Do You Advertise as a Christian Business?

This is a serious question for many business owners. Should you advertise your business as Christian and risk backlash from non-Christian customers, or accept it fully and be completely honest with your market?

As Christians and business professionals, we ponder the pros and cons of how Christian businesses are accepted. While being honest about Christian principles and values for a business may prove risky in some markets, I believe it’s what we’re called to do.

Now, when I say we’re called to be honest about our business, I don’t mean you have to print Bible verses on every product you sell or line your storefront or office with Christian messages. At some point, Christian bombardment is costly for any business, so by no means am I proposing to do so.

However, it seems as if the only choice when declaring to be a Christian business is to bombard people. This is false. Being a Christian business owner, entrepreneur or freelancer can take the very image of someone who holds to Christian principles and standards.

Let’s be honest, the image of Christians has been blurred in the last decade, but people still appreciate honesty, excellence, commitment, diligence and kindness in the workplace. You don’t have to advertise these attributes as your “Christianity.” Instead, bring things attributes of your business to life by living them.

A study conducted in 2011 offers some tremendous insight as to how people perceive Christian businesses. The Barna Group, a market research organization, conducted a survey asking two simple questions: if you were going to buy a product or service in the coming year, would you be more likely or less likely to buy a particular brand if you knew it was from…

  1. A company that manages its business according to Christian principles?
  2. A company that embraces and promotes Christian faith?

 

Here are the results of the poll of 1,022 adults from across the U.S. ages 18 and older.

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What do these results tell us?

For managing according to Christian principles, about 2 out of 5 adult consumers (43%) said they would prefer the Christian business (with 27% of adults strongly agreeing). Most reported indifferent (51%) and only 3% reported opposition. That means a business operated by Christian principles generated a positive-to-negative ratio of 14 to 1.

For a Christian business that embraces the faith and promotes it, about one-third of adults (37%) said they would prefer this type of business (with 22% of adults strongly agreeing). Again, most were indifferent (58%) and only 3% reported opposition. That means a business that embraces the Christian faith and promotes it generated a positive-to-negative ratio of 12 to 1.

One stat deserving of our attention is the youngest generation of adults polled, called the Mosaics, who reported the least likely to care whether the business displayed Christian faith or principles. As these adults grow older, a shift could occur as to the favorability of Christian businesses.

However, for now, the stats show a favorable response toward Christian businesses, and if anything, people who are indifferent.

Again, I issue a statement of caution. Both these researchers and others admit that overtly Christian businesses are not favorable in the marketplace. People do not want Christianity shoved into their face, nor should they. Consider doing business with someone of another faith and how you would feel if they shoved Islam, Hinduism or Judaism in your face.

To conclude, I leave you with an all-encompassing passage:

“A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35

First Step in Starting a Startup

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Not everyone is built from the entrepreneurial mold, I understand. However, from the interviews we’ve conducted here, we’ve noticed Christian entrepreneurs are numerous and scattered across the world. So, if you’ve ever considered starting your own business, whether big or small, then you’re surely not alone.

If you’re like some, your first thoughts may come in form of “I wish I had this or that, but I haven’t found anything like it online or in a store.” Or you’ve considered your skill set and noticed you’re extremely talented in one area of your life and have a desire to make something of that talent other than using it for a 9-to-5 job.

However the initial thought or dream comes, it comes and you want to do something about it. But where do you start? Are you even called to start your own business or niche? Does God even want you start something new? Is it too risky?

You Need Focus:

If you’re even considering a new startup, I want you to take out a pen and paper, or your tablet, since we live in that age, and I want you to write all of your ideas. Try answering these questions:

  • What skill do you have to offer?
  • Or, what product do you have to offer?
  • What makes you different?
  • Have you noticed a demand for your service or product?
  • What’s your target age/market?
  • How can you get started on a small scale?
  • How much time must you dedicate?

If you’re about to develop a new startup, then you can’t neglect these questions. As Jason Stambaugh (our last interviewee) explained, you don’t need to drop everything for your dream, especially if you have a family and children. It’s unwise to quit your current job for an unorganized dream you have. No matter how skilled you are, you need to take the transition a little slower, unless your spouse can support or you have a huge lump of money sitting in an account—even then, you need to approach the startup with caution before you toss money to the wind.

