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12 Characteristics of a Spiritual Entrepreneur

Ever wonder what might happen if you actually went for it?

Did what you always felt called to do but were too afraid to?

I hope you wonder what might happen.

If there’s one thing the church in the West needs today, it’s spiritual entrepreneurs. As I wrote about here, the church today is filled with shepherds, to the point where shepherds are perhaps over-represented in church leadership. What we need most as we navigate new waters in a post-Christian culture is not more shepherds, but spiritual entrepreneurs.

Whether you call it spiritual entrepreneurship or the gift of apostleship, what we need is a new generation of Apostle Pauls who forge out in new directions. Who experiment boldly. Who dare greatly.

Spiritual entrepreneurs are the kind of leaders who will find tomorrow’s solutions when most leaders can only see the problem.

In a marketplace that’s in love with start-ups and new ventures, we need some leaders who are inclined to spend their lives in the marketplace who will take their God-given talents and energy and throw them full time behind the mission of the church.

Are you called to it? As I write about here, the fact that you have the gifts might be enough of a sign that you’re called.

So what does spiritual entrepreneurship look like?

What are the characteristics of leaders who can forge fresh ground in the church?

And how do you know if you might be a spiritual entrepreneur?

spiritual entrepreneur

As I meet church leaders who are actually reaching unchurched people in massive quantities, here are the qualities I see among the leaders. (I wrote about 5 characteristics I see in their churches here.)

Spiritual entrepreneurs:

1. Think big

Too many churches die of small thinking:

We don’t have enough

It won’t happen

Stop dreaming

That’s plenty for now

Who will pay for it?

Leaders who serve an infinite God should never have their imaginations deadened by small thinking.

Spiritual entrepreneurs aren’t. They think big.

They dream of what could be, not what is.

They see the opportunity in every obstacle.

2. Believe God can

We serve a God who created amazing things out of nothing. Why do we think he won’t do the same for his church?

Spiritual entrepreneurs believe he will. And they see him do it.

They would agree with Henry Ford who said, “Whether you believe you can or whether you believe you can’t, you’re right.”

Before you dismiss this as positive thinking nonsense, remember Jesus couldn’t perform many miracles in his hometown because of people’s lack of faith. Then, moments later, he walked on water and fed 5000 because people in those communities had faith.

Spiritual entrepreneurs believe God can. And they see him do it.

3. See abundance, not scarcity

Spiritual entrepreneurs see abundance, not scarcity.

Give a dying church $10,000, and they’ll think they’re broke and need to conserve it.

Give $10,000 to a spiritual entrepreneur, and he’ll see it as seed money to start something big.

To a dying church, 5 leaders is defeat.

To a spiritual entrepreneur, it’s a start.

Same facts. Different mindset. Attitude is everything.

4. Think vision first, resources second

So what comes first? Vision, or resources?

Spiritual entrepreneurs are very comfortable with the reality that vision precedes resources.

Casting a big vision (a solid, on-mission vision) will often lead to significant resources down the road.

Waiting for big resources so you can have a vision is a recipe for death.

5. Invest in personal and team development

Spiritual entrepreneurs aren’t crazy spenders, but they see a key distinction between an expense and an investment.

They realize that going to conferences, networking with other leaders, buying books and doing whatever it takes to make themselves and their team better is an investment.

Sure, there are limits, but smart spiritual entrepreneurs will often spend a minimum of 10% of all the money they receive making themselves and their team better.

6. Believe this is bigger than them

Of all the criticisms levied at spiritual entrepreneurs, the most common is often that they have big egos and it’s all about them.

Sometimes that’s true.

But most often it’s not.

Big vision does not automatically equal big ego.

The best spiritual entrepreneurs humbly submit to God and are committed to a vision that is so much bigger than they are.

Personal humility combined with big ambition for the mission fosters incredible leadership.

Think about it this way. The reason we’re talking about Paul 2000 years later is that Paul’s work wasn’t about Paul; it was about Jesus and the mission of the church.

If your vision is all about you, it will die with you.

True spiritual entrepreneurs know that.

7. Ship first, improve later

Perfectionists make terrible entrepreneurs.

If you haven’t shipped on your vision yet because you’re waiting for ideal conditions or the perfect result, you’ll wait forever.

People email me all the time (usually after going to a conference hosted by a large church with lots of resources) and ask whether a new building or better lighting or a move to a portable location will help them grow.

I always tell them it won’t (here’s why).

Big churches never started big. They usually started very humbly. But because they are led by spiritual entrepreneurs, those entrepreneurs at every stage made the most of whatever they had.

A spiritual entrepreneur can launch a growing church in a dying building with little money.

Then they make all the improvements later as facilities and resources grow.

8. Are fine with ambiguity

Ask a spiritual entrepreneur how they’re going to do it, and the #1 answer is “I don’t know. We’re just going to do it.”

There’s something powerful in that.

If you have it all figured out before you launch it, your vision isn’t big enough.

9. Will risk it all without guarantee of success

Too many leaders hope for some kind of guarantee.

Risk brings no guarantees because it’s risk.

Spiritual entrepreneurs are okay with that.

Most spiritual entrepreneurs want to die trying. Usually they don’t die trying, but the fact that they’re willing to is crucial.

Ironically, if a spiritual entrepreneur has a solid plan that’s on mission, they usually don’t fail. But you have to be willing to fail to succeed.

