The risk and rewards of Christian enterprise

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Most of my blog posts are about what it’s like to be a Christian in corporate America, but today I’d like to touch briefly on something even more specific – Christian companies. There are a small number of entrepreneurs that have started these organizations – companies that have explicitly Christian missions – who try to balance profits with purpose.

I’ve been aware of some of the most famous of these corporations, mostly large ones such as Servicemaster, Curves, and Chick-fil-A, for some time. I’ve learned, though,  that there are many more smaller Christian companies out there as well.  As an example, I’ve passed this sign many times here in Grand Rapids and only recently went on their website to learn more about this Christian company.

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I applaud those who start Christian companies, as doing so comes with a lot of risks and rewards. On the upside, it allows someone with a mature faith to express it in their organization’s culture, to nurture employees in a holistic manner, and to differentiate their organization in the marketplace as a company that can be trusted to behave with integrity. 

However, there are big risks as well. As an example, Christian entrepreneurs risk abandoning non-Christian clientele, although this is relatively minor given that a majority of Americans identify themselves as Christians. More importantly, though, they expose their behaviors and the behaviors of their employees to tremendous scrutiny and risk tarnishing the reputation of Christ in doing so. If taken seriously, this risk can become a source of tremendous accountability if a business owner is willing to do whatever is necessary, including sacrificing profits, to protect the organization’s reputation. There is one other less-understood risk, and that’s the risk of hurting, rather than encouraging, their employees’ faith. Whenever Christianity becomes highly institutionalized (as an example, say… Western Europe) the faith can be percieved over time as imposed and legalistic, usually resulting in an abandoning of the it.

To do it right, owners of Christian companies must maintain a vibrant Christian culture that doesn’t just permit, but actively encourages, employees to live out their faith at work. A clear, simple message about the role of faith in the company is best, and legalism should be avoided. One strong example would be the approach that Truett Cathy has taken with Chick-fil-A. To read his “recipe” for business success, click here.

Deuteronomy 6 encourages us to write God’s word on our doorposts and our gates. For some faithful business owners, that also includes putting it in their mission statement and exterior signage.

2 Responses

  1. I think Christians should be intentional about reflecting Jesus in the workplace and with their businesses if they are owners.

    One tricky thing to navigate: How do you ensure that you are doing the right things for the right reasons? It seems like some people come to church to make contacts.

    One lawyer called because he wanted to visit our Sunday School class, which of course I encouraged. Then he “added” that he wanted to do a pitch on estate planning and would give church members a discount. When I pointed out that we avoided that sort of thing with our email lists and class time, I never heard from him again.

  2. I’m catching up on your postings. Since I don’t comment much, I feel like I should say something profound, but all I can think about is Chik-fil-A chicken biscuits. Mmmm…

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