A social enterprise is a business that seeks to address a social justice problem using a market-based approach. Common examples in the church include community shops and cafes, though there are numerous examples of social enterprises across a range of industries. The following are the essential criteria that define a social enterprise:
- It must be a trading enterprise with ideally more than 50% of its income coming from trading
- The activity must have a social purpose over and above that of raising income
- The beneficiaries must be the wider community and not just individuals or a particular group
- There needs to be a recognised social enterprise legal structure which recognises community ownership and democratic control.
Once set up, a social enterprise must be self-sustaining, with any surplus profits being used to benefit the wider community. Setting up a social enterprise is a large undertaking, but can be a significant way to bring in regular income and revitalise a church's relationship with the surrounding community. A number of churches are engaging in social enterprise initiatives inspired by the Heart Edge movement whose website provides more information for those interested.