A Chemistry Conversation with Alan Wildes
Many churches struggle to engage the wide variety of their members in efforts that make a lasting impact on the communities around them. Either they engage a limited segment of their membership, or the effort itself is a short-lived, "shot-in-the-arm" initiative that brings about little to no lasting impact. What if you could engage a broader cross-section of your church, from Gen Z to high-capacity Boomers, in sustainable efforts that lead to long-term, tangible change?
In this Chemistry Conversation, we talk with Alan Wildes, Vice President at Generis, about a new and creative way for church leaders to equip members to do some things that could move the needle on key issues facing their cities.
Alan Wildes is a Vice President at Generis, a leading generosity and fundraising firm serving churches, faith-based nonprofits, and Christian colleges and schools. Alan views his role as a generosity coach to be one that empowers. He brings the knowledge, experience, listening and motivational skills needed to help others realize their goals. In the last fifteen years alone, he has led over 125 successful church generosity initiatives, applying his unique skills and insights as a layperson and coach to the training of God’s real life stewards.
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Tim Nations: This is Tim Nations with Chemistry Staffing. In this Chemistry conversation, we’re going to be talking about how to engage the people in your congregation to actively bring about change in your community. Even before COVID, churches often found it difficult to get people invested in efforts that brought lasting, tangible change in the communities around them. 2020 brought new challenges but also new opportunities for church leaders to equip members to do some things that could really move the needle on issues facing their cities. And so today I want to introduce you to Innové. It’s a unique opportunity for churches to get involved in what they call “social innovation.” And so to help us with this, I’m excited to be joined by Alan Wildes. Alan is a Vice President with Generis. And Alan, I guess you and I met a few years ago at a Generis retreat that I was helping to facilitate. Recently we’ve collaborated on one of the online church labs that we offer at Chemistry Staffing. I’m glad to have you here Alan. Welcome to this Chemistry conversation.
Alan Wildes: Yeah man, glad to be here for sure.
Tim Nations: So for those who don’t know you or don’t know Generis, give us an overview of what you do with churches, the work you do.
Alan Wildes: Yeah man, real fast. So Generis is a generosity consulting firm. That’s how we were founded on. We’re over 30 years old, based out of Atlanta. But in the last 10 years or so, we have expanded into some other areas, making it a little bit broader of lifestyle generosity instead of just the financial giving side of generosity. We’ve also added a non-profit branch of our company where we’re working with faith-based institutions of higher education, non-profits. So we have a division there. But most recently, we’ve added a team called the Effective Ministry Team, which is a collection of professionals that has expertise in different areas, in the church world primarily, to try to be able to provide a more holistic offering to churches, to help them in areas of pastor coaching or worship innovations, worship improvements. Things like coaching some of the churches that you mentioned earlier where I was working with some churches on overall vision and things such as a digital campus during COVID. Just trying to be a little more holistic in how we help churches. All of those things impact the culture of generosity at a church and a healthier culture of generosity is what we’re about. So we wanted church to have a holistic, healthy culture of generosity. But in the last 20 years, I have primarily spent most of my time working on the financial side of the culture of generosity in churches.
Tim Nations: Yeah, and so Innové. For you, this is a new discovery, something new that you’re getting involved in. Give us the 30,000-foot view of what Innové is and what it does to help churches bring social innovation to their communities. And maybe even a good place to start would be give us a definition of what social innovation is.
Alan Wildes: Yeah, yeah. So social innovation, social entrepreneurship. With the internet becoming so accessible over the last 20 years, especially in the last 10 years, the creation of many faith-based non-profits to try to meet the needs of a particular city or culture or community around them, whether it be food or poverty or education or transportation or whatever it might be, social injustice, there’s just been this explosion of social entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurship platforms, non-profits that are trying to meet the needs of communities around them. Unfortunately a lot of that has arisen because the local church has kind of gotten away from doing those types of things. There was a bit of frustration in realizing that trying to work through a church might be a little bit challenging, so a lot of these folks have gone out on their own and many of them are very, very successful in having impact in their community and around the world. One of the shifts that Innové is trying to help churches make is getting out of the mindset of the church has to create the mission, the church has to create the mission opportunity. And instead of the church creating it and coming up with the idea, Innové tries to take the resources both financial and the people resources of the local church and undergird and support some of these non-profits that are in their community trying to make an impact in their community. And so it’s a mindset shift from us having to do it to supporting those that are already out there doing it.
Tim Nations: What is it specifically about Innové? I know this is something you’re really excited and passionate about. What is it that drew you to Innové?
