BAM companies are usually very diverse, each business with its own unique features. However, through research into real experiences of BAM and Church Planting, some shared commonalities emerged in the following fruitful practices:
Make sure that the business provides regular contact with the focus people.
Intentionally create a business that provides regular contact with those with whom you are hoping to share the gospel – whether they are employees, customers, suppliers or others. A bakery business owner estimates that they have a chance to meet an average of 100 people a day. Christ can be made known to staff, suppliers, and customers through business activities. One employer who hires local women who come from difficult home lives seeks to help those women achieve a greater quality of life. Another BAM company provides business opportunities and income for local Christian leaders, encouraging them to stay and carry on the church planting work rather than moving away for employment to support their families. An agricultural business enables local Christians to do church planting work by training them in an egg production business. In this model they also help the trainees set up the businesses which provides contacts for them, as well as an income. This agriculture business also provides church planting training to the locals as part of their strategy.
Although the business is usually the context in which contacts are made and relationships started, several BAM practitioners (BAMers) mentioned that conversations about spiritual matters typically take place outside of the workplace. However, in other cases BAMers reported that these conversations start naturally through a shared work environment.
2. Language and culture
Invest substantial time in learning language and culture before attempting to start a business.
All expat business owners interviewed emphasized the importance of learning the language and culture before starting a business. Each person and country is different for language learning, but it was recommended that expatriates involved in the business invest at least 6 months in intensive language study, and ideally one to two years, prior to starting involvement with a business. It is essential to both the business operations and building relationships that communication is in the local language to avoid misunderstandings. Doing both business and language learning effectively at the same time is not only challenging, but nearly impossible.
It is recommended to at least get to a point in language fluency where it is possible to speak only the local language for some of the working week; and hire staff who are disciplined and patient enough to help. One business woman started her business after living in the culture for ten years, by that time she really knew the culture and language. That being said, in another company managers without much language background had the option to learn from a tutor on an intensive basis, and they have seen good results.
Make business sustainability and profitability an essential goal.
The business should be making a profit, or striving to make a profit. Being successful in business is a witness in itself because it makes a huge impression in the community and with government officials, especially if the odds are stacked against it. The business owners are more respected and accepted and welcomed in the community when a business is financially successful. It means that the business can provide jobs, services and/or products needed in community. The fact that a profit is made ethically and honestly provides a good example for locals. If a business is unable to make a profit, it will not be able to sustain itself or its employees and thus, may instead have a negative impact.
Another benefit of making a profit and becoming self-sustaining is that it models integration of work with ministry to local Christians who often want to be supported by outside funding to do ministry. The ability to demonstrate that work goes hand in hand with ministry helps to prevent a dependence on western funding which can often limit church growth.
Having a financially successful business also relieves locals’ fears that an expat is involved with espionage or drug dealing, which may be typical stereotypes when there is no visible source of income.
4. Staff selection
Give thoughtful consideration to staff selection.
Staff selection can be important not only to the business development, but also in pursuing intentional church planting. When hiring core staff it is important to screen the believers, not just for the expertise or skills that are required, but also for their passion and willingness to be intentionally transformational in their relationships. It is best to have a majority of your staff with this orientation to ensure a culture of “Kingdom-mindedness” among the believing staff members.
Staff selection sets the tone and expectations for the business. Although hiring local believers can be an important ministry tool, the potentially negative aspects must also be considered. The employer must be very careful not to appear to hire Christians as a reward, but must also consider other factors such as skills, experience, and character. One business owner reported that although they would hire believers, they did not like to hire new believers, “We believe that the type of people one hires sets the stage. It is important to give some time before hiring to authenticate the new believer’s faith. It is also important not to put a new believer in a position that makes it look like they are bought.”
Hiring Christians versus non-Christians can be a dilemma. Heart attitude is an important factor here since in different countries the expectations of believers may vary. In some cases the individual may earnestly want to be self-supporting, but in other cases there may be an expectation of handouts from foreigners or an easy life, just because they are fellow believers. However, local Christian believers can also be the very catalyst that leads to planting a new church. Where there are no local believers, near-culture mature believers can be key to church planting.
