Wayne Elsey is the CEO and founder of Soles4Souls, a nonprofit that gives shoes to people who don’t have them. He’s also the author of the newly released Almost Isn’t Good Enough: The Human Connection Changes Everything (read our review). The book is primarily his lessons for nonprofits and inspiration for people to do something, both of which have plenty of applications for the church. We talked to Wayne about some of these issues:
Focus seems to be big at Soles4Souls—you only concentrate on getting shoes to people who need them. It seems like the church could use that kind of focus—but how do we keep from getting distracted by other things that are also important?
Wayne Elsey: It’s a constant battle. Everything you do has to move you forward and in the direction of your core mission. If a program or investment doesn’t enlarge your mission capacity, then it’s not a good investment. Everything is always on the table… whether it is successful or not.
You’ve said that there are too many nonprofits. Would the same apply to churches?
Wayne: Yes. As the number of church mergers and acquisitions rise along with financially unsustainable churches moving into foreclosure, the marketplace is correcting itself as we speak. While it’s difficult to hear that there are too many churches, it’s a healthy re-balancing that is a familiar scene I’ve lived through in corporate culture over the years.
I might also suggest that there is a more important question to ask: How can churches work together? Far too many try to compete. They are limiting their impact by not reaching out to one another. I just don’t understand it.
You talk about the importance of engagement over awareness. How do you think that applies to local churches and evangelism?
Wayne: I see a strong connection between the function of sales in a company and evangelism in the church. Forgive me if that offends you, but it is a parallel that makes sense to me given my background and perspective.
The old model of sales was give the prospect a bunch of information and move in for the close. This is the EE (evangelism explosion) model. The most effective sales people today ask lots of questions, focus on understanding the needs of the buyer, and work to help the buyer make the best decision. Evangelism today is more about solidarity and doing life together than cramming information down people’s throats.
I can’t imagine getting any closer to the gospel than when I kneel before the poor and destitute to wash their feet and give them their first pair of shoes. Christian would do well to reach out a hand of friendship before we open our mouths to prove a point.
If churches could focus on improving one thing, what should it be?
Wayne: Get out of the pulpit and out of the pew and into the communities in which we live. Rub shoulders with people who are different from you. Listen and learn from them. And as often as you have the opportunity, build another person up, tell them that they matter, and do something that makes a difference. Everyone can do something. Churches need to empower and facilitate individuals to do ministry and focus less on accumulating staff positions that remove the congregation from ministry.
Read our review of Almost Isn’t Good Enough.