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How the ‘Gig Economy’ Is Changing Christian Ministry

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This past year, when I was invited to speak on No Silver Bullets to a group of church planters in the San Francisco Bay Area, I Ubered over to see one of my friends in the city. During the 30-minute ride, it was fascinating to hear the story of a mid-50s Mexican mother who immigrated 30+ years ago.

Although she had been working full-time for the last 30 years taking care of her family, she had never brought home a paycheck that could be deposited at the bank. While she was definitely competent to work outside the home, adhering to a strict part-time work schedule simply wasn’t manageable due to her family life.

Enter Uber

Since she could drive whenever she wanted to, Uber was a perfect fit for her. So for the last year, this mother of teenagers has been driving from 9 p.m.–1 a.m., since by that time, everything’s settled down at home.

When asked whether or not she enjoyed driving, her response was eye-opening, as it precisely illustrated the new economy that we’re now living in:

“I love it, I’ve been Ubering for the last year, and for the first time in my life, I have spending money!”

WELCOME TO THE ‘GIG ECONOMY’

The “gig economy” was originally coined during the financial crisis of 2009, when so many people were forced to “gig” or freelance to make a living by working one-or-more part-time jobs.

Though this phrase is now almost 10 years old, it has only recently normalized and become a part of our everyday language.

There are many reasons for its normalization, like the affordability and mass adoption of smart phones, our shortening attention span, our desire to be our own boss, our culture’s obsession with experiences (we are living in the experience economy) and the rising number of jobs that an individual will work in his or her lifetime, just to name a few.

So today, if you have a car, you can drive for Uber or Lyft. If you have a spare bedroom, you can rent it out on Airbnb. If you are handy, you can charge for your services on TaskRabbit. And if you love pets, you can take care of them through Dogvacay.

According to a recent study on freelancing and the “gig economy,” there are now 55 million freelancers in the U.S.

That’s 17 percent of the population. Digging a little bit deeper, this study discovered that freelancers now make up 35 percent of U.S. workers and they collectively earned $1 trillion in 2016. Among freelancers, millennials definitely win the day—47 percent of millennials aged 18–24 are freelancing either part-time or full-time, versus 28 precent of baby boomers.

In the past, “gigging” and freelancing were often reserved for occupations that required a highly specialized skill set like music, design, consulting or software development. However, with the rise of platforms and entrepreneurial businesses like Uber and Airbnb, it’s now easier than ever for your everyday person to “gig” and make a few additional bucks, without quitting their day job or going back to school.

WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH PASTORING AND CHURCH LEADERSHIP?

More than you can imagine.

Let’s examine the implications from two sides: 1) the pastor or full-time paid staff member, and 2) the volunteer church leader or attendee.

1. The Pastor or Full-Time Paid Staff Member

While I don’t necessarily see the end of full-time paid pastoral or staff roles in churches (at least in the near future), I have noticed a shift in the way churches are building their staff teams. Instead of opting for a large team of part-time specialists, many churches are hiring full-time generalists who know how to develop volunteer leaders. In other words, the trend is toward hiring developers, rather than doers. So if a ministry area is stretched thin, the solution is not to hire a staff member; it’s rather to develop volunteer leaders and their competencies.

Does this mean that there will be less staff positions tomorrow, than there are today, or were yesterday?

Perhaps … but this is what’s interesting about this whole conversation. Millennials, as a whole, like variety and are “gigging” or freelancing more than previous generations. So even if they were to get a full-time staff position at a church, more likely than not, most will have a side hustle and be doing something else. While some will need to “gig” in order to pay bills, others will do it as a hobby or for disposable income, just to name a few reasons.

In any case, I am convinced that if we want to see a church multiplication movement in our lifetime and see the Great Commission fulfilled, we cannot solely rely on full-time paid staff positions (nor am I advocating that we get rid of them). What we need are additional lanes for ministry, like bivocational. And it’s time that we legitimize and normalize them.

This is what needs to be shouted from the rooftops and proclaimed on the hills: Bivocational ministry is not something that you are forced to do if you’re not “good enough” to get a full-time position. It’s a valid and needed lane for ministry. In a course on Bivocational Ministry at NewChurches.com, Hugh Halter says it well: “Bivocational ministry is not about doing two jobs poorly.”

More than anything, bivocational ministry is now becoming a preferred option for church planters and pastors alike because of the “gig economy.”

In fact, just imagine what would happen if every pastor began driving Uber or Lyft at least 10 hours a week.

Not only would that provide an additional source of income, but more importantly, it would offer opportunities to pray for their city as they’re driving through it, and opportunities for evangelism and spiritual conversations. The same is true if every pastor rented out a room in their home with Airbnb. Imagine the number of spiritual conversations that would happen on a regular basis.

2. The Volunteer Church Leader or Attendee

The “gig economy” has affected church attendance and volunteering.

The reason is two-fold. With the additional income that comes with “gigging,” individuals now have more disposable income to travel. And let’s be honest, what better time to travel is there than Friday to Sunday night? Secondly, since “gigging” is often done in addition to a full-time job, this typically cuts into the time that individuals could be using to lead a group, serve in a ministry or take a discipleship seminar at your church.

So what can we do? First of all, I don’t think it’s realistic to not do anything or to stand against “gigging” or freelancing. After all, wasn’t the Apostle Paul bivocational? Wasn’t making tents his side hustle?

As a result, I want to leave you with two ideas to consider:

1. Podcast Your Sermons or Livestream Your Service.

If you aren’t already doing this, do it! For Pete’s sake … it’s 2018.

Read this article about the power of podcasts, that I wrote last year, if you aren’t convinced. Now if you’re worried that people will just listen to your sermon online, instead of coming to one of your physical services, I get it. It’s a valid concern. However, if someone is going to miss your service, they’re going to miss it anyway. So why not give them the opportunity to listen to the sermon during the week, or watch your service live from their cabin?

2. Talk About the Sabbath.

As a society, we are overworked. The “gig economy” is not helping either. So model the Sabbath, talk about the Sabbath and make sure that your preaching and teaching of the Sabbath is Christ-centered, rather than works-centered.

What are your thoughts on the implications of the “gig economy?”

If you’re interested in learning more about the myths that are being ushered in as a result of the gig economy, don’t miss my upcoming book by clicking here.

Read more from Daniel Im »

Daniel Im is the founder of NewChurches.com, a teaching pastor at The Fellowship Church in Nashville and the director of church multiplication for LifeWay Christian Resources and the author of No Silver Bullets: Five Small Shifts that will Transform Your Ministry. This article originally appeared on NewChurches.com.

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