Whether these businesses should be regarded as a cautionary tale about the dangers of mixing with the markets or as a goldmine of innovative Christian entrepreneurship depends on an array of subjective factors including social, political and theological viewpoints. In order to determine whether the pretext of this research is valid – that principles based on faith can be integrated with the management of a commercial entity – this paper starts with a short history of faith-based business endeavours. This will help to determine the extent to which any business can claim to be managed according to principles of religion and the Bible rather than the market.
After establishing the credentials and credibility of different types of faith-based endeavour, the research will then look at specific sectors or business types to see what management structures and policies have developed. The juncture of religion and commerce has certainly produced some innovative techniques and it may be that this sort of hybrid business thrives best at periods of rapid economic change. The birth of the Industrial Revolution in particular proved a seminal period for both the co-operative movement and the paternalistic, Christian entrepreneur. Modern-day discontent with capitalism, globalisation and inequality have been connected to the arguably new business model known as social enterprise, which is discussed in detail in the later paper.
A theological and historical overview of faith-based businesses
One simple conclusion about faith-based organisations is that they are either Christian but not very commercial, or commercial but not very Christian. In the former category are the churches themselves, more akin to a public sector organisation, government or bureaucracy than a commercial operation, notwithstanding rhetoric about professionalisation and modern management practices. And on the other hand there are businesses set up with an explicit Christian ethos, which tend to find their high ideals compromised and eventually overwhelmed by the realities of the marketplace. Companies such as Cadbury plc which have been wholly absorbed by the market have already been mentioned, but there are many other examples of this process, which continues today.