas Group, originally made up of Master's Program alumni, now includes others and is a lot like the venture capital conferences that take place in Silicon Valley. At those events, companies seeking venture capital give a short presentation to a room full of venture capitalists, who become investors if the presentations are compelling enough. What's different about the Barnabas Group, West said, is that "the people who present to us are ministry leaders, and we don't let them ask for money. We give them access to our time, our talent, and our network." But the money often flows: $38 million flowing from Barnabas Group members to ministries since 2000, by West's account.
There are now eight Barnabas Group chapters around the country. They generally follow the model of the original Orange County, Calif., chapter started by Shank and West: Members pay $1,500 a year for the privilege of hearing the ministry presentations. The group would like to have chapters in every city in America with more than 1 million people, following what Shank said is another core principle, community. "High impact, entrepreneurial leaders are often visionary and willing to push ahead alone," Shank said. "But the Kingdom of God doesn't work that way. Kingdom leadership is done in community, not in isolation. So it is not so much sharing of money as the sharing of gifts that is the power of this concept. Gifts exercised in community are much more powerful than any one individual leader, no matter how gifted that leader might be."
"Is it the gospel that has become irrelevant or your churches? Is the problem God's message or your methods?" That was Gary Hamel, ranked the world's most influential business thinker by The Wall Street Journal, speaking at the leadership summit organized by Willow Creek Community Church last month. Hamel cited church consultants Tom and Sam Rainer, who define a "healthy" church as one with a "conversion ratio" of 20:1 or better-in other words, it takes 20 or fewer congregants to bring in one new member. By that standard, only 3.5 percent of America's 400,000 churches are "evangelistically fit," said Hamel. In trademark language from his business bestsellers (The Future of Management and Leading the Revolution) Hamel told his audience: "Organizations lose their relevance when the rate of internal change lags the pace of external change. And that's the problem that besets many churches today." Secular institutions, he said, are in the same boat. "Think about General Motors, Sony, Motorola, United Airlines, AOL, Yahoo, Sears, Starbucks-how have these companies been doing in recent years? Not too well. And not just because of the recession, but because they got stuck in the mud; they fell in love with status quo. . . So as church leaders, you shouldn't feel too sorry for yourselves. Your problem isn't unique, and it isn't materialism, atheism, skepticism or relativism-it's institutional inertia."