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?