Alan Wildes: A lot of what I was just explaining. I feel like a lot of local churches, my own included, sometimes we can become a little insular. We can become a little inward focused. And most of it is never intentional, but we can become more focused on what we are doing for ourselves as opposed to what we are actually doing out in the community to make an impact. Now, I’m not suggesting that churches are not making an impact in their communities. That’s not what I’m trying to say at all, but how can we make a bigger, more profound impact to where most of our energy is focused on going outside the walls as opposed to more worried about what’s going on inside. And so that’s one of the - Innové is French for “innovation” and doing something differently. I was just so drawn to the concept of how churches can “do missions” differently.
T; Yeah. Because this isn’t just about the impact that Innové and these initiatives have on the community, but you talked about how much of an impact it has on the churches themselves. Even though the efforts are focused outside of the walls and engaging people outside of the walls, what you’ve seen is a tremendous change and impact on the churches themselves. Can you describe that a little bit more?
Alan Wildes: Yeah, absolutely. If you don’t mind, let’s do two things. Let me unpack what Innové does, and I think I’ll answer that question as I unpack what Innové does. So Innové has been called Shark Tank for missions, which is actually quite accurate. So what happens is, the church decides to do Innové. With that, they set aside an amount of money. It’s typically a substantial amount of money, and there are awards or prizes or grants that are at the end of the process. We’re talking 25, 35, 60 thousand dollar grants that are available to these non-profits, these social entrepreneurs that if they want to apply and make it through and are willing to go through the coaching process and the entire process, then there’s a possibility that at the end they will receive a grant of a substantial amount of money that could then help them expand and launch bigger of what they’re currently already doing. Or it could be an idea of a social entrepreneur that has never gotten off the ground yet. So this process could be the platform for them to launch for the very first time. There’s not one recipe for who can apply. So the idea is, the church decides to do it. They decide they’re going to set aside $200,000 to do this. And that’s a lot of money, but it can have a profound impact. So here’s how the process works. You market and publicize to the community, and these folks apply. Simultaneously, internally you are looking for people in your congregation to be a part of the process. So what has happened in a lot of churches, a lot of churches have a lot of people that have been very successful over their careers or are currently successful in their careers, but what they do for a living there’s never really an opportunity for them to use the skills and the wisdom and the experience in the local church. So you wind up having a Vice President of a multi-national corporation volunteering to be an usher because that’s really the only place that he or she feels like they can plug in because there’s just not a lot of opportunities. Nothing wrong with being an usher. I’ve been an usher myself, and it was a very valuable role in the church. But when you’ve got somebody who spent 25 years in leadership of a multi-national company, they’ve got a lot of experience and wisdom that, man, if we could find a place where to pour that experience into, you could really engage that person in a way that they may not have been engaged in the church. And local churches are full of those types of people. Because as you and I both know, Millennials are not beating down the doors to go to churches anymore, and so a lot of churches are aging. The Boomers is the biggest generation ever. Most of them are now in retirement, but they’re still very active and still looking for things to do, so this is a wonderful way to engage. So what you do is you find different areas that we know that social entrepreneurs need help in. Ever non-profit needs accounting help. Every non-profit needs book keeping. Almost every non-profit needs some legal advice. What if they need commercial real estates? They need to talk to a commercial real estate agent. Every non-profit needs help in knowing how to raise money in development and creating a development program, sustainability financial platform. Marketing. Writing a business plan. Having strategy and how to market. What does it mean to be an entrepreneur and how to stay innovative and how to try to stay ahead of the curve. So you try to find these people in your congregation that have those areas of skill and experience, and you invite them to be a part of the process. When the filtering process - let’s say you get it narrowed down to 15 finalists. Now those 15 finalists go into a 3-5-month coaching process where they get free coaching from all of these people in the church, helping them become more knowledgeable and better business people as they are trying to learn how to do what they feel like God has called them to do or just this passion that they have and this fire in their belly that they have to try to make a difference in the world. And every single contestant or finalist receives the same coaching. Now every single finalist doesn’t necessarily win prize money, but every single contestant receives the same coaching. So even if they don’t “win” the contest, they still come out on the other end with all of this coaching from all of these wonderful people in your church with all of this experience and wisdom, and they just pour into these people. So even if they don’t “win,” they are still in a much better place to be successful as a social entrepreneur in whatever their area of focus is. So yes, it is a win for the community because these non-profits are making an impact in the community already or want to. It’s a win for the social entrepreneurs because they get all this free wisdom and coaching, and some of them will receive grant money at the end. But it’s also a win for the people in the congregation because we are engaging - we’ve done this seven times now, and the minimum amount of lay people that have been involved in some capacity has been over a hundred. The minimum amount. It has been no less than a hundred. We’ve had a couple of churches that have been over 250 people have had some role in the Innové process all the way through. Even though this has nothing to do with money specifically as far as raising money, which is what Generis is known for, it has everything to do with enhancing the culture of generosity at a church. And so that’s why it fits at Generis. That’s why it fits under our umbrella, and that’s why I am most excited about what this could do for churches. Pre-COVID, Tim, it was ahead of its time. I don’t think the church world was ready for it. Post-COVID, I think it’s right on time.
