Launching a Platform Revolution in Missions
A Whitepaper and 2023 Launch Plan by Elequin, Wilson, Shih, Goff & Alter
We believe that most Christians have an earnest desire to reach the World for Christ. They are looking for ways to engage their time and their talents and want to be directly involved in the Great Commission. For these Believers, there is beauty and simplicity and comfort in our collective calling to spread the Gospel to all nations. Although historically this meant being in the mission field, the radical shift in how we leverage technologies that allow us to redefine what it means to participate in the Great Commission.
Believers control vast amounts of assets and have more resources and discretionary time available than ever before in human history. Technology makes it possible to deliver highly specialized products to remote locations with a few clicks of a button. Home-share, ride-share, and crowd-share platforms both unite individuals as well as communities in localizing goods and services while re-writing our willingness to “share.”
Our approach relies on the network effect that is inherent in these new sharing platforms, and which leverage industrial-grade global digital infrastructure to scale participation and collaboration. To be clear, we are not inventing anything new. We are applying proven technologies and business practices to bring together the global Church for Kingdom purposes.
THE GREAT COMMISSION
“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20 NIV
We believe these same innovations which have simplified our lives and improved our personal efficiencies should be applied to the Great Commission. There are virtually limitless resources available to serve Christ’s global Church if they could be connected to the people who are already in the field, spreading the Gospel globally.
The question then becomes how do we build a bridge to connect expertise with service? Faith with mission? Self with the world?
This white paper will provide insight into the work that our team has done over the past 2 ½ years and will detail plans for the implementation of a global computer systems platform. In addition, since this platform will be shared by all of our partners, we will also explain how this sharing creates efficiencies and increases the impact that these tools can have on the Kingdom.
It is time to enter the fields and live our greatest calling. It is time for every Christian to enter the field and begin the harvest.
TIME FOR THE HARVEST
Tentmakers Network – Connecting All Christians to God’s Work
THE WORLD IS CHANGING
When the white smoke rose over St. Peter’s square in 2005, Pope Benedictine XVI became the 265th leader of the Catholic Church. Crowds formed to catch a glimpse of their new leader and to hear his words, just as they had for centuries. Just 8 years later, when Francis I was selected as the Pope, the square was once again filled with the devoted; however, this group held smartphones high, recording the event live and casting the experience world-wide.
As recently as fifty years ago, we communicated with the world by Ham radio and airmail letters written on wafer-thin paper. Mission teams that went to the field faced isolation and were destined to spend a significant portion of their time in the field raising money and establishing financial self-sufficiency instead of forging relationships and spreading the Good News. Today, these teams can use online collaboration tools to work directly with people across the world. The invention and adoption of smartphones and personal computers parallels the growth in global connectivity through cellular data coverage and personal satellite connections.
Businesses and consumers have largely adopted electronic computer platforms for eCommerce, communication, and community. Large-scale performance networks like Facebook, Tinder, and Uber, have normalized peer- to- peer interaction on a global scale. In fact, as of Q1 2022, Facebook has over 2.91B users consuming content on their platform. This number exceeds the total number of Christians worldwide (2.38B).
More recently, the COVID pandemic normalized online interactions and accelerated the adoption of remote service delivery by 10+ years.
THE GLOBAL CHURCH
Fifty years ago, seventy percent of Christians in the world lived in the West. Today seventy percent of Christians live in Asia, Africa and Latin America. We’ve grown from a western church to a global church. This change is what historian Philip Jenkins describes as “one of the most transforming moments in the history of religion worldwide.” Today the church in Asia, Africa and Latin America is mature, vibrant, and leading the way in missions’ effectiveness and engagement.
In the process, Tentmakers volunteers can work directly with indigenous churches and ministries. As the church expands, the dream of connecting the global Church, east and west becomes a reality.
THE MISSION FIELD
Great Commission Organizations are pivoting to find innovative ways to reach people and are open to novel solutions which allow them to collaborate more closely with the field and leverage the strength of the body. Emergence of innovative evangelism models such as Business as Mission (BAM) have provided access to countries and created significant opportunities for individuals to leverage their commercial skills for Kingdom purposes.
