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How to Build a City-Wide Marketplace Ministry

When marketplace ministries have a diverse vision to impact all of society, their impact is multiplied.

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Chuck Proudfit leads At Work on Purpose, a network of more than 10,000 marketplace believers who are integrating their faith with their work, according to the Biblical pattern. What makes this ministry unique, and how do they give believers and local churches the tools to impact the marketplace?

How does At Work on Purpose function? Do you work with local churches to give them knowledge on how their members can use faith principles at work?

In simple terms, At Work on Purpose has three “customers,” and the local church is one of them.  We help the leadership of local churches grasp the idea of workplace as an arena for ministry, and how they can build ministry programming around that.  So we consider working with local churches to be very important.

The second kind of customers would be everyday working Christians. How do we help a believer to make their faith active at work?

The third one is ministry networks. How can we serve other ministries?

What would you say makes At Work on Purpose unique? There have been many marketplace ministries over the last few decades, but how are you guys meeting the challenges of today’s work and faith environment?

That’s a great question!

One of the first things that makes us unique is that our “target market” is any Christian with a job, or looking for one. We cover both genders, all ethnic groups, and every line of work in every industry. There are very few ministries that intentionally pursue people beyond the white American demographic. We want to have a much broader base.

“To be city-wide, we started with a bigger vision. We made it clear that we wanted to reach the whole city, at every level.”

The second differentiating factor is that we are a city-wide workplace community.  Every city has workplace ministries, but what’s been unique about At Work on Purpose is the construction of a city-wide model for workplace ministry.

To be city-wide, we started with a bigger vision. We made it clear that we wanted to reach the whole city, at every economic level. Next, we had an ecumenical posture. We work across denominations. We also are very intentional at retaining a network model – we build relationships in everything we do.

Can you tell us a little bit about the Institute you recently launched? What was the vision behind that?

Over the years, we have served a lot of Christian workplace leaders. In a sense, our network is formed out of tribes. We have tried to link Christian entrepreneurs and corporate chaplains and people who are passionate about city transformation.

But we also had a tribe of Christian workplace leaders. These people are typically presidents, CEOs, general managers, and executive directors (both of profit and non-profit organizations). They’re all Christian, and they want to bring their faith into the leadership of the organization God has given them to steward.

At Work on Purpose Annual Conference, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA, 2019

 

So, we’ve been meeting with these leaders in groups of about a dozen – they meet every month, and we talk about what we call “Collaboratory,” short for collaborative laboratories. We dream about building our leadership capacity so that we can better build our organizations in a godly way!

It is so attractive to the marketplace that we begin to disciple our industries and invest in our communities, through the resources God has given us. This is how Christian workplace leaders can grow their capacity, vision, and impact.

The Institute has been birthed with this vision at its core. How can we come alongside these Christian workplace leaders and give them an immersive experience that enables them to have a bigger vision, that will lead to stronger results in their organization, discipleship in their industries and contribution to their communities? We’re coming up with programming to do just that. And we believe that some of these Christian workplace leaders will come from other cities outside Cincinnati.

Part of what they’re going to learn is how they could establish citywide workplace ministry in their cities, just like we have been able to in Cincinnati. I think this institute will be raising up these workplace leaders for their immediate spheres of influence. And then for some of them collectively, they may come together in different cities to form city wide workplace ministry communities.

This actually leads nicely into my next question. Most of your ministry has been Cincinnati-focused, would you say you have global plans?

Based on the way God has led us in Cincinnati, we built this ministry from the inside out. We had no vision for being a global ministry. But what ended up happening was that God started helping us to build something in Cincinnati that was of great interest to people outside of Cincinnati. A lot of interest was sparked.

That kind of a surge of activity for us outside of Cincinnati resulted in a few things. The first one was we hit the radar screen (including this article by Christianity Today). Then the next thing that happened was we started being contacted by different national and international ministries that wanted to partner with us. We started getting all this interest.

“Our network enabled this whole threat to turn into a good thing. Now instead of having one center of help, we had 22! That’s what can happen when marketplace believers come together for the good of a city.”

And what started to happen was that these ministries began to look at the city-wide model as an app that would work on their operating systems. So, when ministries want to bring transformation to their city, the city-wide marketplace model is a great way to reach every aspect of their society, through a community of working Christians. We’re starting to work with ministries around the world to see how their local networks of marketplace believers can start to replicate what has happened here in Cincinnati.

Can you give an example of how God has used this network to bless the city of Cincinnati?

We had been supporting a ministry out of Hyde Park Methodist Church in Greater Cincinnati called Job Search Focus Group. When people would lose their job, they would come to Hyde Park Methodist on Monday mornings, and there would be people there to help them work through their job transition, and even find a new job.

The idea was helping people understand how God might be moving through this experience. How can you grow spiritually through this? How does your faith overcome your fear? If you’ve never considered a spiritual view of the world, maybe in the midst of this crisis, it might be the perfect time for you to do so.

Chuck speaking at a conference, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA, 2012

 

Well, when the economy crashed in 2008, the fire marshal threatened to shut down Hyde Park United Methodist because so many people were now coming on Monday mornings. They were no longer getting 30 to 40 people per week – they were getting 300 or 400 people. We had people within our At Work on Purpose network involved with the Job Search Focus Group, and they reached out to us for help.

Within three months, we’d established 22 satellite locations across Greater Cincinnati, so that any person in Greater Cincinnati who lost a job wouldn’t have to drive more than 10 minutes to get help. Our network enabled this whole threat to turn into a good thing. Now instead of having one center of help, we had 22! That’s what can happen when marketplace believers come together for the good of a city.

That’s such an encouraging story. Do you have a final story that comes to mind, of people or companies that have been changed through this ministry?

A few years back, the consulting firm that I was leading called SKILLSOURCE was given a project in a fifth-generation family business in the state of Kentucky. It was a very messed up company – we discovered that there are three branches to the family, and none of them trust each other. They don’t like to work together.

So, we’re sitting around the table with all of these family members. And they’re at a place where they’ll only make a decision if they all agree. I come in with a colleague, who is an African American woman, and the two of us as a team worked with this organization for over a year to help them right the ship.

At the end of the year, we’re sitting in a meeting one day. The company President was a woman, and she looked at the two of us and said, “I have to tell you guys something. You have done an awesome job and we’re so grateful. We’ve made a lot of headway. But I must admit, when you showed up the first day, we were uncomfortable. Our company has never worked with an African American woman.”

I still get emotional when I tell this story because the president then went further and said, “You caused us to see that ability comes in all shapes and sizes and colors. And we have now hired our very first African American female, after 100 years of being in business.”

This is the 21st century, right? This company in Northern Kentucky, without even realizing it, was essentially creating a barrier for employment with African Americans. Perhaps they had never intended to do this, but it could have been cultural.

But because of this lady who worked with me on this project, we literally broke a barrier. And that, to me, is the power of an everyday working Christian, who simply fills her God-given potential in her everyday work. And because of that, she advances God’s kingdom in the working world.

It’s our vision for every believer to do the same in our sphere.

Click here to read part one of our interview with Chuck Proudfit, where he details how the early church impacted the marketplace and what later caused the sacred-secular divide. For more about At Work on Purpose, check out their website.