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When Business

Aims for Miracles

Minneapolis-St. Paul business professionals are some of the Inner city's
most effective "social entrepreneurs." by TODD SVANOE

HILE SOME social ministry leaders are tapping nesses like General Mills, Honeywell, Edina Realty, and

W government funds, Minnesota evangelicals are

blazing a different trail: the business world,
which they find richer not only in funds but in
skills and leadership.These faith leaders are com-
bining biblical piety, corporate funding, and a "just do it" busi-
ness manner to produce a civic witness for Christ on a scale
beyond what their seminaries prepared them for—all free of
ADC Broadband, Urban Ventures has transformed an aban-
doned city strip in south central Minneapolis formerly
known as "Crack Alley" into the thriving center now called
"the Opportunity Zone."
The avenue, once pocked with porn shops and crack
houses and crawling with prostitutes, now offers youth
sports, an Olympic-quality soccer field, computer and fami-
government bureaucracy and church-board stalemates. ly education, a jobs agency, an evangelical church and Bible
General Mills, for example, was so com- studies, emergency finances, and an outlet with
pelled by Bethel Seminary graduate Alfred free food, clothes, and furniture.
Babington-Johnson's vision for healing a bro- Enthusiastic business veterans sit over maps
ken African-American community that it offered funding and and catered lunches in a boardroom planning their next
100 volunteers to help create an award-winning soul-food move: the $16 million Colin Powell Youth Leadership Cen-
manufacturer and packing company in north Minneapolis. ter. "I've never been involved in anything so good and pure
Stairstep Initiative's Siyeza Inc. employs 80 people (and in all my life," says Dave Bigler, former senior vice presi-
expects to hire more than 175 at its peak capacity), 80 percent dent of marketing at Principal Financial Group.
of them from poor neighborhoods. The $4.3 million invest- Bigler led a committee that hosted a luncheon last sum-
ment, created through an alliance of 49 black investors, Gen-
eral Mills, and US Bancorp, produced a $94,000 return at only
10 percent of factory capacity last year.
Based on projections and new contracts, debt will be
eliminated in less than five years, after which workers will
have an opportunity for a stake in ownership. Siyeza's mis-
sion is to demonstrate God's friendship to disfranchised
people, Babington-Johnson says.
"God does not just say he loves us, he shows it, and so
must we," he says. "Our desire is that the manifestation of
God's power in this community-building work translates
into What must I do to be saved? But for many that won't
happen until they hold stock papers in their hands."

"Historically, urban ministries got mad at the rich. Now,
we're partnering with them," says veteran youth pastor Art
Erickson, who started Urban Ventures Leadership Founda-
tion in 1993 with retired banker Ralph Bruins. Their goal:
create a Christian community development corporation as
a catalyst for joining faith and business resources to help
inner-city kids succeed—an area in which the church had
floundered. In only eight years, through alliances with busi-

58 C H R I S T I A N I T Y T O D A Y M a y 2 1 , 2 0 0 I
mer in which Erickson and Powell appealed to more than financial planners, and people with professional expertise."
1,000 Minneapolis business leaders to partner with faith Beecham found this help from the Twin Cities Urban
leaders to revitalize urban neighborhoods. Reconciliation Network (TURN), which matches grad-
Philip Styrlund, vice president of sales at ADC, uates of its urban ministry training with business
says of Urban Ventures, "They get things done veterans. A pilot group of volunteers from a
here. They have a focus." large suburban church includes an accountant,
Urban Ventures' leaders are neither shy two attorneys, a fundraiser, two former vice
nor retiring: corporate funders on a tour of presidents, a human-resources manager, and a
Urban Ventures are immediately shown walls strategic planner.
of professionally mounted photos in what "A huge disconnect between those with
could be called a Gallery of Outcomes. They tremendous resources and those with tremen-
are told exactly -what part they could play in Art Erickson dous yision ^^^ the viability of the church