Forty years ago, mission organizations formed to provide pillars of strength and a pipeline of resources so that missionaries could travel to countries to spread the Gospel. Yet, they operated largely independent of one another. Today these groups recognize the value of collaboration and how it more beautifully and effectively allows the Church to advance the Kingdom worldwide.
TENTMAKERS NETWORK – A “FAITH-TECH STARTUP
These changes have created an opportunity to build a disruptive platform that connects Christians worldwide and creates new ways for them to collaborate with Great Commission Organizations (GCO’s). Over the past two years, Tentmakers has operated as a startup with a strong core of volunteers and employees who practice the accountability and productivity model of Silicon Valley and who whose mission and focused vision is inspired by the early Church.
GLOBAL PLATFORM FOR MISSIONS
Modern mission work is critical. But with a total population approaching 8 billion, the challenge of bringing Christ to all of humanity remains daunting. Considering that Globalchristianity.org reports that 86% of Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims don’t personally know a Christian, it is evident that missionaries in the field need the support of all of us. You may feel called to serve in response to the Great Commission but hesitate when faced with the practical limitations. Most of us are not positioned to be full-time missionaries, and while short-term missions are a blessing, they often have limited lasting impact.
While Christianity might be the greatest startup of all time, some more recent innovative entities have experienced explosive growth by leveraging the power of network effects, the efficiency of the sharing economy, and the productivity of shared technology platforms. Christian mission work can be accelerated by learning from their success.
Consider the example of Uber. The basic idea was that millions of people every day need a ride for one reason or another and calling a taxi was inefficient, expensive and unreliable. Meanwhile there were millions of cars and drivers sitting idle with untapped capacity. Uber introduced a technology platform that matched the unused supply of cars and drivers with the people needing a ride. This is the sharing economy (the ability to share unused resources with those who need it). Global consulting firm PWC says the sharing economy will grow by a staggering 2,133% in just 12 years.
Uber’s adoption was slow going at first, but as more drivers signed up, more riders showed up. Quickly Uber’s network of drivers and riders hit critical mass and fueled even more demand. This is the network effect in play. Around the same time, smart phones were introduced putting the internet and mobile apps in everyone’s pockets. Uber created the platform to connect riders and drivers that utilized the expanding technology infrastructure. By old measures, taxis were a good enough solution for riders. Investing in taxi cabs may have once produced a reasonable return on invested dollars, but in the technology-enabled world, the old system of getting a ride is no longer relevant or attractive.
APPLICATION – A CASE STUDY
Now that we understand the power of platform technology, let’s talk about how we can apply these principles to the Kingdom.
Tentmakers is matching the talent and skills of those willing to spend some of their spare capacity with mission workers in the field. Mission-based organizations have complex needs to operate, grow, fundraise and serve. They benefit from access to a banker, a graphic artist, a programmer, a web developer, or a nurse willing to lend their time and expertise. When the volunteer connects with the organization, and they can work together, the organization benefits and the volunteer in encouraged. Everyone wins.
Using modern technology platforms, it is relatively easy to match the missional need to the motivated and talented resource. Unlike other mission work where a skilled attorney might be learning to build a brick wall to support a mission, she instead may help that same organization negotiate terms of a lease or write an employment contract. Said another way, the donated hours have a greater overall market value to the mission.
A UNIQUE OPPORTUNITY
Our research has shown us the untapped potential that Christians have in terms of time, talent, assets and other resources. It has also demonstrated that Christians are enthusiastic about their ability to make a meaningful, personal contribution to the global Church.
“I’ve been waiting for this for 40 years!”
– Former President of Intent.org (Tentmakers Network of America)
LAUNCHING TENTMAKERS NETWORK
The Board of Tentmakers Network was formed around the principle that there are many high-capacity individuals who would contribute their time and talent to the Great Commission if they could only identify which organizations needed their skills. We formed a 501(c)3 and began to conduct market research to see if there were any solutions that already existed where we could personally donate our time. Our research found that while a lot of organizations have programs to mobilize volunteering and leverage technology, none really provided the scale of a platform and the ability to work across multiple agencies. We then kicked off a pilot program with five global organizations to determine whether there was a need for a cross-agency platform for virtual volunteer mobilization.