Tim Nations: You know, when we think about time, talent, treasure, we tend to focus on the treasure. I think in a lot of churches, that is the most accessible way to invest in things. We’ll just give. And not to discount that at all, but to your point the investment of time and the investment of the talent in the people of the congregation can have a far greater ripple effect if you will on the social initiatives in a community than the dollars and cents that happen to go to maybe a handful of ideas to help push them forward. I love the fact that what Innové is doing is awakening some latent potential within the pews, people whose gifts and talents aren’t as easily utilized in a church environment. But they’re able to take those things that they’ve been doing in a career for 10, 20, 30, maybe 50 years and invest that for kingdom purposes in things that really make a tangible difference in the lives of the people that they live next to, that they see at the store, that they drive past every day.
Alan Wildes: Or may not even know that they exist.
Tim Nations: Right.
Alan Wildes: Because they’ve just never been exposed and their paths never crossed because of the different worlds that they might be living in. I love the latent possibilities. I’m going to need you to write that down. I’m going to use that. I love that. But to your point, an engaged giver is a more generous giver. Not just financially, but an engaged giver, an engaged person is a more generous person. So this is a wonderful way to engage those people. You mentioned earlier, you asked me the question about the impact that it can have on the church itself, internally on the church. A side benefit or a tangible benefit that we didn’t’ even see when Innové was created was, I mentioned earlier that Millennials are not beating down the door to come to church. They’re not beating down the doors to join the choir with the robes. They’re just not beating down those doors. I know that’s hard to hear. You and I both have kids who are Gen Z’ers. Both of my kids love Jesus. They can take or leave the local church. They’re just not really engaged in it. I was on the phone a couple of weeks ago now with a guy who’s 32 years old, former pastor, working in the business world right now on the marketing side. He’s a Millennial. A lot of older people don’t understand that Millennials are now adults. And now Gen Z’ers are the generation that’s going to ruin the world. But Millennials are now adults. We were talking about Innové and a couple of other things, and he mentioned that Millennials are not going to church nearly as much as their parents. I said, “So why is that?” And he made a statement that it was the first time I heard it. It maybe not be unique to him, but he made the statement, “We feel like most local churches are answering questions that we’re not asking.” Man, that was pretty profound. I give him credit for it because I hadn’t heard it from anyone else. So then I said, okay, I’ll take the bait. “So what questions are y’all asking?” And he says, “Why is the local church not being the hands and feet of Jesus? Why are the local churches not making a profound impact in the communities? The resources are there, why are they not doing it?” And so Innové does that. Innové, then, allows a local church to be more attractive to the Millennials that are in their congregation that might be sitting on the sidelines a little bit. It also makes them more appealing to Millennials in their community because if a church chooses to do Innové, the word’s going to get out. We’re pushing it out that we’re doing this, and people are going to start asking questions and they’re going to want to know what’s going on at that church that’s causing them to do something this creative and this different. I think I might want to check that church out. I want to be a part of a church that’s doing something like that, not only to the Millennials but to everybody. So there’s this side tangible benefit that we didn’t even see coming because it’s been proven to be true in the churches that we’ve worked in. They’ve seen the Millennials in their church become more engaged. If the Millennials in your church that you currently have become more engaged, they’re going to tell their Millennial friends, and then their Millennial friends are going to want to come be a part of a church that’s doing things like this. So a lot of churches are trying to figure out, how do we get the Millennials to come to church? How do we continue to reach the younger generation? And I’m not hearing churches with a lot of really good solutions, and Innové is potentially a very good solution or part of a solution for churches to reengage the younger generations. So that is exciting to me as well, especially being the parent of a 20-year-old and a 16-year-old, which we found out today that we have a 20-year-old and a 16-year-old each. I am concerned about my kids’ future relationship with Christ and future relationship with the church, and I want my kids to be a part of churches that are doing things like this.
Tim Nations: So Alan, for a leader watching this video and it piques their interest. They want to explore Innové and take a next step to find out more. What’s the best way to do that? What should they do?
Alan Wildes: The easiest way, Tim, is just going to be to contact me directly. That is email@example.com. That’s going to be the easiest way we can start a conversation, and I can put you onto some resources that will help you better understand the process. They can also log onto the Innové website. It’s innovestudios.org. You can find all kind of information there. Case studies and success stories from other churches and a description of the process, how it all lays out. Those are going to be the two best ways to get some more information.
Tim Nations: Alright. And I’ll make sure to put your email address and that link in the notes and things that we have for this video as well so it’s easy to find. Well Alan, thanks so much for spending some time with me today. I appreciate your passion for the church and for the kingdom. I look forward to seeing what Innové is going to help churches to do in their communities.
Alan Wildes: Yeah man. Thanks for the opportunity. Appreciate it.
Tim Nations: You bet, take care.