Urban Ventures' unfolding strategic plan. Styrlund finds in our generation," says Art Treadwell, pastor of Christ
this approach not only businesslike but also Christlike. Temple and CEO of Exodus Community Development
"Jesus was passionate and revolutionary," he says. "He Company.
was humble, but he did not act small." Community development partnerships bring a witness
Churches often lack the shrewdness to accomplish the to the world that has been lost because of "the absence of
grand missions to which God calls them, Styrlund says. miracles," says Treadwell, whose multimillion dollar pro-
Business professionals, on the other hand, are proving to be jects, partially funded by
like long-lost siblings and partners in mission. the St. Paul Companies,
have produced 135 units
SKILLS WORTH MORE THAN GOLD of affordable housing and
Could relationships between faith and business communi- mental-health services
ties change the landscape of social welfare in America? That since 1991.
depends, says former businessman Floyd Beecham, pastor From the plagues of
of Faith Tabernacle Gospel Church and president of Urban Egypt to the walls of Jeri-
Hope Ministries, which offers crisis counseling and referrals cho to Paul's quaking
in the inner city. prison to Jesus' many
Those who see financing as the primary benefit of busi- healings, God both said
ness professionals are stuck in old Great Society thinking, and showed he was Lord,
Beecham says. The harder commodities to come by are Treadwell notes.
people's time and talent. "Big physical changes
"Of the 10 churches that partner with us, half of them get people's attention," he
throw money at us," he says. "But we need lawyers, bankers, says. "I see hope in the
boldness of Christian busi-
nessmen and women Soul Food: Siyeza Itic.'s mission
who have begun to bridge is to bring disfranchised people
this separation in concrete to God.

Urban Ventures' Erickson says that during his 35 years of
youth ministry he has seen 63 urban churches abandon
their posts in Minneapolis and move to greener pastures.
Some merely lost members when their employers relocat-
ed to the suburbs. But others, he says, lacked the business
savvy to adjust to changing markets.
"We have to know what our market, product, and out-
comes are," says Erickson, unabashedly using the language
of business to speak about ministry. "In this case the prod-
ucts are people with values and behaviors."
The citywide Soul Liberation Festival, created by Erick-
son in 1973, was his laboratory for learning some important
lessons about reaching urban people.
The festival still draws thousands to south Minneapolis
to hear the nation's top evangelists and Christian musicians
on the blacktop outside of Park Avenue United Methodist