Yes and No:

Someone in your life has told you that you’re skilled at something. If not, let’s get to know each other and I’ll tell you what I think you’re good at. Whether a parent, close friend or significant other has identified your talents, someone has probably mentioned what you’re exceptional at.

But, has anyone told you that you’re quite sloppy at something? Has anyone ever told you “no” in regards to something you wanted to try? I doubt many have been so honest with you. If so, then good for them. Honesty is key at this stage. You don’t think your idea is bad, but it may be the worst idea ever and you’re blind to it because you’re a bit biased. We all need someone to tell us “no” from time to time, especially if it’s going to save us financially and save us lots of grief.

See, we’re all really gifted at something and we’re all pretty awful at other things. I like to believe I’m good at writing, expressing my thoughts through words and producing different types of media. But I know I’m pitiful when it comes to physics and higher-level math. My mind doesn’t function that way and I’ve accepted it. It took a few classes in high school and college to let me know I’m not skilled at engineering or computer science. So what did I do? I stuck with what I’m skilled at doing.

You should do the same and if you don’t know whether you pitiful at something, just ask an honest friend or organize a focus group.

Gather a Group:

Get some friends and family members together. Sit them down and pitch your startup business idea to them and ask for some serious feedback. Allow them to be completely honest about your pitch and pinpoint holes in your plan. Just a word of warning, you may feel defeated after this focus group session, but don’t let that stop you. Just let it stop you from doing what you shouldn’t.

If your focus group would rather write honest responses on paper, then have them do that. Give them a series of questions to answer that will allow them to guide your ideas and thoughts. Consider listing these questions on a sheet for your group members to respond to:

  • Would you be truly interested in what I’m selling or offering?
  • What do you like the most about my startup idea?
  • What are the holes in my idea?
  • Who do you think my target market is?
  • How much time, energy and funds do you think my startup will require at first?
  • How can I improve the idea of my startup?

Use the answers you gathered here for greater consideration and brainstorming of your idea. Obviously, if everyone listed the same hole in your idea, then you need to patch that hole. Let this be a constructive learning process, a type of refining, and let it guide you rather than discourage you.

Try giving these questions to several groups and see what answers you get each time.

You Have To Pray:

If you fail to pray about this business endeavor, well, you’re doomed to fail. Take the right first step by committing to prayer. Question God and allow Him to question you. Ask others to pray for you during this process and give them specifics to pray about. Remember that God’s timing isn’t your timing, yet it’s perfect. If you’re not receiving a response as fast as you would like, don’t consider it a failure. As James said:

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt.” James 1:5-6

God Calls Us To Obedience in Everything

When we’re honest with customers and clients about our faith, well, we might turn some people away, but we’ll also see success. I’ve learned, the more honest I am about my faith in my work, the more respect I receive. Whether the person I’m working with agrees with me or not, they typically hold a high regard of respect for me.

One reason is because I try to be true to what I profess. Don’t profess Christ if you’re not going to act like him. If you profess Christ and act as he commands us to act, you’ll notice a development of respect from your customers and clients. While they might disagree with your beliefs, they can agree with your honesty, fairness, work ethic and kind-heartedness.

When we simply obey God in the way He asks us to live and be true in nature and character, he rewards us. I don’t doubt this. I’ve experienced it in my own life and in my own work.

Recently, I read a story in 1 Samuel about King Saul. The story portrayed a call to obedience over what we may believe is right. King Saul disobeyed God’s command by doing something else he believed was right. He didn’t completely destroy a city as God asked. Instead, he collected some of plunder and offered it as a sacrifice to God, something he believed to be good. But God removed his Spirit from Saul for a lack of obedience.

I highlight this story to remind you just how important obedience is in our lives. We’re called to obey God because that’s honor and that’s dedication to our heavenly father. When we begin to define what’s right and wrong, we’ll fail.

As you interact with customers, clients and coworkers, remember to be honest and obedient in all that you do. Obey what God has taught us through scripture and be honest in all of your work. God demands obedience over what we believe is correct. Obey God and He will reward you. People won’t see you for your good deeds, but your father in heaven.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” Colossians 3:23

Staying Christian In Business

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It may seem that retaining the “Christian” title in business isn’t helping some of the largest businesses in the country. Whether you agree with his stance or not, Chic-Fil-A was viciously scrutinized after Dan Cathy made statements against gay marriage and his stance on the issue. Others have been ostracized as not being progressive enough in business ethics, leading to small boycotts and negative feedback. Does this mean Christians just fold to society and be the “nice” guys everyone is looking for? I don’t believe so.

