Faith in Business
Spreading the Word – Outreach and ‘Faith in Business’
In North West London the African and Afro-Caribbean (ACC) community has one of the lowest rates of entrepreneurship and business start-ups in the country. It also suffers from high levels of poverty and social exclusion. Mainstream business support services have traditionally failed to reach or influence this ethnic group. The Christian and ‘gospel’ church, on other hand has, and continues to have, major motivational influence because the majority of the ACC population count themselves as Christians, or at the very least respect the traditional role Christianity has played in their culture and history. The church provides leadership, and promotes a strong message, among an ethnic group that has often lacked clear direction, unity or social cohesion.
ABI’s Associates co-director Ruth Djang has been awareof the potential of the church to reach and motivate would-be entrepreneurs for a long time. An active Christian herself, she identifies poor networks, lack of trust and awareness and low confidence as one of the major constraints to business development in the London Boroughsof Harrow and Brent where her company ABI have been established for over ten years. ‘It is difficult to get information out to people about the possibilities for self-employment or business because there is a deep-rooted mistrust of government structures, especially among the young,’ she explains. ‘The church reaches out to many more people, in their everyday life. It is respected and it is part of our culture.’ ABI have been working for over 3 years to bring the enterprise message to congregations through church networks. ‘We’ve worked with pastors in over 30 churches to encourage them to spread the message about enterprise to their congregations, and sign-post them to business support that’s available. Some pastors, particularly from business backgrounds themselves, are very keen. Others need more persuading and feel that such a message is beyond their remit as a pastor.’
The pro-enterprise Christians argue that enterprise can bring people great rewards – confidence, a sense of purpose, better income – and that the church structure provides a supportive way through which new start-ups can support each other. ‘When we started our hair products business,’ explained Mavis of 2Ms ( A hair products retail business) , ‘the pastor congratulated us to the congregation and asked them to pray for us regularly. That made a huge difference to us. And our congregation has supported us in other ways. They did a whip round to help us raise funds at the beginning and we’ve found our accountant through a recommendation from another fellow Christian. Most importantly they given us encouragement at every step of the way. We couldn’t have done it without that.’ The pastor also directed them to the ABI Faith in Business project which gave them training and is helping them to get a loan. Mavis’s church network has linked her to contacts and support that other she might not otherwise have had access to. It has given her an environment in which she feels supported.
The way in which business support is given is also very important. Ernest, of Fashion Girl Direct, explains that it’s easier to build up a trusting relationship with an ACC Christian advisor because they already know a lot about the shared values and lifestyle. ‘He understands some of the moral dilemmas I face running a business as a Christian. He knows that for me my business is a part of my lifestyle. And when I feel things are hard, he is happy to pray with me in the office.’
The North-West London churches have also been powerful in their outreach work. ‘We believe in what enterprise can bring to people and society,’ says Pastor Joseph of the New Life Christian Centre and founder of the Christian Business Network. ‘Just as we encourage our congregation to take the word of God out to their neighbours and community, we encourage people to take the word of enterprise out there too.’ One of the most powerful ways to do this is through cell structure which has been adopted by the London City Churches, believes Ruth Djang. ‘The cell structure brings groups of 10-12 people together regularly, for prayer and to talk through problems and find encouragement.’ She believes that this cell structure provides an excellent route through which to provide information about enterprise, and the possibilities that exist to gain mainstream and Phoenix Development Funded support. The opportunity also exists to form business cells made up entirely of new and existing entrepreneurs who wish to have regular support and advice from each other, who can pray together and share the lessons they have learned.
Certainly many believe that the church is the most respected and established institution in ACC society, for the old and young, and therefore probably the only one with the gravitas needed to carry the serious message about entrepreneurship.
We’ll have to wait to see how well church organisations will be able to spread the enterprise word. Some churches, and pastors, may be more enthusiastic than others. But it’s certainly clear that the ACC church, with its reach across generations and regions, with its emphasis on making the most of your life and it’s culture of reaching out to provide support to your neighbour, whether that be in business or in the neighbourhood, is well set up to take enterprise awareness out into this traditionally hard to reach ethnic group.