May 2 1 , C H R I S T I A N I T Y T O D A Y 59
Church, where Erickson led youth
for 25 years.
To all appearances, the festival
has been a youth pastor's dream.
But dysfunctional families in
blighted neighborhoods often
stunt the personal spiritual growth
of individual believers—or, as
Erickson says, "There is a big dif-
ference between saved souls and
changed lives."
Faced with systemic problems,
many ministers just preach louder,
Erickson jokes, while businesses do
research and development with a
problem-solving mentality. One of
his goals in starting Urban Ventures
with Bruins was to help Christian
community leaders address prob-
lems in a holistic way.
"When you save a prostitute,
for immortality
you've created a new problem," Mobile Home: The St. Paul Companies, Dain Rauscher,
PRESENTED BY says Erickson. "Now she's out of a and evangelical leaders work together to solve the
The Center for Bioethics job. She still has rent to pay and Twin Cities' housing crisis.
and Human Dignity children to feed."
TOGETHER WITH Bruins says a deeper look at the needs shipping, billing, and monitoring out-
Christian Legal Society of a regenerate ex-prostitute might reveal comes," he says. "I carried that mentali-
Christian Medical & Dental she is listed at a local job bank—but most ty into ministry."
Assoc. Americans United of the jobs are in the suburbs. Pastors and other leaders with
for Life "At our local job bank, I was "tremendous ministry skills, full
Fellowship of Christian told that of the last 150 appli- of the zeal of the Lord and
Physicians Assistants cants, only five had driver's willing to sacrifice to make
North American Association of licenses," says Bruins, who their missions work," often
Christians in Social Work oversees economic develop- have dreams larger than their
Nurses Christian Fellowship ment at Urban Ventures. job descriptions, and ministry
Trinity International University "And that doesn't mean visions that take them
those had cars." beyond their church walls,
Salvation through Christ Alfred Babington Johnson says Joy Skjegstad of TURN.
CONFERENCE: July 19-21,2001
is important, Erickson says, "but God Yet their visions are often too expansive
INSTITUTES: July 16-19,2001 cares about areas of common grace as for a church board to support or for an
POST-CONFERENCE SEMINAR: well as saving grace—redemption with a offering plate to sustain.
July 23-25,2001 small r as well as a big R," in areas such as Skjegstad, who has spent two years
jobs, food, education, housing, and a studying and training leaders of faith-
Conference Wrap-around and clean and safe neighborhood. based organizations, says she has seen
Institutes available for graduate & Neglecting these areas can render min- leaders struggle with "strategic planning,
under-graduate credit istries ineffective, and addressing them grant-writing, legally establishing a non-
requires resources beyond the capacity of profit, staffing [and] setting up an effective
PHONE 888.246.3844 the average church. "We need new com- governing board." She created an eight-
VISIT munity development corporations run by week training program for leaders of
followers of Jesus Christ," says Erickson, faith-based organizations called "Vision to
who as a boy was influenced by watching Reality," sponsored by TURN /Vision
FAX 847.317.8153 his father, a chemist, inventor, and busi- Twin Cities and the Center for Nonprofit
nessman, at work. Management at the University of St.
Conference is on the campus of
"Dad would take an idea, develop a Thomas in Minneapolis.
Trinity International University,
Deerfield, Illinois, USA model, create a product and an assem- "Many of these leaders have consid-
bly line that produced it, all the way to ered entering MBA programs, but they
60 C H R I S T I A N I T Y T O D A Y
want to integrate the biblical faith compo- Development Corporation, funded by
nent," she says. the St. Paul Companies and Dain Rausch-
er. Full-time medical care and case man-
FROM DOUGHNUT TO BISMARCK agers helped 100 homeless alcoholics last
Famous Dave's Restaurants has also car- year, and 15 people who had made up to
ried its business acumen into ministry. 75 detox or emergency room hospital vis-
Founder Dave Anderson, a Native Ameri- its per year made significant changes in
can and an evangelical, works with Gor- their lives. — - Send me a risk-free trial
Q Yes!
don and Sheila Thayer in their street min- Erickson says that when business own- issue. If I like it, I'll honor your
istry to the estimated 55 percent of Twin ers return to the inner city, they have an invoice for $17.95 and receive 5
City Natives who are alcoholics. opportunity to act redemptively. They more issues-a full year in all. If not
completely satisfied, I'll return the
Delivered from alcoholism by the can begin to "reweave what has been invoice marked "cancel" and owe
power of Christ themselves, the Thayers unraveled" in the last 35 years as people nothing. I'll keep the trial issue at
evangelize and help Native Americans with skills and resources have vacated no cost, regardless.
adapt to urban life. They recently built an metropolitan areas all over the nation. Name
apartment complex for Native Americans "What this has produced is a metro- Address
recovering from alcoholism. politan doughnut, with a hole in the
Revenues from Famous Dave's, which inside. What we're seeking is an English
State. Zip
grosses $70 million annually, are also ear- muffin, or better yet, a Bismarck, with the Please allow 4-6 weeks for delivery of first issue.
marked to start a new "boot camp" for goodie in the middle. And it can happen Outside U.S. add S5 per year for delivery (U.S.
Native American youth. This will include like that," he says, snapping his fingers, "if
Clip and mail to:
training in physical fitness, life skills, and business folks join us at the table." ® CHRISTIAN READER
business (focusing on how to create Subscription Services
wealth), Anderson says. Todd Svanoe ( is an P.O. Box 37060
Gordon Thayer also directs the Amer- urban reporter who covers effective faith-
Boone, IA 50037-0060
ican Indian Housing and Community based ministries around the nation.

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May 21, 2 0 0 1 C H R I S T I A N I T Y T O D A Y 61

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