Folding to society has never been the mission of God or Christ, for that matter. Instead, Christ was very countercultural for his time, and challenged the status quo of religious and non-religious people alike. Rather than folding to what the culture said was right and proper, Christ introduced the true kingdom—the way God designed us to live. The truth is that the Kingdom of God is rather countercultural. Society is distracted by the lies of Satan and looks at the characteristics of God’s people and mocks their lifestyle because they are considered unprogressive and inconsiderate.

So, what do Christian business professionals do in a culture that looks down upon standing firm in our faith commitment?

  • Commitment: Commit completely to God and His mission. Don’t waiver in your faith, although you may experience some low points. Writers of the New Testament mention the heartaches along the way, but all preach that redemption by God is worth the struggle.
  • Stick to Love: Don’t let your commitment lead to hate. Many Christians are at the other extreme. Instead of folding, they condemn in their hearts, action and speech. We were never taught by Christ to act this way. Our commitment is out of love, to love.
  • Procedures: Develop a new of doing things so that your business is continually focused on God. Many non-profits have times of prayer for the entire organization while at work. Learn from other organizations and start developing new procedures for your staff to be prepared daily for living committed lives.
  • Disputes: Limit disputes as much as possible, especially between professionals and clients/customers. There will be times when someone will learn that your business is based on Christian values and will display opposition. Keep calm if anything is said, be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger. Just this type of reaction may lead to an opportunity to share God’s love in a way that others need.
  • Excellence: If you read the book of Ecclesiastes and notice how much Solomon speaks about work, you’ll begin to understand the importance of work in our lives and working hard. Develop an attitude of excellent work in business for God’s glory. Don’t work for yourself, other or money, but work for God because work is worship.

Five Fortune 500 Companies Founded on Christian Principles

Wal-mart: the rewards of servant leadership

The number two ranked Fortune 500 company was founded on Christian principles. Founder Sam Walton adhered to the Biblical servant leadership model, incorporating it into the structure of his company. Servant leadership has paved the way for Wal-mart’s tremendous growth.

  • Wal-mart is not just the leading retailer in the United States, but the entire world.
  • International store openings are currently the source of their biggest growth, with already 4,263 stores outside of the US.
  • They are the largest private employer in the world with over two million employees.
  • Revenues in 2011 nearly reached half-a-trillion dollars.

With a significant share of the company still under the ownership of the Walton family, the thrust of Sam Walton’s servant leadership principles lives on in their oversight.

Tyson Foods: nourishing the faith of its employees

John W. Tyson, who founded the company in 1935, was a regular attendee of First Methodist Church Springdale, Arkansas. He took his grandson, John H. Tyson, with him. Now as the chairman of the group, John H. Tyson holds faith as an integral part of the way he oversees his company.

  • Tyson currently employs 120 chaplains to attend to the spiritual needs of all the company’s employees.
  • Chaplains work across faiths, helping Jewish and Muslim employees as well as Christian.
  • Respect of faith diversity is a core value.

Through the ministry of Tyson Food’s corporate chaplains, managers are seeing more productivity from their employees, as well as improvement in overall employee morale. It’s not just Tyson now who employs corporate chaplains. The idea has spilled over into other brands such as Coca-Cola, Taco Bell, and others.

Deere: dedicated to godly stewardship

Robert W. Lane modeled Christian leadership as CEO of Deere & Company for a decade (2000 – 2010). During his leadership, he used 1 Corinthians to continually challenge his employees to be faithful stewards. Today, Deere is the 2nd most valued company in the construction and farm machinery industry.

Additionally, it is regarded as one of the most morally upright companies in the world. Deere continues to this day to be one of the most favored companies of Fortune magazine for its commitment to integrity. Last year it celebrated 175 years of a corporate history centered on the utmost ethical standards.

  • Ranked in the World’s 100 Most Ethical Companies by Ethisphere magazine in 2007.
  • Research and Development spending rose above $1 billion for the first time in its history in 2010.
  • Ranked in the top 100 leading brands by leading brand-consulting firms in 2011.

