My church, Fletcher's Chapel United Methodist Church, just celebrated its 191st birthday! In the past 191 years the United States has had 39 presidents and entered 90 military conflicts. The church members have endured 34 business cycles. Few churches have a longer history. Why have we survived when so many others have failed? Several members shared their thoughts. I believe their answers also explain the keys to survival for businesses.
Fletcher's Chapel United Methodist Church was founded by some local residents in 1825. Most were farmers. They wanted a local community church. Oak Grove is a very stable, blue collar community in eastern Durham County. I asked many of our members what they thought the key to our success has been. Listed below are the four most common answers.
"We seek to serve our community well."
When Fletcher's Chapel was formed, it took several hours to travel to the nearest church by horse and buggy. The founders recognized a local need for the community and acted with dedication and courage. Mr. Fletcher made a generous donation of the land, and other members were equally generous with their time.
In 1983, our church was one of the initial churches to support Durham Urban Ministries. Most of our outreach is local. We are called to serve our community. Today, the church serves the local community by volunteering with Habitat for Humanity and partnering with a local elementary school by providing tutors, meals to take home, teacher supplies, and help in the library. We also have provided meals for a local high school football team. We offer community meals every week throughout most of the year, continue to be active in urban ministries, and host several well attended community events. All of these efforts help us to get to know our community and the needs that are present so that we can share with them the Good News of Christ.
A business that fails to serve its clientele cannot survive 191 years. Probably every marketing class begins with the message to know and understand your market. Identify a need and pursue it. The best salesmen listen to their customers in an effort to understand their needs and how to best serve those needs. I have a rule with salespeople. If they make a sales call and begin their sales pitch assuming they know my needs without listening to me, I will show them the door. One salesman later confided with me that my actions proved one of the most valuable lessons he had in sales. Understanding and serving your clientele is essential for business survival.
"Members are dedicated to one another and feel like family."
During my 30+ years at Fletcher's Chapel, I have noticed that people simply do not leave. One reason for this may be that some members are descendants of founding members, so their family has remained in the community for many generations. However, I believe there is a greater reason for the retention of members. We are dedicated to one another. We truly love and care for each other. We are family, even if we are not related by blood. This bond is only strengthened over time as relationships are built over many years of living in community together.
Businesses spend billions of dollars on building brand loyalty. This was part of Apple's strategy when it donated computers to schools. After all, if a young student learned on an Apple computer, chances are that the student would continue to favor an apple computer.
Brian Tracy writes, "What's the purpose of a business? Some people say that it's to "make a profit." But this isn't correct. The true purpose of a business is to "create and keep a customer." Profits are the result of creating and keeping a sufficient number of customers in a cost-effective way. All emphasis has to be on creating and keeping customers."
"We support each other and pull together during difficult times."
An entity cannot exist for 191 years and not have some tough times. At Fletcher's Chapel, most of the hard times I have lived through were met with a renewed dedication. For example, when our budget was tight, many devoted members worked a concession stand at Duke University basketball and football games to raise the needed funds. My mother-in-law recalls when the women of the church raised tobacco to generate needed income. When issues have brought tension, few have left the church – instead members have worked their differences out in a mature way. Each time the experience has brought our congregation closer together.
Businesses are bombarded with challenges. Those that view the challenges as opportunities normally confront them and gain strength. All employees have a great deal to offer. When employees are respected, the odds of weathering any challenge improve. Respect begins with listening. I mean really listening. Read the this blog post
on the importance of listening to employees.
"We strive to always serve Jesus."
Serving Jesus means loving your neighbor and serving your community. It means treating others with respect, listening to each other, and carrying one another's burdens. Furthermore, serving Jesus is a great business plan. After all, our faith should infiltrate every aspect of our lives, including our work. Aiming to serve Christ through business takes the focus off of selfish gain and places it on serving others and the common good. The Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." (Matthew 7:12) is a good rule for businesses that want to be successful. Listening to employees, suppliers, and customers is essential for business growth and sustainability in the long-run. In fact, not doing so is probably a formula for failure. Businesses should not only treat every employee and customer with honor and respect, but they should also strive to offer high quality goods or services at a fair price. Doing so exalts Jesus because that business is meeting tangible needs in society in a God-honoring way.
The American Cast Iron Pipe Company is an example of a company built on Christian principles. John Eagan, the founder of American Cast Iron Pipe Co., was a pioneer in the equitable treatment of employees. In 1917, Eagan started a pension plan for the employees of American Cast Iron Pipe. He also believed workers should earn a living wage, work no longer than nine-hour shifts, and focus on worker safety. These ideas were very unusual at the time when it was common to work twelve-hour shifts seven days a week. The company also provided medical services and sick leave. Eagan even went one step further. He wanted to build a company where the employees would be cared for long after his death. Upon his death, Eagan placed all of his shares in a trust and set up a management system where the employees had ownership, and all employees had representation on the board. The board has established outstanding medical and dental clinics to treat employees and their families, as well as programs in on-site training and for tuition reimbursement. (You can read more about John Eagan in our lesson, Entrepreneurs – Their Vital Role in The Economy.)
No church or business loves their neighbor perfectly. But with God's help, we can seek to love and serve others right where God has placed us. We can listen to the needs in our neighborhood, community, or within our business and look for ways to meet those needs. We can try to develop lasting relationships with people so that we can support one another when life gets hard and also celebrate the good times. Most importantly, we can strive to serve Jesus in all that we do, whether at work, at church, at home with family, or when reaching out to a hurting world.