From Mountaintop through the Valley of Implementation  

Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Naples, FL conducted its first 1K micro-lending retreat in April, 2018. The retreat lasted 7 hours on a Saturday at the church. Although we had never done any project like the IK micro-lending initiative, especially using a one-day retreat format, the results of our first retreat were powerful; much more impactful than we had even imagined. The bible studies, videos, prayers, presentations and fellowship moved this diverse group to consider making a difference together by investing in their neighborhood. It was a mountain-top experience. Everyone agreed. That retreat was described in detail in the 1K Churches Newsletter, June 20, 2018.

Ok. Now would come the hard part. And we knew it immediately. How do we move this group from the mountain top experience of the retreat into the deep valley of actually finding real businesses needing loans? This “nuts and bolts” work demanded planning and execution. We had agreed to make two loans of $1,000 each at the retreat. Who would now do the administration work of loan execution and maintenance? What process would we use? Which standards would be applied? How would we find the right businesses? Lots of questions.

We decided to move forward one step at a time (with encouragement and input from the IK initiative staff). Here are the key steps we took:

Assemble key documents: The staff of Emmanuel collected the necessary documents, especially the model loan contracts and marketing materials describing the loans according to each model chosen by our retreat participants. These documents were available on the Criterion Institute’s website for the 1 K initiative.  

Get out the word:​ The pastor of Pebblebrooke Community Church and one of his assistants took the next steps by spreading the word about the loans within the community around the church. This “get out the word” step included announcements in church as well as visits within the wider community. Posters, flyers and personal visits were employed. Our goal was to find at least two business interested in our loans. (We didn’t want to bring the administrative team together to execute the loans without at least some applications in front of us.) 

Find applicants:​ It took three months to find three business leaders who were excited about the possibility of our loans and willing to fill out the application forms. We were pleased with this result.  

Review processes and standards:​ Our administrative team was called together after we had received the three loan applications; that is, three months after the original retreat. Seven persons had volunteered at the retreat to participate in this administration team. After the retreat, we kept in touch with everyone every couple of weeks to give updates on our progress. In addition, we invited any of the original 26 retreat participants to join the administrative team meeting, if they so desired. Everyone was invited, but we expected the seven volunteers at least to be at the meeting to do the work. At our first administrative meeting then, the group decided on the following items before the three applications were discussed:

  • Reviewed the retreat’s mandate for our work and the loans 
  • Determined the process for moving forward as an administrative team  
  • Described the nature and character of future contracts 
  • Enumerated the criteria for making loan decisions 
  • Discussed how to interview each loan candidate after decisions were made.  
  • Debated how to connect and maintain a relationship with the business leaders  

Studied the selected loan models (one following the Angel Investor pathway and one following the Public Witness pathway using the Kiva crowd funding platform)  

Make loan decisions:​ After the above items were discussed in detail, we reviewed our three candidates for loans. They were good applications, so the discussion was enjoyable and substantive.  

Visit our chosen applicants:​ Once we selected two of the applicants, we chose three “visitors” who would take an approval letter to each business leader to communicate with them personally and answer all questions. We also wanted at least one youth member to be a part of the visitation team so that they could experience such a visit.  

Invite to worship to receive the loans:​ We extended invitations to the owners of both businesses to be a part of a worship service, preferable at both Emmanuel locations, to receive the loans checks in person and receive prayers from the church. Naturally, this is also an ideal time for these businesses to spread the good word about their work to the people of Emmanuel.

The administrative meeting led to a partnership between Emmanuel Lutheran Church and Goodwill. The committee determined that all loans be to businesses both “legal” and “license compliant.” These expectations, we knew, would be a stretch for one of our applicants. To assist them, our committee decided to make available 12 courses for starting micro-businesses offered by Goodwill. These Goodwill courses cover business essentials like marketing, use of technology, strategic planning, bank relationships, networking, accounting, legal requirements, licensing, etc. Though a gift from one of the committee members, Emmanuel agreed to pay for any loan recipient who desired to take these courses.  

The whole process, from the retreat in April, to administrative team meeting in August, to the loan granting in September took around 5 months total. The high points were definitely the retreat and, we hope, the prayers in worship to come, using good liturgies found, again, on Criterion’s website. The organizational meeting by the administrative team, however, was the key to making the process run smoothly. It brought the team together and mapped out our strategy for implementation. It lasted two hours and was critical to the success of granting the loans. Our group bonded at this meeting. It built confidence. This group will continue to meet regularly to hear stories about the businesses and loan repayment.  

The worship service this month is another spiritual high as we give the loans and pray for these businesses. There is much anticipation surrounding this worship experience. It will be also be a critical moment where the micro-lending committee can most effectively tell the story to the whole congregation about what has happened since April. Our goal is to bring the congregation into this work in a deep fashion; and in a spiritual fashion. The congregation will have a chance to both understand and “own” this initiative more deeply. AND, hopefully, start to raise more money to start the whole process again. That’s clear. This work will continue.  

By Richard Bliese 

Criterion Institute, 501(c)(3) 81 Church Hill Rd · Haddam, CT 06438 860-345-3520 (main) · ©2023, all rights reserved.

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