J.C. Penney: a legacy of fairness

The retailer is named after James Cash Penney. He grew up to be a devout Christian, vowing to treat both his employees and customers with dignity and fairness. He quickly achieved partner status at the Golden Rule store chain in 1902. Although he later changed the name of the chain after his own, he never stopped conducting business by the “golden rule” taken from the gospels, and his legacy is felt even today.

  • One of the first companies to add an Education Department under Mr. Penney’s own direction.
  • After the stock market crash in 1929 he chose to borrow against life insurance to keep his employees on payroll rather than execute massive layoffs.
  • Opened Memorial Home Community, a retirement home for ministers and their families.
  • Sam Walton worked for J.C. Penney starting in 1940 before going on to found his own retail store, Wal-mart.

J.C. Penney remains one of America’s leading clothing retail brands, having adapted to decades of marketplace changes and consumer shopping habits.

Aflac: applying Biblical principles to tough decisions

The nationally renowned insurance company was the product of the three Amos brothers from Enterprise, Alabama. They firmly believed that their business should be based on God’s principles, and strove to build it that way. They held to Jesus’ teaching of “loving one’s neighbor” and “doing to others what you would have them do to you” as a basis for exceptional customer service.

The group demonstrates a pattern of commitment to their godly principles, even when faced with hard decisions. After tweeting jokes about the recent Japanese tsunami, the man behind the voice of the Aflac duck, a crucial brand image for the company, was let go by senior management. Although it was viewed by many as a rushed decision, Aflac refused to compromise on its principles.

  • The company is the largest life insurer in Japan.
  • Hispanic Enterprise magazine listed them in the “50 Best Companies for Supplier Diversity” in 2008.
  • Over $75 million has been donated to cancer research groups.
  • For twelve consecutive years Fortune magazine has named Aflac in their “100 Best Companies to Work For”.

Four Crucial Principles That Guide Christian Business Ethics

Christian businessmen and women are called by God to conduct their business according to a sacred standard that transcends traditional business ethics. After God created the earth and everything in it, God appointed mankind to be stewards of the earth (Genesis 1:28). As Christian business professionals, the Lord has entrusted us with his resources, both physical and financial, to manage them with care and skill. We honor the Lord in our business by observing and following his principles.

Trust

The Lord desires for us to trust him in everything (Proverbs 3:5). That doesn’t mean we trust him only in our personal lives. It includes our professional lives as well. To the Lord there is no distinction between the two. Christian business professionals depend on the Lord’s leadership for their business. We actively pursue God’s blessing upon our work by praying and trusting him to provide strategic direction, resources, and earnings.

Justice

The Lord delights in justice (Proverbs 21:3). Therefore we must conduct business fairly. We must not cheat our employees. Instead, we pay them fair wages and ensure that their work conditions are appropriate. Not only is fair treatment a Biblical principle, it is likely to improve business as employees will tend to work more productively and happily.

In the same way that we treat our employees fairly, we do the same with our clients. Instead of cutting corners on service and prices, we provide exactly what we promise and we charge what is fair. We only engage in endeavors that are pleasing and acceptable to the Lord, and we refrain from those that may be profitable but involve sin.

Diligence

The Lord expects us to productively use whatever knowledge and resources he has given to us, no matter how great or small (Luke 25:14-15). Idleness and laziness have no place in the life of a Christian business professional. Instead, God instructs that hard work is essential in conducting business profitably.

Working hard is also an example to those around us that we care about God’s resources and that we don’t intend to waste them. Glorifying God in business can be done on any level at any position, because we can use exactly what he has given us at each moment of our lives. A start-up entrepreneur can honor God as much as a senior executive.

Generosity

The Lord is generous, especially towards the underprivileged (Psalm 113:7-9). Christian business professionals go beyond worldly expectations of generosity to help the least of society. We do things such as hire refugees or ex-convicts, open stores in unsafe city neighborhoods to reach people with the gospel, and donate large earnings to charitable organizations instead of reinvesting it in our own organization.

These are risks most business leaders would not take. It seems foolish to them because it opposes sinful, human nature that only does what is best for us. But Christian business professionals take these risks knowing that in God’s economy those kinds of risks are rewarded. Godly businesses do more than self-sustain. They provide sustenance for those who have none.