The timeline of activities is as follows:
- Board Formed 6/2021
- Analyzed the Problem 1/2021 to 7/2021
- Work Began – 8/2021
- Kicked off Pilot – 10/2021
- Analyzed COTS Solutions 2/2022
- Built Functional Specification – 3/2022
- Launched Concierge Services – 6/2022
- Finalize MVP Specifications – 9/2022
- Begin Build of Platform – 10/2022
- Branding/Marketing Launch – January 2023
- Deliver MVP Platform – 4/2023
- Expand Market for TMN Platform 7/2023
At the end of this pilot, we had a clear set of software specifications and we built the platform using a rapid prototyping software application. This platform was launched in June, and we are continuously iterating the software through September of 2022. This platform will be run as a “Concierge” service until April of 2023 when the MVP software will be launched.
The founders of Tentmakers Network came together in 2020 with the objective of leveraging modern technology and modern business practices to further the Great Commission. We believe that most Christians want to fulfill the biblical teachings of the Great Commission but are disconnected from the opportunity to serve. We are guided by the following principles:
- We will be governed by the Holy Bible and the teachings of Jesus Christ.
- We will meet weekly in prayer and to seek God’s direction in this endeavor.
- Though organized as a 510c3, our organization will be revenue producing and self-sustaining within three years of product launch.
- We will treat the platform as a Kingdom asset to be shared with Christ-centered organizations that exist for the Great Commission.
- We are prepared to join forces with Kingdom-minded entities that have a similar mindset and objective.
In January of 2022, we began discussions with Pioneers a US-based Global Missions organization. Pioneers was actively implementing the Propel Initiative, which focused on mobilizing volunteers for virtual and short-term missions. The primary difference between PROpel and Tentmakers, is that PROpel was automating volunteering within Pioneers, while Tentmakers is automating volunteering across multiple organizations. We ultimately agreed that for us to achieve the benefits of a network effect, we needed to include multiple organizations in the process. After detailed discussions, we agreed to combine forces and concentrate our efforts under the Tentmakers Network organization structure. We then added Pioneers to the current pilot, which includes Justice Ventures International, Trans World Radio, Ethnos360 and Christar. Pioneers continues to be actively involved in the project and has provided funding, as well as the services of Dr. Bruce Wilson, former Director of PROpel.
We have added three other organizations to the pilot, and plan to feather in additional organizations as our ability to scale permits.
As one team, we have decades of experience in the missions and tech sectors. We have completed doctoral research on international volunteering. We have launched highly successful platform technology startups. We have facilitated international volunteering efforts involving thousands of volunteers in dozens of countries with over 50 mission partners. We have successfully launched and exited software companies. We have served long-term overseas and on the board of mission organizations. We know how to use the latest software apps to build an online platform for missions.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
Every Christian from anywhere in the world, willing to give a few hours a week or month, can volunteer. The they need to be willing to humbly share their time and their knowledge and skills with Great Commission Organizations (GCOs) serving Christ’s church around the world.
GCO’s develop an organizational profile that describes their mission and statement of faith. Virtual Volunteers build a detailed profile of their skills, abilities, motivations, and their faith background (see Apostles’ Creed and Volunteer Commitment). These profiles provide background information which will be used to introduce the two parties.
Volunteers and Mission Hosts can currently engage in three different ways:
Project-Based – The GCO host describes the opportunity for assistance using the Tentmakers Project Discovery Tool (PDT) The PDT is a missiologically sound workbench that allows the GCO to define the need in a structured manner so that the system can more accurately identify a potential volunteer match. The Tentmakers system will then search for volunteers, identify potential candidates, and present these to the GCO host and volunteer candidate. Depending on the assignment, they may work via Zoom, email, What’sApp, chat or a phone call.
Expert on Demand – The Virtual Volunteer activates a personal profile for “Expertise on Demand” (XoD) and posts this profile as an expert, so that a GCO can connect for a quick 30 minute to 1 hour phone call. This expertise can be used to provide guidance on a specific matter, or simply to consult on a particular topic. This expertise can be about any matter of importance to the GCO for which the volunteer has knowledge. The GCO peruses the profiles of experts and requests a meeting through the Tentmakers Platform.