10. Never wait for consensus

Too many churches will only move forward if there is consensus.

That’s a critical mistake.

Consensus kills courage. By the time you have consensus, ideas are so watered down they are worthy of the committee that put them together.

Spiritual entrepreneurs rarely act alone (at least the smart ones don’t). But they’re ready to move ahead with a group of early adopters knowing most will eventually buy into whatever is being proposed once they see it working.

11. Let the critics talk while they act

The critics will always talk.

Spiritual entrepreneurs know this.

They don’t get weighed down by critics who criticize what others do and do little themselves.

How do you respond to the critics?

By acting.

Just act while the critics talk. You’ll accomplish something. They won’t.

12. Break rules

Quite obviously, you should never break biblical rules. And the great spiritual entrepreneurs never do. Their character is solid.

But you’re going to absolutely need to break some human rules if you’re going to disrupt the status quo.

Innovation always breaks rules. Why?

Because innovation never asks for permission. It just innovates.

What Do You See?

I wrote more about the challenges facing the church in my new book, Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow. Think of it as a manual for a new generation of spiritual entrepreneurs.

What do you see? Anything you’d add to this list?

Scroll down and leave a comment.



  1. Dan King on January 23, 2019 at 9:45 am

    Hey Carey, thanks for sharing. I believe a glass half full mentality is definitely the best when it comes to entrepreneurship. You have to focus on what you have and how to build upon that.

  2. Derick, Las Vegas, NV - Kingdom Man on February 28, 2018 at 4:54 am

    I just found this post after googling “Spiritual Entrepreneurship,” and I feel like giving an offering because I found it merely inspiring, enlighting, and encouraging. Thank you!

    How can I support you? (in addition to sharing this post on social media)

  3. Chris on January 21, 2018 at 3:44 am

    I think two other traits relevant are: –

    12 – a gnawing dissatisfaction with how things are, and a deep sense of “there must be more than this”

    13 – a curiosity about how God is already at work in those beyond the church, who he loves and is reconciling to himself (Colossians 1 v 20)

  4. Roger Gauthier on December 2, 2016 at 11:49 am

    Have to agree Carey. Am A Spiritpreneur myself. Have always been so frustrated with the church because they seem to always be lagging behind on the insights you gain when you are taking the lead by faith. Have been an entrepreneur for most of my life and when I finally hear some one in the pulpit begin sharing in their sermon something the LORD taught me in entrepreneurship I would say “It’s about time” I’ll be sending this article to a many pastors.

  5. Rich on April 25, 2016 at 12:48 am

    loved this article. Nailed me between the eyes. Every point. Guess I know what I am.

  6. Thad Puckett on April 23, 2016 at 8:32 am

    Excellent post…if there was one more trait of spiritual entrepreneurs, just one…I would hope it would be “they don’t see work (as in business) outside of the church as non-spiritual; they see it as a field white unto harvest”.

  7. Jake on April 11, 2016 at 10:39 am

    One of the best – thanks Carey!

  8. Salvationist DNA | Andrew M Clark on March 29, 2016 at 8:04 pm

    […] read an article today by Carey Nieuwhoff (here) and he […]

  9. Vikki Ruby on March 29, 2016 at 11:54 am

    I cannot express how much it meant to me to come across this article today. I cried, shared it with my husband and he said “somebody finally gets me”

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 11, 2016 at 10:47 am

      This is awesome Vikki. So encouraging. We need more of you in the Kingdom.

  10. troepke on March 29, 2016 at 9:12 am

    wow…thanks for this..stepping into a critical meeting today and as I was prepping this popped up…great wisdom here…and in a Providential way a huge encouragement to my thinking as I lead our team in the conversation. grateful!

  11. Robin Jordan on March 28, 2016 at 2:21 pm

    I have mixed feelings about the use of the term “spiritual entrepreneur”in the article for the kind of dynamic leader that the Christian Church needs in the 21st century. For me the term has negative associations.It brings to mind prosperity gospel preachers who exploit material, psychological, and spiritual needs of others to line their pockets and build their own personal empires..

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 28, 2016 at 5:20 pm

      Thanks for sharing that. I have zero link with prosperity Gospel preachers and the term, but I know many leaders don’t like the term because they don’t like marketplace leaders. For me, that’s just not an issue.

      • Robin Jordan on March 29, 2016 at 12:29 pm

        Just for clarification I have been involved in church planting since the 1980s and I am well acquainted with entrepreneurial leadership both conceptually and in practice. I do not have an issue with it. What concerned me was the associations that the term might conjure in the minds of others. If you rephrase the term as entrepreneur of spiritual things, someone who deals or trades in spiritual things as commodity, then in it triggers negative associations. Prosperity gospel preachers was the first to come to mind. Shamens and witch doctors is another example. To avoid any misunderstanding which might prevent the ideas that you are presenting not getting a hearing where they need to be heard, the use of a different term might be in order. Or provide some kind of clarification of the term early in the article.If those reading your article are not acquainted with the concepts about which you are writing, they might not understand you. I regularly post links to your articles on my own blog and I recognize that everyone who reads my blog is not on the same page in terms of their understanding and appreciation of such concepts.

        • Jake on April 11, 2016 at 10:41 am

          Bullet points 11 and 12.

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