What if your church started a business?

In her book, Isle of the Saints: Monastic Settlement and Christian Community in Early Ireland, Dr. Lisa M. Bitel states “The archaelogical evidence of [Celtic monastic] enclosures…suggests that living within the sight of the monastic enclosure was useful to farmers and herders, doubtless economically as well as spiritually.”  Which is a very academic way of saying that the community around the Celtic Christian abbeys benefitted financially as well as spiritually from the abbey’s ministry.

The abbeys had to be self-supporting and relied on a combination of gifts of land and valuables, plus commerce, farming, and trade to sustain their work.  Bitel goes on to comment that as abbeys grew, the community around them grew, attracting craftspersons, farmers, herdsmen, merchants, and even musicians and actors who found a ready market for their goods and services.

Why couldn’t churches today have a positive impact on their communities economically as well as spiritually?  Could we create small businesses that serve as gateways into the community of faith, while at the same time providing employment and economic impact?  Tall Skinny Kiwi, Andrew Jones, is part of a venture doing just that with the arts.  Their microbusiness, called The Sorting Room, provides a venue for local artists to sell their work.  Some churches have started coffee shops, or fair trade stores.  First Baptist Church of San Antonio operates the 4th Street Cafe staffed by volunteers and they use the funds generated to feed the homeless in San Antonio.

Maybe it’s time for churches to seriously consider going into business.  What do you think?  Do you know of any churches operating businesses either as a ministry or as part of their self-sustaining strategy?  Let’s exclude all the mega-ministries that are big businesses, but what about small churches operating business enterprises?

6 thoughts on “What if your church started a business?”

  1. FBC Vancouver, British Columbia runs the Hobbit House coffee house & cafe. It serves a reasonably priced meal for mostly business people. Proceeds are used to provide meals for the homeless.

  2. Dee, thanks. I’m finding that more and more churches are doing this. It would be interesting to see a well-researched study of the effects on church and community of church-generated businesses.

  3. I heard some about it on the Emergent podcast.

    Well, this is in reverse I am now the manager of the Christian bookstore where I have been working. I have been looking ways for our store to be more involved with the community and churches. We had a youth group in Saturday hosting a food drive, last month helped with a blood drive & are looking for more service type projects. We are locally owned & we need to become responsible community ministry.

  4. Though it’s not from a Christian perspective, you might find food for thought (pun only partly intended) in Bernard Glassman and Rick Fields’ “Instructions to the Cook,” which examines the question you’re asking through a Buddhist lens. I think that the kind of engagement of which and to which you’re speaking is as necessary as it is unfortunately overdue.

  5. Not exactly a church per se but a Christian ministry. The Brother Charlie Rescue Center in Tifton, Georgia is a gathering, almost a commune of volunteers that help the homeless with food, employment training, addiction rehab, and housing, and serve meals to the needy. They rely on donations but also run a thrift store in downtown that helps fund their kind services.

  6. New Zealand small business is facing a tough time for 2011/2012 with the recession still not ending. New Zealand small business needs to connect online to help each other out. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are recommended social networks.

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