Keep at it and stay focused on your why. You will face moments when you feel like giving up. When you feel like you aren’t making a difference. Keep a file — electronic or paper — of impact stories to keep you going when it gets hard. Remember the vision, the reason why you started. Keep following that as your north star. Never forget that helping even one person is making an impact. And the only way to make that impact is to not give up.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sean Dunn.
Sean Dunn has spent the last 30 years reaching young people with a few simple truths: They matter. They are loved. They are not “mistakes.” There is a future and a hope for them. And most importantly, they need Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
Groundwire, the ministry he founded in 1995, has relayed these truths to hundreds of thousands of young men and women. It is an unapologetically Christian organization, with the ultimate goal to lead those it connects with into a relationship with Jesus Christ. But religion is never the first topic of conversation.
“Young people today are not waking up worried about going to hell,” Dunn says. “They feel like they are going through hell. I’ve learned to speak hope into a hopeless soul and love into someone who doesn’t think they are lovable.
“We can’t just tell them Jesus loves them; we have to make it so real it grabs their soul.”
Dunn first began doing that as a youth pastor who brought his own early struggles to the position. Growing up in a Christian home in Spokane, WA, he didn’t initially go all in on a relationship with God. When his parents caught him stealing at 14, they challenged him to read two chapters of his Bible each day. He “doubled down” on the dare — reading a pair of chapters from the Old Testament every morning and a pair from the New Testament every night.
“That changed me,” he says. “That’s the power of God’s Word, the power we still point lost and hurting people toward in our ministry.”
Groundwire saw 192,506 Millennials and Gen Z’ers come to Christ in 2021. Its God-sized goal for this year is 1.2 million. The group uses the same kind of technology that floods your Facebook page with shoe ads if you chat with a friend online about your new Nikes. But it leverages that technology to communicate the Gospel in a relevant and authentic way — literally meeting young people on the devices in their hands.
Groundwire interrupts their endless scrolling with relevant media that addresses their needs and crisis situations. Videos and images that stand out from the masks so many wear on social media are accompanied by an invitation to chat for free with a Groundwire volunteer — called a coach — who offers a listening ear and an understanding heart.
“It’s in our coaching chats that connection happens, that change happens,” Dunn says. “We see them in crisis and turmoil. We know what is making them feel that way.
“And we point them to the only thing that will take away that desolation and desperation: Jesus.”
Thank you so much for doing this with us. Before we begin our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”?
Growing up in a Christian home in Spokane, WA, I didn’t have it all together. Few people saw the chinks in my armor, but I was completely aware. I loved God but was struggling to serve Him. When my parents caught me stealing at 14, my world began to crumble. I had been exposed. In response to that, my youth pastor dared me to read the Bible daily and I pushed back. He told me if I did it, it would change my life. I said, “I am going to read the Bible twice a day … but not to prove you right, but to prove that it won’t have any impact.” That was the beginning for me. I “doubled down” on the dare — reading a pair of chapters from the Old Testament every morning and a pair from the New Testament every night. That changed me. My faith became real and my life took on new meaning. That’s the power of God’s Word, the power we still point lost and hurting people toward in our ministry. This year so far, more than 130,000 young men and women have made a commitment to Christ through our efforts.
Can you tell us the story behind why you decided to start or join your nonprofit?
I saw as a youth pastor, up close, the struggles and trauma young people faced without hope in their lives. The pain out there is something that’s easy to overlook when we’re focused on our own lives. But I was living it with those kids. I knew how hurt they were. How hopeless they felt. I understood that youth today are not waking up worried about going to hell. They feel like they are going through hell. I learned to speak hope into a hopeless soul and love into someone who doesn’t think they are lovable. I also knew the only thing that could give them hope, fill them with purpose and meaning, was a relationship with Jesus Christ. Groundwire took shape as we considered how we could take this incredible message to people who would not go seeking it. We discovered how to engage those who didn’t feel loved, who didn’t see a future for themselves, and communicate that they are loved — by the Creator of the Universe. That truth changed my life. I wanted it to change the lives of every hurting soul.
Can you describe how you or your organization aims to make a significant social impact?
The average young person checks their cell phone over 100 times a day. We can’t get the majority to attend church weekly, and we can’t get them to put down their phones, either. At Groundwire, we don’t see the second part of that as a problem but as an opportunity.
Everyone speaks to them on their devices (pornographers, politicians, publicists and product pushers) about destructive and meaningless things. Why shouldn’t we talk to them about things that bring life?
If you are going to scale any effort, the quickest and most effective way to do that is through their phones.
Groundwire’s strategy to do just that is five-fold:
• Interrupt: Groundwire uses paid advertising and Hollywood produced content to interrupt the entertainment of our audience, connect with their emotion, and suggest Jesus as the answer.
