What is a “Christian Company”? (Lessons from a Christian Car Dealership Group President)

Car, Car Dealership, Car Salesperson.I am often asked what I do for a living. When we meet new people, we often identify them by what they do for a living. You know exactly what I mean. Whether this is all good or all bad, I don’t know. What I do know is that I often get a funny look in return when I answer that I run a Christian car dealership group!

Sometimes I believe the funny look is simply related to me using “Christian” and “car dealer” in the same sentence! However, more often what throws them is the fact that I am calling my company a “Christian company”. This is not something people are familiar with hearing and they are not sure what to think of it.

Even for those of us who are followers of Jesus and also owners or leaders in the business world, there is confusion around exactly what makes a company “Christian”. Some believe any company that is owned by a Christian could be called a Christian company. Others think a Christian business is one that sells Christian products.

Of course, I don’t have the final say as to how we define a Christian company, but I do think we can benefit from some discussion about it. So let’s dig into what might be considered as some criteria for designating a business as “Christian”. I will also offer some practical examples of how we can strive to meet these criteria.

God Owns The Business

First of all, I think we would all agree that God owns everything. Scripture backs this up (Psalm 24:1). The difference is that most business owners and leaders fail to acknowledge God’s ownership in their company. Their decisions reflect the belief that THEY are the true owners, with God, at most, being a consultant.

I believe the leadership of a true Christian business recognizes God’s ultimate ownership and aligns their purposes with His purposes. This means that their scoreboard changes. Profit is no longer the end goal, but it instead becomes the means for carrying out His will in their sphere of influence (community, state, world, etc).

Policies and Procedures Reflect Christ

Jesus said, “You will recognize them by their fruit.” When we look at a business that is truly a Christian business, then we should recognize them by their fruit. Do they do business the same as everyone around them or are they markedly different?

Policies around care for employees and customers should reflect the character of Jesus. Jesus rewarded performance (Parable of the Talents, Matthew 25:14-30), but He also cared for the needy. A Christian business should reflect similar values in their processes and policies.

A Good Name

No company is perfect – Christian or not. At the same time, a Christian business should have a reputation over time that reflects their higher standards and eternal purpose (Proverbs 22:1). The leadership of these companies take a good name very seriously because they realize they are representing God to their employees, customers, and the community in which they operate.

When mistakes happen (and they will), Christian owners and leaders take every opportunity to rectify the situations in a way that honors God and not just their own bottom line. This behavior is not strictly for the sake of a good reputation, but because it is the right thing to do. The cool thing is that this behavior, over time, creates a sterling reputation!

Eternal Perspective

The idea of an eternal perspective is a result of acknowledging God’s true ownership of the business and aligning purposes with His. An eternal perspective means that the leadership of the Christian business makes decisions based on a different time period (1 Corinthians 3:10-15).

The vast majority of the business world makes decisions based on a perspective of months, quarters, or even years. There are a select few that will look out 10-20 years when making decisions. The Christian business owner recognizes that some decisions require an eternal perspective.

This means they consider the consequences of their decision in 1,000 years or more. To the non-believer, this is ludicrous. However, when the true owner of the business is God, this makes more sense.

Considering how decisions will impact the people involved in 1,000 years is rare, but certainly reflects the perspective that God has as owner. He is much more interested in our 1,000-year future than He is in our 30-day results!

Examples

I am sure there are more criteria we could come up with if we put our minds to it, but I am going to stop there in the interest of time. Now, I would like to give you some practical examples of how we can live out these criteria through a Christian business in the marketplace.

Spreading the Word

Different businesses will have varied methods to make this happen, but one central idea is to spread God’s Word. This is certainly one of God’s purposes and so we need to align with it. Some businesses can put Scripture verses on their stationery, invoices, or other communications with employees, customers, and community members. You need to look at your particular business and decide for yourself how it can work.

For us, we put a copy of the New Testament in the glove box of every vehicle that comes through our inventory. The cover says, “Owners Manual For Life”. We also have pocket-sized copies of the Gospel of John in our customer waiting areas with the encouragement for them to take one with them. In addition, we offer to buy a Bible for any employee that needs one – no charge to them.

Care for Employees

One of the best benefits we provide our employees is our Chaplain program, provided by Corporate Chaplains of America**. Our chaplain is in our business facilities every week and speaks to every employee on each visit. He also teaches a Bible study over lunch and breakfast each week. We provide the food for these meetings, and attendance is voluntary.

Another benefit is our Impact Fund. It is funded by both the business and the employees (voluntarily through paycheck deduction). The money is used to help employees and their immediate families when crisis hits. It remains confidential, but the impact is clear!

Community Impact

There are many ways a business can impact the community around them. One of our methods is to partner with local, faith-based organizations for a $1.00 car wash event at our location. The organization provides the labor (typically youth) and we provide everything else. They keep all proceeds and donations and then we give them an additional amount for every vehicle they wash.

