Ryan Bowell was always intrigued by the business model of the Grace Brethren Investment Foundation (GBIF). As comptroller and later, chief financial officer, for sister organization Encompass World Partners, he had the opportunity to see first-hand the benefits of the ministry. Encompass had utilized the investment accounts and even had a line of credit with GBIF.
“I knew they were serving the Fellowship in a different way,” he recalls. “I was drawn to that.”
When the Encompass offices moved to Atlanta, and Ryan and his wife, Sharmion, didn’t feel led to follow, he sought out an opportunity with the GBIF. He felt the church extension fund that serves the Charis Fellowship would be a good place to use his business skills combined with 15 years in another Fellowship ministry.
Starting at GBIF as director of credit services in 2013, he began to oversee the loan functions of the organization. Admittedly, he didn’t have a commercial banking background, but he quickly learned procedures and asked questions of others who were more experienced. In the process, he worked with nearly one hundred churches and other ministries within the Charis Fellowship to help them obtain financing or manage their existing loan. As with many small organizations, he also found himself wearing other hats—overseeing the marketing of the organization and helping with technology questions.
When President and CEO Ken Seyfert announced his pending retirement in 2019, it seemed natural that Ryan would seek the position.
“GBIF has been operating more like an investment loan fund and not a foundation,” Ryan observes. “I had some ideas that GBIF could potentially implement some new services. The CEO role is the natural place to roll some of those things out.”
“Ryan has demonstrated a dedication to serving the Lord for more than two decades,” says Seyfert, who hired Bowell eight years ago. “At GBIF, he is a hard worker with a burden to do what is right,” he adds. “Ryan is focused on helping facilitate God’s work to move forward. As CEO, he will use his gifts and experience to benefit the Charis Fellowship and bring glory to God!”
“Ryan has a deep passion for and commitment to both the ministry of GBIF as well as the Charis Fellowship and its various ministries,” adds Rick Stair, chair of the board of directors of the Foundation. “His time at GBIF and Encompass before that, has uniquely positioned him with an in-depth understanding of GBIF and the broader Fellowship. Being a Grace Schools graduate gives him another important insight into the inner workings of our Fellowship as we develop the next generation of leaders.
“At our Board meeting last Fall, Ryan presented the directors with a compelling strategic vision for GBIF as we look to the future,” Rick continued. “On behalf of the Board of Directors, we couldn’t be more pleased with his selection as our next CEO and look forward to working with him to serve the Fellowship and implement his strategic vision.”
Ryan’s vision is not only to continue the investing loan fund but to add services and resources that could help the Fellowship’s congregations and ministries.
“It could be as simple as providing churches with stewardship resources,” he notes.
He’s not promising any quick movement into a ministry area but wants to see if there is an appetite for such information in the Fellowship. “Could we be viewed as a resource for stewardship within our Fellowship?” he wonders.
“I think that creating an atmosphere of stewardship could be a real value for our investors and for our churches and pastors.”
He also hopes that the Foundation can support other efforts, like generosity initiatives that raise funds for leadership development and church planting, offer charitable gift annuities, or provide other estate and trust administration services.
Before Ryan could begin to implement his vision for the organization, COVID struck.
“Literally, the day it was announced I was going to become president, there was a shift, a tectonic shift, of the way the model works,” he recalls. “It’s not business as usual,” he adds. “We had to lower our interest rate.”
He stresses there is no reason to panic. “We were in a good position heading into COVID, and we’re in a very strong position where we are right now,” he emphasizes, crediting the astute work of Seyfert, his predecessor. “But it’s not business as usual,” he reiterates. “We have had to really sharpen the pencil and look at things in a new light.”
He says that they are in a new world. “The way we did things in the past may not work going forward,” he admits, questioning that if a church is not meeting in their own facility, will they want to add on to the building?
I’m hearing good things from across the Fellowship, and I think eventually things may come back, but the way churches view buildings in the future might look different than before COVID.
“GBIF exists to propel ministry in the Charis Fellowship,” he stresses. “Our investment loan fund and what we do with our earnings has propelled ministry up to this point,” he adds. “When we give a loan to a church that helps them fulfill the vision God had given them, that’s propelling ministry.”