Packaged Services – Tentmakers has developed a catalog of service opportunities that are frequently needed by GCO’s and their affiliates. The GCO can review these catalog items and choose areas where they would like help from a volunteer. The GCO has a clear understanding of what services will be delivered, and the volunteer has a clear understanding of what will be expected. Our early research suggests that creating these packages will greatly simplify the selection and matching and will stimulate demand from GCO’s to engage volunteers for assistance in ways that traditionally have not been feasible in the past.
CONCIERGE SERVICES LAUNCH
After launching the rapid prototype solution (Alpha – Controlled release) on June 1, our team has been manually evaluating every mission proposal and every virtual volunteer profile submitted. We will provide high touch “concierge” services to make sure that we create a satisfactory user experience for the volunteers and the mission organizations. This service will continue through July of next year after the MVP launch. The labor costs necessary to perform concierge support for this launch period have been included in the PROFORMA projections for 2022 and 2023.
Development – What we learn in the next four months will be incorporated into the system requirements for the scalable app, which will be developed beginning in September of 2022.We will launch marketing awareness campaigns in January and promote the solution as an extension of the Alpha release.
Promotion – We will begin promoting the platform in September of 2022 and secure MOU’s to feather these organizations into the platform after the MVP launch in March of 2023.
MVP Launch – Our team will focus on stabilizing and improving the MVP launch for three months and will open the system up to a broader audience of partners in June of 2023.
THE ESSENCE OF SERVICE
WHAT IS A GCO?
We define a Great Commission organization (GCO) as any entity that exists for the purpose of spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This includes traditional organizations such as mission sending organizations, parachurch organizations, local and international churches, as well as organizations that motivate and equip Christians to serve. In addition, we also include for profit entities that organize as Business as Missions (BAM) or Business for Transformation (B4T) if they exist for the purpose of expanding the Great Commission and have satisfied Tentmakers credentialing requirements.
WHO ARE THE VOLUNTEERS?
Tentmakers network is open to all committed Christians who want to serve the global Church and the Great Commission. These volunteers will serve remotely and can determine areas of service based on the volunteer profile that they complete in the system. Qualified volunteers will affirm the TMN Statement of Faith and Volunteer Commitment Document, possess professional expertise, exhibit Christian character and be recommended by their church and colleagues.
On our platform, volunteers serve in one of five roles: Evaluator, Consultant, Attractional Speaker, Service Provider or Trainer. In these roles, volunteers may evaluate a current initiative, provide input on developing a new initiative, train in their area of expertise, provide practical service, or serve as an attractional speaker to broaden a team’s contacts. During the launch phase, these volunteers will serve virtually using the Tentmaker Technology as an enabler and connector.
Volunteers will complete pre-deployment training online before their service opportunity and debriefing afterwards. Detailed information regarding each volunteer’s area of professional expertise will be kept on file. The conception and execution of volunteering opportunities will adhere to the Standards of Excellence guide for Short Term Missions trips.
- Evaluator. Evaluate a current initiative and provide constructive feedback for improvement.
- Consultant. Consult with teams and local partners developing new initiatives.
- Attractional speaker. Leverage a professional’s position and experience to attract local community members to an event that will increases an organization’s pool of contacts.
- Service provider. Provide practical assistance on a specific project.
- Trainer. Train mission teams and/or local partners in the professional’s area of expertise.
“Tentmakers allows our people to work directly with missionaries in the fields.”
– KY Faciane, Pastor of Bannockburn Baptist Church, Austin, TX
ONE BODY – ONE MISSION
Tentmakers Network has categorized volunteer services in three categories, based on the emphasis of the customer’s assignment: 1) Serve the Mission 2) Serve the Missionary or Serve the Mission Organization.
The scenarios examples listed below are active examples from the Tentmakers System as of July 2022.
Resources for the Mission – these volunteer opportunities provide resources which are used directly in support of the ministry. For example, a linguist who is translating scripture for distribution to unreached people groups provides direct support in field evangelism. Likewise, a programming team which builds software for smart phones to distribute the scripture are also directly involved.
- Cartoonist provides custom digital assets for YouTube campaign designed to reach the Romi people in Eastern Europe.
