There are some good reasons to combine business and church planting. Indeed, combining the two did not just begin when missionaries could not find visas to live in closed countries. Instead, there has been a natural merging of business, church planting and the presentation of the gospel throughout church history.
The apostle Paul himself was a tentmaker, or small business owner. He supported himself and saw this strategy as being beneficial for church planting. For example, among the Thessalonians, Paul “Worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while [he] preached the gospel of God” (1 Thessalonians 2:9). This example was needed to teach the Thessalonians that they also were to work and not be idle (2 Thessalonians 3:8-9). In Corinth, Paul did not accept payment from the people in order to clarify the message of the gospel, making it clear that the his preaching was not tied to financial gain (1 Corinthians 9, 2 Corinthians 12). Yet Paul’s tentmaking was not absolute; he would accept support and be “fully devoted” to preaching and teaching where there was support and when the context was appropriate (Acts 18:5).
Another significant example of God working through the marketplace is the Moravians, who were Christians that formed a spiritually and economically integrated community in Europe during the eighteenth century. The first Moravian missionaries, David Nitschmann and Leonhard Dober, were sent out by the Moravian community to Saint Thomas in the Caribbean to establish a mission to African slaves. One of the missionaries supported themselves through his carpentry skills. Other missionaries soon followed them. All missionaries “sent out” by the Moravians were expected to support themselves if they could and to provide any profit they earned from their endeavors to the mission itself, not for themselves personally. They sought ‘profit for the Lord’, as documented by William Danker in his book of the same name.
The Moravian missionaries in Suriname on the northern coast of South America started what would become very large commercial operation. While employing African slaves in a tailor shop, the missionaries found it easy to talk about the gospel while sitting together at a tailor’s bench. As they added a bakery and a watchmaker’s business they were able to employ more and more of the slaves and gave them not only work, but also a new way of life. This mission resulted in a permanent department store that had a great impact on the local area and thirteen thousand members worshipping in seven churches. The Moravians also went to Cape Town, South Africa where they combined evangelistic efforts with trade, industry and agriculture, not only providing their own financial support, but also financially helping the local people. A further benefit of the Moravian commercial activity was a boldness in setting the moral and ethical standards for business in their area.
From even just the few examples outlined above, it is clear that business can facilitate church planting in a number of ways. First, businesses can provide a context for natural relationships between believers and nonbelievers. Each business develops a variety of networks of relationships, for example, with employees, suppliers, clients, neighbors, lawyers, accountants, investors, professional associations, etc., which otherwise would be difficult to build or have influence within.
Second, life in business provides a model for local Christians or new believers to imitate. As Paul noted, he was to be an example for locals as they saw the gospel lived out on a day-to-day basis. Business is a great context to disciple young believers on how to conduct business for the glory of God. Some businesses teach local believers to work with their hands, which can be particularly important in more disadvantaged contexts.
Third, businesses can provide employment for Christian leaders and to unskilled locals. Such flexible employment for local Christian leaders is useful particularly in areas where there is a lack of employment and where migration is slowing church growth. For example, in parts of Central Asia, there is a dearth of job prospects so men end up traveling to Russia or Turkey in order to earn a living. This not only disrupts family relationships, but also stunts church growth in their home country.
Fourth, businesses can be a positive testimony in the wider community. Conducting a business to the glory of God honors Him and distinguishes Christians in ethics and integrity.
There are varying approaches to integrating business and church planting, each with a different emphasis on relationship-building, these include:
- Through the business generally. The business premises and purpose is the key way in which people are reached and the Kingdom of God demonstrated. Customers and suppliers are part of the focus people, as well as employees. The business model allows relationships to be widely fostered, and the Christ-centeredness of the business—and the people running it—is made known from the outset.
- Relationships with employees is the focus. A majority of staff are unbelievers and through relationships with other staff are introduced to biblical principles and the gospel. Outreach to customers and suppliers are less of a focus. These businesses are generally more staff-intensive.
- Through position within the community that a business allows. The business premises is less of a focus for reaching people. The business serves primarily to provide the workers with a position within a community and a context that the community understands. The workers build relationships within that community as the prime outreach.
Business can also have many other benefits beyond church planting. A business can assist economically, providing good jobs and steady incomes to the people employed, as well as investment into their well-being and development. A business can also be a vehicle for demonstrating care for people, particularly in mentoring employees and providing for their needs outside of the business. Conducted well, a business can raise the bar for business practices in the local area and counter corruption. Finally, a business can demonstrate an appropriate stewardship of creation.
Excerpt from the BAM Think Tank BAM and Church Planting report. We recommend reading this report in full and we will post some additional extracts from it in the coming weeks.