Hiring local believers can also impact a community, especially where jobs are scarce. In one area that had few employment opportunities, hiring local church leaders has had a huge spiritual impact because these leaders can now stay and help build the church because they have income to support their families
Very often one of the business’ goals is to hire staff from the focus people group in order to witness to them on a daily basis. If people are teachable and have good character they will serve the company well regardless of their belief. The staff leaders’ character is extremely important. Some have resolved this dilemma by hiring believers for key staff positions and hiring ‘focus people’ for other jobs. When hiring Christian staff, it is important to teach servant leadership principles to key staff members.
5. Clear vision and strategy
Clarify and communicate your strategic mission.
Establish vision by writing down a vision statement and strategy that includes both the business and the church planting effort. A spiritual impact plan makes it easier to subsequently evaluate effectiveness. Submit plans either to trusted partners or advisors, and/or to organizational leaders for review and accountability.
Examples of vision statements:
- To see the Kingdom of God expressed through their lives, words and deeds by being open about being Christians.
- To improve the lives of people by fostering business creation and job creation through high-quality products.
- To empower locals by creating businesses and jobs.
Most practitioners interviewed did not have a spiritual plan in the beginning, even though they had thoughts about how to have a spiritual impact. One BAMer did not have a plan in the beginning, but was required to write a spiritual impact plan and a business plan about two years into the business upon the request of a private business who lent her money for the expansion of the business.
One large BAM company appointed a “GCO” or Great Commission Officer, who was responsible for related outcomes, such as spiritual conversations, mentoring, disciple-making activities. A key to having fruitful conversations was the preparatory discussions and simple training among the outside staff—sales, customer relationship management, partner relations—to prepare and empower them to build on their conversations.
As it is with the commercial operations of a business, so it is with its spiritual impact. BAM is a complex and dynamic calling and activity in which business and missional objectives are sometimes complementary and mutually reinforcing, sometimes contradictory and incompatible. In the same way that events can overtake the best commercial plan, a desired spiritual impact may be obstructed and delayed, or take an unexpected turn. The BAMer must be spiritually mature, must be aware of and using their spiritual gifts, and must be focused on outcomes that will bring glory to God and reach people for Christ.
Build local partnerships.
A recurring theme for fruitful practices is that having a team and strong partnerships is important. It is difficult enough to launch and operate a business, let alone pursue church planting. Leveraging relationships and partnerships is essential.
Some countries require business owners to retain local partners. A trusted local partner can help navigate the complex government, tax, and legal requirements. The local partner may or may not be a believer so it is extremely important to take time to develop the relationship. The partner at minimum should be a person trusted and respected in the community. A well known BAM leader and mentor advises that the local partner should be wealthier than you, so there is less temptation for fraud or cheating. A believing local partner can also provide good links to local fellowships, if any exist.
Taking time to build relationships of trust and mutual respect with a potential local partner is vital; failing that, taking time to ensure a good standing in the local church is important. A local partnership might be vital to the business operations, but the ministry benefits may be just as important. In several of the BAM businesses that reported success in planting a church, it was a national owner or employee that was instrumental in the church plant.
Work in a team.
One factor which leads to BAM success is working as a team. Having a team can provide many benefits to business and church planting work. The team mix could be diverse with some team members focusing more on the business operations, and other teammates – while helping in the business – set aside more time to engage in direct ministry. Other church planting teams may consist of team members in different businesses or occupations. Some teams are all expat while others are a mix of local and expats.
A mix of business-focused people and others who have complementary ministry gifts seems to be most effective. Doing business well can take time, so having teammates who are not as involved in the operations allows the business teammate to focus on the business more. Also having teammates not as deeply involved in the business operations can be a benefit if outside pressure comes on the business, because teammates may be able to continue the work if the government shuts down or harasses the business.
Originally published as part of the Church Planting and Business series in October 2015, reposted during the Summer Series 2017.
Excerpt from the BAM Think Tank BAM and Church Planting report. We recommend reading this report in full.