Business Connect Host 2015: Entrepreneurial Churches and Giving People Work

Last week it was my honor and privilege to gather on Jersey island with a collection of extraordinarily talented and passionate people of faith as a part of Business Connect's Host event to talk about the intersections of faith and business. We were scholars, authors, entrepreneurs, lawyers, clergy, journalists and business professionals. Over the course of three days we reflected on the question at the heart of Business Connect's vision: What does success look like?

Host was conducted like a TED event with each of us taking turns making short, distilled presentations. It was a lot to take in and I'm still absorbing it all. But over a few posts I wanted to share a few quick impressions.

One of the Host themes involved the intersections of entrepreneurial business and Christianity. Kina Robershaw and Richard Higginson from Cambridge University presented data from their work interviewing Christian entrepreneurs. And Ramona Hirschi shared some of her work supporting entrepreneurial efforts across the globe helping people trapped in poverty to, in Ramona's words, "trade their way out of poverty." To support some of these efforts check out Little Trove.

For this post I want to make a connection with this notion of using entrepreneurialism to do good in the world with another event I participated in while attending Host.

Specifically, from inside HM Prison La Moye Simon Nash hosted the "Tales from the Inside" event where Bob Ekblad, Jersey locals and I shared reflections and stories about working with prisons.

One of the things that came out during this conversation was the need to support people after they are released from prison. In fact, this might be some of the most important work we can do, work done on the outside and after prison.

In the US if you are released from prison with a felony conviction on your record your future vocational and job prospects are practically ruined, consigning you to a life of poverty and job insecurity. Getting a job upon being released from prison is incredibly difficult. Upon seeing a criminal history workplaces just don't want to take a risk. And that's understandable. But someone has to hire these people if they are to ever have a chance at rehabilitating their work histories and their lives.

Thus my growing conviction: Churches should get out of benevolence and charity industry and start running businesses.

What people really need is work and work, generally speaking, just isn't anything churches can give people. Churches will give you canned goods or a meal or used clothing. Churches can give you money for an electric bill. But by and large churches can't give you work.

But I think they should. Churches should start giving people work. Not work training, but work.

Churches could start running an eclectic assortment of businesses. Many of them. Restaurants, retail, construction, home improvement, and landscaping. Again, we're not talking about one business that hires six people, but many businesses, enough to reach a saturation point where enough people are moving in and out so that employment opportunities are consistently open.

What would these businesses be used for? For ex-prisoners these businesses would be places where an employment history could be rehabilitated. For those fighting to get out of poverty these businesses would be places where vital job skills could be learned, incomes stabilized, and an employment history established.

People would work in these businesses for a year or so with the expectation that they would move into the industry they have been training in. If you've been working with the church restaurant you move out to get a job in the restaurant industry. If you've been working with the church landscaping business you move out to take a job in the landscaping industry. And so on.

There will be more grace in these businesses so that people can make mistakes while new habits are being formed. But there would be standards and there will be failures. There are plenty of charitable organizations that can help the people who can't hold down the job. But for the ones who can work, the ones who just need a chance, and maybe two or three chances until they stabilize, churches that give work would be filling a gap. Such churches would be a bridge between handout charity and workforce entry.

For many, many people the thing they need most is work. And it's the one thing the church can't give them.

But it could.

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5 thoughts on “Business Connect Host 2015: Entrepreneurial Churches and Giving People Work”

  1. This is a fantastic idea!! Love it! However, and I hate to get detailed on you, but as you know, churches within the Church of Christ are not big on losing their congregational autonomy. That has been a sore debating point in the past. Aside from larger urban churches being able to carry out this work financially, do you see in Texas or the rest of the south the willingness of small churches to work together to accomplish this good work, especially if a larger church had the central oversight?

  2. Wait a second... hold the phone... pump the brakes... Wouldn't this deteriorate compartmentalized faith, call for accountability, question identities, ask for time, bring depth to community and require sacrificial love?

  3. HUZZAH! Though of course "I am not my job," a job is an important source of identity, worth, and all that jazz.

    Now, a question. Many members of local churches are already themselves employers who could (and should?) provide that kind of experience. How do they fit in with this model? Are we hiring pastors as CEOs of a business holding company?

  4. my close relative who grew up CofC in TX got a couple of DUIs and spent some time in jail. I don't know the legal particulars of this but I'm told that the term "felony" follows her for 5 years and makes it hard to get a decent job. She recently took a job with a company that was found to be perpetuating fraud against the federal government and was closed down. She's not in trouble for that company's malfeasance, but now it looks bad if she puts that work experience on her resume. I wondered why she went to work for this company, but now I understand that she felt she had no choice. This topic was on a recent episode of American Crime on ABC, where a dad trying to come clean from his illegal gambling, gets fired from a job at a Home Depot-type place because of his felony. We really make is next to impossible for these people to get their lives together after prison. Thanks for making more people aware.

  5. Love this idea Dr. Beck. For once I've heard some actual concrete meaning instead of the usual and mostly ethereal theo-babble about making disciples.

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