- Videographer provides mentoring and oversite for a team that is developing evangelistic videos for the Filipino people.
Resources for the Missionary – these volunteer opportunities provide resources to encourage, strengthen, and support the field missionary team directly. The services are intended to pour into the missionary and free their time to focus on their Great Commission activities. For example, a Christian certified financial planner could work with young missionaries to build a personal budget and finance plan, as well as help a seasoned missionary with estate planning.
- US-based College Admissions Counselor provides advice on placement tests, admissions process and financial Aid for the son of a field missionary in Northern Africa
- A mom who home-schooled her kids mentors a young mother who is in Uzbekistan and needs a lifeline to help her figure out curriculum, discipline, and social norms.
Resources for the Mission Organization – these volunteer opportunities provide resources to the mission organization so that they can improve quality, reduce costs, and avoid risk. For example, a cyber security expert could help a mission organization evaluate their areas of risk and help them decide what technologies and processes are needed to protect missionaries in the field.
- An HR Consultant provides ongoing HR Strategy and Assistance for an organization in Malaysia
- A systems consultant provides guidance as a Mission Agency is selecting, purchasing, and implementing new finance an accounting system.
RETURN ON KINGDOM INVESTMENT (ROKI)
EXPONENTIAL RETURNS FROM KINGDOM INVESTMENTS
Return on Kingdom Investment (ROKI) measures the impact that a particular investment makes on the Kingdom. ROKI borrows from modern business and technology concepts to introduce a new benchmark—one that considers the use of networking and technology platforms to exponentially compound the impact of every dollar and hour donated in support of the Great Commission.
When considering support of a mission-oriented group either financially or with your time, you would likely consider their stewardship. How much of the donated resources end up supporting the core mission versus being spent on overhead like rent and salaries? That’s an important measurement that is tracked by organizations like Charity Navigator (https://www.charitynavigator.org). This measurement is important, but not sufficient. A mission group may be effective at leveraging their funding but still face other limitations and hurdles in achieving their goals.
More recently faith-based projects and organizations have been scrutinized for the impact and effectiveness of their work. Just like a for profit business is measured on its return on invested capital, generous Christians want to know that their contributions are moving the needle—serving as many as possible with the scarce resources. Return On Kingdom Investment is a tool that seeks to nudge modern missionaries and those who support their cause to higher expectations. Mission work can and should benefit from the sharing economy, network effects, and platforms.
A CASE STUDY
How might ROKI be calculated and tracked in an organization like Tentmakers Network? Let’s look at the math. The table below is a projection of the potential impact of Tentmakers. Starting in Year 1, the ROKI delivered is a modest .43 factor. That is calculated by dividing the Kingdom Value Delivered by the Cost to Build and Operate the organization and technology.
Kingdom Value is calculated by assuming that in the first year 1,000 project requests from mission organizations are completed by volunteers who contribute 4,000 hours of their time. We use an estimated value of $75 per donated hour. The modest initial ROKI of .43 means that every dollar spent on Tentmakers delivered a modest 43 cents of value to the Kingdom.
As the software adds additional volunteers and GCO’s, the value that the platform delivers increases rapidly, while costs per unit of service declines. As a result, when the platform effect kicks in, the economic return, and corresponding Kingdom Impact, increases dramatically.
In year 5, a reasonable estimate on the expanding number of organizations and volunteers using the platforms shows that 200,000 unique project requests might be completed by volunteers delivering a Kingdom Value of $52,000,000. However, the cost of building and operating the Tentmakers platform is only $750,000. That leads to a ROKI in year 5 of 69.33. Said another way, every dollar spent produces a $69.33 dollar impact. By year 8, the ROKI might reach into the 90s.
Are the ROKI projections realistic for Tentmakers? If the platform technology is adopted, the impact is not only achievable, we believe that the projections are relatively conservative. The dating application eHarmony has 10 million users and 14 million matches a day. A similar platform called Volunteer Match has 13 million users on the system. Unlike the conditions the Apostles faced, conditions today make it much easier to achieve the Great Commission. The adoption of modern technology and practices will create an exponential ROKI—perhaps a catalyst to the Great Commission as important as the conversion of Cornelius or Constantine.