Church Planters: Orientations, Opportunities, and Outcomes of Religion Entrepreneurship

“… important conversations between/among academics and clergy about a trend that is increasingly (re)shaping the North American religious landscape. ”

Team Members/Contributors

Richard N. Pitt Vanderbilt University Contact Me

About this sabbatical grant for researchers

In my first book, “Divine Callings,” I investigated the construction of a clerical identity and structural barriers that make finding employment as congregational leaders difficult. These barriers lead many clergy to operate as “intrepreneurs,” people whose entrepreneurial spirit is put to use building, maintaining, and providing leadership for ministerial units (e.g., youth departments) within established congregations. With this current project, “Founders”, I shed light on a set of religious leaders who overcome those structural barriers in a different way. I examine why people become dissatisfied with their roles helping to build someone else’s religious enterprise and step out, with the risks inherent to such a decision, to start their own church as religion entrepreneurs. Bellah et al (1985) define jobs/careers as work that benefits the worker either financially or in social standing. A calling, on the other hand, is not to be judged by what one reaps from it. Instead, claiming a call to a vocation signifies a rejection of extrinsic rewards as an incentive. That framework is antithetical to our conventional understanding of the entrepreneurial spirit. Even when extrinsic rewards are low, economic entrepreneurs argue that ancillary rewards are enough to trigger the decision to begin their own enterprise. Does a “call” to religious entrepreneurship change these motivations? My interviews with more than 150 church planters show how religious values, culture, and language contribute to the motivations, understanding of risk, measures of success, and sense of competition expressed by men and women who start churches. While often similar to them, religion entrepreneurs differ from both for-profit and other not-for-profit entrepreneurs in fundamental ways. I am requesting resources to support a sabbatical year to write a book manuscript based on these findings and to begin data collection for an extension of this project that looks at entrepreneurial opportunity.