Moving Forward

Funding Ministry Through Social Enterprise

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A Church on the Brink

First Presbyterian Church of Gulf Shores is a small church with a big heart located in a small town with a big beach. The church, founded in 1956, was the second church established on the island paradise of the Alabama Gulf Coast. This small church, like many others around the country, has faced its share of financial challenges over the years, exacerbated most recently by the global pandemic. In the midst of the pandemic, Gulf Shores showed their faith and commitment to their ministry by calling me to be their new pastor. In the fall of 2021, nine months after I arrived, I realized we had a financial challenge.  There was enough money for my salary for about  two years. So? We got to work.

Together with the Session (church council) and congregational leaders, we asked questions and thought creatively about how to be about ministry in our community. What was really needed? What assets did our church have? We had brainstorming sessions, conversations with members of the community, and participated in the Oikos Accelerator (now the Good Futures Accelerator) from Rooted Good.  The Oikos Accelerator helped us align money and our mission by inviting us to explore ways to creatively use our building to further our mission and build financial resilience. 

A variety of ideas around the idea of social enterprise bubbled up as possibilities. Of all the ideas, two rose to the top because they addressed specific needs in the community and used one of our biggest assets – our building that was vacant most of the week: childcare and a business center. 

Something New

With two options on the table, we started asking questions about feasibility and potential, both internally, and with Gulf Shores community members. Our congregation truly believes that part of its purpose is to work for the good of the community, and it became clear that the way to do that would be to utilize the unused Christian Education wing and provide much-needed affordable office space to small businesses in the area. But in order for something new to begin, something had to be done with the space itself to transform it from classroom space to office space, starting with emptying the classrooms, cleaning carpets, changing out door handles, and so much more. 

Committed church and community members spent weeks doing all this necessary work in order to make the business center possible, and continue to be a key piece in the ongoing work of maintaining the space and being available to the tenants. In addition to supporting local businesses by providing space, we also saw opportunities to provide resourcing through regular seminars to teach and support business owners – not just those renting space, but any and all in the area. In order to be successful in this endeavor, we created partnerships, which helped open the doors of opportunity for forming the Hand-in-Hand Business Center. We now rent out six former classrooms, a library, a larger room, and a staff office space! 

The Power of Partnerships

Early in the planning process, we had conversations with a number of organizations in the community. Partnerships with the Coastal Alabama Chamber of Commerce and the Alabama Small Business Development Center (ASBDC) have been key. These groups have helped us build connections within the community and spread the word about the Hand-in-Hand Business Center. In addition to the Chamber and the ASBDC, a number of other local businesses and banks have partnered with Hand-in-Hand to present seminars on a wide range of topics: 

  • Starting a Small Business
  • Financing a Small Business
  • Cybersecurity for Small Business
  • Marketing a Small Business. 

These partnerships have not only resourced small businesses in the community, but also helped to quickly fill the available office space offered in the business center. While the business center began as a solution to our financial problems, it has become so much more.There is a line in our mission statement: “‘To perpetuate hope for our community and world by being consistently mindful of the indescribable gifts God has bestowed upon us and to express gratitude for such.” We believe that one of the gifts God has given us is our building. And by using that in a way that supports our community, that aligns with our mission to gratefully share what we have been given.

Growing Pains

Embarking on a new ministry always brings challenges, and Hand-in-Hand Business Center is no exception. The first challenge when doing things differently is helping people see the need for and the potential from the new opportunity. Through one-on-one conversations, supportive Session leadership, congregational activities provided by Rooted Good and the Oikos Accelerator, and wide-spread input and participation, the congregation quickly saw the potential of this new endeavor. 

We also had a few technical hurdles such as addressing how the business center would be structured in relation to the church, rezoning the church property from residential to business, and obtaining a business license through the city. In addition, rental agreements had to be created and physical property issues addressed. Now that our office spaces are occupied, it is important to listen to the tenants and address any issues that come up.

Ministry and Mission – The Infinite Game

It would be easy to think that once a new ministry is up and going, the work is done, but that is far from the case. For First Presbyterian Church of Gulf Shores, ministry is not finite, but infinite – there isn’t a finish line to reach – so it is important to continue looking for new ideas, imagine the possibilities and think creatively. Parking lot rental, wedding venue rental, special events rentals, and more, are ideas we’re excited about exploring!

It is our hope that the Hand-in-Hand Business Center becomes an integral part of developing small businesses in Gulf Shores and the surrounding area in order to support local economic development and empower small businesses to meet the needs of the ever-growing area here on the Gulf Coast. But more than that, our work is mission focused. The Hand-in-Hand Business Center is part of our ministry. We are living out our mission statement to work for and contribute to the welfare of the community, and that is what drives us in this work of social enterprise.

  • Christina Ennen

    Rev. Christina Ennen serves as Minister of Word and Sacrament at First Presbyterian Church of Gulf Shores, Alabama. She is passionate about the important role the church plays in the flourishing of the local community, and is grateful for the ways in which she gets to live that out on the Alabama Gulf Coast.

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Leona Daum
8 months ago

May He walk at your side with his hand on your shoulder Rev. Ennen.