• Communicate: “Chat with someone who understands at…” Our commercials end with the offer to chat with someone. Although there are multiple ways we communicate the Gospel online, the thing that makes us most unique is we have a team of online volunteers ready to listen, engage, and point chatters to Jesus.
• Commit: Although we deal with real pain issues (suicide, depression, anxiety, relational issues) the goal is to introduce young people to Jesus.
• Educate: We follow up with New Believers to help them in their first steps towards Jesus. Our tools help them connect vertically with God and teach them the spiritual disciplines to help them grow spiritually.
• Community: We work to connect people who are entering into a relationship with Jesus into a community of people who will come alongside and support them.
Without saying any names, can you share a story about an individual who was helped by your idea so far?
One young girl, we’ll call her Hannah, was hurting. She was miserable. Her home life was painful, her social life non-existent and her addiction to her small screen kept pulling her down the rabbit hole into insecurity and depression. Less than a week before one of our coaches had the opportunity to chat with her, she had overdosed and ended up in the hospital. Not because she wanted to die. But because she “didn’t want to keep living like she was” anymore.
She had a rehearsed but believable smile. Yet underneath it all, she was lost, hurting and isolated.
She believed in God but struggled to believe that He loved her. Some days she thought He was unloving; other days she was simply convinced she was unlovable.
As their conversation began, our volunteer asked God to open up her heart to His love, and He did.
A wall of self-hate protected her from disappointment … but it began to break down when she understood that God loved her and wanted a relationship with her. Although she was thinking, “How can this be?” she found herself longing, “I hope this is true.”
It didn’t happen right away, but eventually she turned her heart over to Christ; surrendering her will, submitting to His Leadership and receiving His gift of grace.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Government isn’t very good at solving heart problems. Communities, and the Christians in those communities, are where the real hope lies. All of us who follow God have been called by Him to make disciples, to witness to those in darkness and show them the light. Jesus saves, not us; our role is just to deliver the mail. That’s what we need at Groundwire — more “mail carriers” who are convinced, like we are, that every life is valuable and that hope comes through Jesus. As for the three things they can do: Pray, pray and pray for those in their spheres of influence who need to have their lives transformed by the love of God.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership is not dictatorship; it’s discipleship. It’s pointing those you lead in the way they should go, as the Bible says. Jesus was the perfect example of a leader. He walked the earth as the Son of God, yet He walked alongside those He led. He did not order them from above but served them from within. He felt what they felt. Hurt when they hurt. Taught them with patience and grace. That’s a model all leaders would do well to emulate.
Based on your experience, what are the “5 things a person should know before they decide to start a non profit”. Please share a story or example for each.
1. You need a vision … and you have to share it. Your passion to make a difference is why you are moved to start a nonprofit. You need to articulate that vision in a way that catches fire — to keep you motivated and to attract others to share in your mission. We are always honored and humbled when someone learns about the work we’re doing and decides to join us — either as a volunteer coach, via a financial gift or by lifting up our efforts in prayer.
2. Flexibility and innovation are as important for a nonprofit as for a for-profit business. If you don’t pay attention, your innovation can quickly become your rut. When we started Groundwire, our chief means of reaching the lost was traditional methods (preaching) and media (TV, radio, billboards). Then we saw the opportunity in using digital technology, especially for cell phones, and completely shifted our focus. Seizing that opportunity has helped us reach many times more hurting people than we would have if we didn’t adapt to the new opportunities for impact.
3. Don’t go it alone. It’s a cliche, but teamwork makes the dream work. Groundwire would not have been able to achieve what we have without our awesome partners who support us through prayer, volunteering, speaking into the vision and, of course, supporting financially.
4. Celebrate the victories — but keep going. One of our core values is “Celebrate, but never satisfied.” We are grateful for every person impacted and every milestone achieved, but we don’t allow ourselves to get take the foot off the gas. If your mission is important, there needs to be a sense of urgency.
5. Keep at it and stay focused on your why. You will face moments when you feel like giving up. When you feel like you aren’t making a difference. Keep a file — electronic or paper — of impact stories to keep you going when it gets hard. Remember the vision, the reason why you started. Keep following that as your north star. Never forget that helping even one person is making an impact. And the only way to make that impact is to not give up.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world who you would like to talk to, to share the idea behind your nonprofit? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. Author Lee Strobel.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson” Quote? How is that relevant to you in your life? (Again, this is one that comes fropm your heart).
One of my life quotes is “Life is too short to waste and eternity if too long to ignore.” This keeps us aggressively pursuing the mission that is laid out before us.
How can our readers follow you online?
We have many sites that speak to hurting young people struggling through different issues. You can find all of them at www.groundwire.net and also see a real-time “impact map” that tracks the results of our efforts across the globe.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success in your mission.
Sean Dunn of Goundwire: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Lead A Nonprofit Organization was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.