Bi-Vocational Workers – An Overlooked Path to Growth
Western organizations assume that after two years, a new church led by nationals will be able to support starting new churches.

An Overlooked Path to Growth

It’s a common problem. Western organizations fund ministry training programs in Global South communities, and then they expect to see large numbers of new workers fanning out across the region to start lots of churches as a result of their funding. Funding may include providing worker startup wages from 1-2 years. The assumption is that after two years, the new church will be able to maintain services while starting more new churches, but that is often not the case. 

Most new church plants are among small numbers of very poor people who can hardly meet their own family’s needs. They give what they can, but it may not be enough to sustain a church presence let alone start new ones. The sending organizations might provide some financial assistance, but it’s usually not nearly enough to meet the growth demands of Western funders and perhaps their own organization. This is one reason why new church attrition is so high. 


Western missionaries have tried a Business-as-Mission strategy (BAM), where they go to a country to do some sort of business, but it’s really just a cover for the spiritual work they really want to do. The work of starting and growing a business often suffers because their heart isn’t into it.  Both business and ministry may produce weak results. 

Another kind of BAM is trending. It’s Business People on Mission. They are actual business people living in Global South countries. They are experienced at doing business and they are often successful at it. They are entrepreneurial. One such person in Egypt started three businesses. One is a very popular soccer academy. The other businesses are in the service sector. He believes by providing jobs to nationals serving in local ministries, like helping refugees, he is advancing the gospel. The employees are able to provide for their own needs while carrying out ministry work without the responsibilities of business ownership. 

Entrepreneurship Creates Jobs 

Hope Ventures understands this scaling model too. That organization trains people with an entrepreneurial spirit to learn how to start and grow businesses. They do this for a couple reasons. It’s a way for the poor to get out of poverty. Overcoming low income, low access to resources, and no opportunities is a permanent path out of poverty. The entrepreneurs produce needed jobs so the whole community is lifted. It is also a way to provide income for local ministry workers, so they provide the needed spiritual lift. 

Of course, there are also people with college and technical training that feel called to serve in ministry. If they give up their day job, how will they meet their own needs and ministry needs with low to no income? Encouraging them to maintain their day jobs would sustain them much longer in ministry work, even if it is part time. 

Non-Dependency Means Greater Growth

When trained ministry workers don’t have the financial resources to sustain their own families let alone ministry cost, their ability to focus on ministry is greatly reduced if not stopped entirely. Western funders and local ministries have limited funds for unlimited ministry needs. This is a barrier to greater impact. Ministry workers can have it both ways. That is, if their personnel needs are met through local employment, they can pursue their “night job” in ministry work. It may not go as fast as a full-time worker, but it could result in far more bi-vocational people in ministry. 

“It is a more scalable solution than paying ministry worker wages with limited resources for unlimited needs”

Western funders and mission organization leaders should make helping bi-vocational workers find employment that fits their needs for ministry service as a priority in long-term growth planning. 


About the Author

Gilles Gravelle is the Executive Director of Moving Missions

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