The youth learn the value of hard work, and the organization gets the funding it needs for their particular project. We have the opportunity to give into kingdom work while also building our reputation for supporting these organizations. The community gets to see faith organizations and businesses work together for immediate (and eternal) impact. Everyone wins!

Discussion: Can a company be considered “Christian”? What are some other ways that companies can express the character of Jesus? 

Like I said, there are so many more ways to live out the criteria we discussed. For more practical ways to live out these criteria, check out my free ebook: CLICK TO ACCESS. I would love to hear your ideas, thoughts, and questions in the comment section below!

 

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  • Tim Weinhold

    I applaud Chris’s intentions to operate his business in ways that God would approve, and even applaud. But I believe there are good reasons not to label a business as Christian. Did Jesus die for businesses, or just for individuals? Can businesses make a saving faith commitment, or just individuals? And suppose the tables were turned. Suppose you were a Christian employee in a business owned by a Hindu or Muslim. How would you feel as an employee if the owner described the business in which you worked as a Hindu or Muslim business?

    • Tim, I think you bring up a couple of valid questions. I will respond from my viewpoint and Darren can do the same (it is his site!)

      First, I agree with labelling a business as “Christian” to be potentially misleading. I have struggled with this very question, but have decided that it is worth the potential confusion – especially if it give me a chance to explain. No, a business cannot be saved or redeemed by Jesus’ death.

      At the same time, I see benefits (within the community of Christians who own businesses) to describing a business this way. To me it sets the purpose of the business apart from traditional (or non-Christian businesses). It is NOT a perfect label, but I use it to acknowledge its purpose.

      As for turning the tables, I understand your concern. In fact, I wrote a separate post about it recently. I used a quote from Billy Graham, “Many Christians would prefer to hear ‘What a great guy’ from the crowd rather than ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’ from the Master.”

      Here is my position – I am trying my best (with all of my faults) to use the business God has entrusted to me for a time to honor Him and to hear “Well done” at the end. This is my first priority and it overrides all others (except when I slip!). Therefore I cannot concern myself with what someone of another faith might say or feel about how I operate this business.

      I will always try to do this in love and try to never knowingly offend them with my attitude. At the same time, I will not adjust how I operate this business to appease them, at the expense of what I believe is its main purpose. I understand that this very idea will offend some. I am at peace with that.

      Tim, I hope I answered your questions in a way you can appreciate, even if you disagree. I welcome further conversation either here or offline.

      • Tim Weinhold

        Thanks, Chris. I’m glad you’re acknowledging that labeling a business as Christian has problems. I also think you didn’t fully understand my third question. Unless you only hire Christians, which would certainly diminish the potential spiritual impact of your business, labeling your business as Christian is likely to be off-putting to non-Christian employees. This has nothing to do with hearing ‘Well done’ from Jesus, but it has much to do with failing to heed Paul’s biblical guidance about the importance of adapting our speech and actions so as to improve the likelihood of those we influence coming to saving faith. And to be clear, I did not suggest that you adjust how you operate the business, simply how you label it. That all said, I again want to applaud the seriousness with which you are attempting to serve Christ through your business. That’s entirely admirable.

        • Thank Tim. I did understand your point about the label being the adjustment needed, not how I operate the business. I guess I did not make it very clear that we pretty much see it as the same thing. While we never have and never will “market” our business as a Christian business, but we will tell anyone we talk to that it is.

          We see (for us) this to be part of our purpose. We want to stand with a clear banner as to Whose we are and what we do. This may cost us something in the business world, but it is a cost we are prepared to accept. Adjusting this “label” would be the same as adjusting how we operate, in our eyes.

          As for the third question, I do understand what you are asking and definitely see this as a potential issue. I did not answer it very well! Whether we are right or wrong, we go to great lengths to do the following as an effort to minimize any potentially negative characterization from non-Christian employees.

          First, during our interviews, we explain what we mean by Christian business. We explain that we will never force or expect employees to believe what we believe. (The church cannot even make that happen WITHIN the body!) We specifically explain that what they believe will never impact their income, advancement, or employment status.

          We do tell them that we will operate the business based on what we believe is the Truth -the Bible. Our policies and procedures are based on the Bible. They are not required to agree with the Bible. They are only required to follow our guidelines, regardless of the biblical basis.

          Next, in our new-hire orientation, I personally go into more detail about the Christian purpose of our business, as determined by us as owners (stewards). We explain that executing on this purpose results in tremendous opportunity for them, a great experience for the customer, and positive impact on the community.

          While they will certainly hear about our faith during the course of being employed with us, they will never have it forced on them in any way. I urge them to see me personally if they ever feel this is happening.

          Finally, we do our best to live it out. We do our best to treat believing and non-believing employees the same. So far, I have had no complaints (that I am aware of). I do know of many employees, past and present, that had very different beliefs, but were still able to advance and prosper within the organization.

