Q&A with Becca Stevens

Q&A with Becca Stevens


Becca Stevens A priest, author, speaker and social entrepreneur, Stevens is the president of Thistle Farms, a multifaceted international nonprofit. She founded the organization more than 20 years ago to provide a sanctuary and healing for women survivors of prostitution, trafficking and addiction not historically served. Stevens leads important conversations across the country by speaking, writing, and heading a national network of like-minded organizations. She has founded seven justice organizations and helped raise more than $50 million. The New York Times, PBS, ABC World News, NPR, CNN and the White House have all highlighted Stevens and her work.

Q: When it began, did Thistle Farms resemble the lay-led initiatives we are researching here? Today, who is served, who is serving and how are they coming alongside one another? 01

I would not use the language of layled as that is a pretty “churchy” word, and Thistle Farms is not a religious organization but a not-for-profit. I would consider it survivorinformed, with a communal vision influenced by the community of people working together. I never wanted Thistle Farms to be something we “do for women,” but instead, something we “do with women.” Women survivors currently are in leadership positions in more than half of the departments run by Thistle Farms.

Q: In your experience as a priest, what have you seen as the primary motivation or inspiration that drives the formation of congregant-led groups that impact the neighborhood? 02

It is the power and agility of small community. That is where relationships are built, and that is where we find deep meaning, accountability and purpose.

Q: How can church leaders tap into the vocational skills and passions of their congregants and enable them to use those passions to take action, even independent of the church, for the common good? 03

I would say avoid the trap of sending everything to committees managed by the church, where inspiration gets bogged down. Instead, help small groups form with the freedom to act. The idea that the whole church has to be on board before anything gets done makes institutions less effective.

Q: Data show that church leaders are afraid of competing for their congregants’ time, but time actually isn’t a significant factor in an individual’s decision to engage in an activity—church-led or not. It’s more often passion for a cause that drives people to action. What would you say to church leaders who are concerned about losing their volunteers to outside initiatives?

Be a mission, with a church. Don’t fall into the trap of feeling like you are a church trying to support various missions. Lead with mission and let it form your worship, your stewardship and your evangelism.

Q: How have you supported congregants in what they do outside the church and what advice would you give to other churches or why is it meaningful or helpful for them to support their congregants’ passions?

I don’t know that I do a good job of supporting congregants, but I do these three things intentionally:

  1. I am conscious of who the “we” is when I preach. If I am not preaching from the perspective of being in need of mercy and justice, I am not doing the work;
  2. I hold up great examples of mission by individuals in the community to inspire action, not judgement;
  3. I keep things simple and transparent so more time and energy can go toward the mission.

Q: How do you seek to support lay people in the volunteer work they’re already doing or share info about the platform they already have? 06

Mostly through announcements, social media, weekly newsletters, Eventbrite and an email list. We share, we post, we talk!

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