Wow, my friends are enthusiastic evangelists! Some for the Gospel, sure, but more noticeably for skin care, essential oils, clothing or handbag lines, health supplements and similar side hustles that have changed their lives. I believe my friends are genuine when they say: “This has changed my life – here’s my story – and I am only telling you because I believe that others should have the opportunity to be transformed by it too.” These side hustles are clearly not just about extra income. They are on a spectrum from therapeutic to meaning-making, all the way up to life-transforming, according to their claims.
So, I’ve been thinking: I’d like to market church involvement as the side hustle of faith.
Yes, I would anticipate push-back from people for whom it is everything, who think that church participation should be all-encompassing for others too. Often those people are pastors. So let me be clear: Faith is not a side hustle; relationship with God and our neighbor for Christ’s sake, is actually everything. Yet we all live out our Christian faith in many settings: in relationships, at school, at work, in our community, and in the life of the church. See, it’s in the list? Yet church involvement is not the entire list of ways to exercise our faith. This clarification, although somewhat obvious, would have given me some much-needed perspective when I was the solo pastor of a small congregation. I often found myself frustrated by being the only one for whom the mission or future of the congregation was more than a side hustle.
Now I say, embrace the side hustle of faith! We each must find the side hustles that give us life and an escape from feeling stuck. What inspires me with the enthusiasm of an entrepreneur: a community garden or food rescue program; anti-racism training; fair trade; liturgical art? Some of those side hustles could fit seamlessly into the life of a congregation; others could be exciting new initiatives. Since regular attendance now means worshiping once or twice a month for the average church-goer, it is already a side hustle in time spent, but for many it has yet to carry that weight of meaningful endeavor and entrepreneurial energy. What would leaders or congregations do differently if we embraced involvement in church activities as congregation members’ side hustles of faith?
Obviously, churches could strive to not to be the source of burnout. “That’s not even helpful” my two kids say, imitating a phrase they hear me say often enough. It is not helpful to wax nostalgic about when people made church “a priority” or when sports leagues didn’t schedule games on Sundays. Begging people to fill in the slots of somebody-has-to-do-it tasks isn’t energizing at all. Guilt does not fuel the passion for a side hustle.
Surprisingly, neither does money, really. A side hustle must offer something else we desire: to make a difference with our talents, connections and passions. To have our ideas, energy and experiences valued. To lead, not just to consume. So maybe our congregations could consider dropping the umpteenth annual whatever event, and ask instead what new things our people are personally invested in. We could invite entrepreneurship and support the heck out of anyone who tries something new. Maybe this is just a personal bias, because I get bored, but I’d go so far as to say: No more annual events, without a twist to make it new and challenging. It’s very hard to get enthused about a habit.
Practically, the side hustle fits meaningful activity into empty slots in our day planners, including how and when we form community around said side hustle. We might use social media groups to connect with people on the fly, meal meet-ups (people have to eat anyway) or decentralize meeting locations. In order to build relationships we can invite people into the “outside” events of our lives, as if they were all surrogate relatives. Go to Adam’s high school theater production. Cheer Desiree on at her 5K. We might even speak of our faith in those places. And some of those events might just reveal our next great pop-up church event, a side hustle for someone because of their faith, not just as an addendum. Then we’d all share endlessly about that on social media!