          We have been doing this for over 11 years now. We do not have a perfect record at all, but the concern you are asking about has never really materialized. I think your concern is one that many Christians in business have (not only for employees, but non-believing customers as well), but I think it is a concern that looks bigger than it really is…at least in my experience.

          Thanks for the conversation!

    • Darren Shearer

      Excellent questions! Like Chris, I also have wrestled with using the “Christian” label on a business.

      With that said, even though not every person attending my local church is a born-again Christian, shouldn’t I still refer to the institution as a “Christian” church… even though Christ died for individuals and even though it may (and should) have non-Christians attending?

      If we can’t label a business as “Christian”, do we use a double standard by labeling certain nonprofit organizations as “Christian”? (e.g. churches, missions organizations, charities, etc.)

      It’s also worth mentioning that Christ came to redeem all of Creation… not just individuals: “…the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (Rom. 8:21, NASB)

  • I love this: “Profit is no longer the end goal, but it instead becomes the means for carrying out His will in their sphere of influence…”

    I love hearing about how Christian business owners are “working out their salvation” through their businesses – thanks for sharing your story!

    I’m curious what your employee retention rate is compared to the standard rate in your industry. One of the best ways for Christians to be a witness in their business is to their own employees/co-workers. Looks like you’ve got a good thing going!

    • Sharon, you bring up a very good question. We have been through a couple of stretches where our turnover has increased due to a variety of factors. On the whole, we have less turnover than our peers. Of course, this is in an industry that is terrible about turnover. The sales side of this business is especially volatile.

      You are right about witnessing to our employees first. As I said to Tim earlier, we do not force anything on anyone, but we are consistently offering the message – whether through voluntary Bible studies, our chaplain program, or other initiatives. All of it is “by permission” so that we provide the opportunity, but they make the choice.

    • Darren Shearer

      Hi Sharon! Thought you’d like to know that Chris also took the time to respond to your excellent question in my interview with him that just released today on the Theology of Business Podcast 🙂 Thanks for the question!

  • Johnny Walker

    Excellent blog! I too “own” a Christian business. We provide values based training for companies in the areas of sales, customer service and leadership development.

    I fully agree with what you are saying. I believe what makes the biggest difference for me is the eternal perspective.

    If we follow Luke 9:23 and truly deny ourselves, take up our cross daily and follow Jesus, then we become people who are entrusted with the resources we have, instead of owners.

    It’s not about using Chrsitianity as a marketing tool, but as a guideline for everything you do, including how you do business with customers AND employees.

    What is really awesome is that life is no longer compartmentslized. Instead, everything becomes the same process, just different circumstances. The “how we do it” remains the same.

    Again, great blog. I will be sharing it with others!!

    • Thanks Johnny! We really do need to spread this message to other Christians in the business world! The marketplace is our mission field and we need more workers!

    • Darren Shearer

      Great thoughts, Johnny! What is the name of your company? Do you have a website?

  • Dave Olsen

    I appreciate the thoughtful expressions of your perspective, particularly bringing out the “character of Jesus” as a core element of what we’re trying to reflect.
    My own perspective includes a culture contrast I experienced in moving from Northern New England to Georgia 8 years ago. I encountered more open expressions of Christianity in the workplace in the South, but also more open hostility – usually based on encounters with perceived hypocrites. As we all know, when the walk doesn’t line up with the talk, damaged witness and relationships follow. That’s a core challenge I see in carrying this out – but the dose of humility you expressed is a balancing element that we all need to pull us out of the mess ups we make!

    • Darren Shearer

      Well said, Dave. It requires the boldness of the Holy Spirit to brand ourselves as believers in the marketplace… and it definitely requires the power of the Holy Spirit to live in such a way that we reflect the character of Jesus in the marketplace. Otherwise, our hypocrisy is inevitable.

  • Jacob Wells

    Love the discussion! Having just started GiveSendGo.com a Free Christian Crowdfunding alternative to GoFundMe, we have wrestled with a lot of the thoughts that have been presented here. Thank you for the insights. It will help as we continue to move forward in this arena!

  • Jacob Wells

    Love the discussion! Having just started GiveSendGo.com a Free Christian Crowdfunding alternative to GoFundMe, we have wrestled with a lot of the thoughts that have been presented here. Thank you for the insights. It will help as we continue to move forward in this arena!

  • Hugo Cordero

    A Christian business is one in which Christian principles rule and govern in the entire organization.

  • Hugo Cordero

    With certainty, it could be said that a company is a Kingdom-Christian company, based on the principles used to lead it and to operate it, and also on what is reflected with the way its policies, resources, people, productivity, quality results, community impact, profit and bookkeeping are managed.
    Hugo D. Cordero

    • Darren Shearer

      Well said, Hugo!

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