How to Look Beyond the Balance Sheet

The mid-1980s were a heady heyday for Christian retail. Little book shops were opening, even in small towns, selling faith-centered books, Bibles, and bric-à-brac — along with the latest CCM vinyl, cassettes, and these new things called CDs. In this time, my dad left a lucrative sales job to become a retail bookseller. And he was business first. He told every employee, in no uncertain terms, “We are a business before we’re a ministry, because if we go out of business, we have no ministry.”

His words rang harsh to my naïve, 19-year-old brain, but his philosophy proved true. His retail career ended 15 years later with three regional stores that won national recognition with the Christian Booksellers Association. He profitably sold the business to a large retail chain, just before this little upstart company called disrupted multiple industries — the first of which were bookstores. How? They multiplied the bottom line.

Profit is the primary indicator that a business is healthy. Without profit, there is no business.

But there is more to success than money. Many of us might say we want to leave this world better than it was when we arrived, so we must consider other successes as well. Nonprofit metrics are holistic because that’s the nature of their organizational structure. But, as author Steve Rothschild suggests, every for-profit business, like every nonprofit organization, should be “for-purpose.”

This isn’t a brand new approach. The idea of business as mission (BAM) has been around since the days of the apostle Paul, and it’s an effective strategy for being salt and light in some of the most difficult to reach parts of the world. More recent proponents of this sort of value assessment include, for example, Eventide Investments’ approach to values-based investment and Amy L. Sherman’s six arenas of public life, each of which demand their own kinds of attention and success, outlined in her 2022 book Agents of Flourishing: Pursuing Shalom in Every Corner of Society. Practitioners in the modern-day BAM movement have led the way with the so-called “quadruple bottom line.” 

What does it profit?

Measure more than money. Now, this model of metrics is fashionable in business of all sorts: Global businesses are taking increasing responsibility for environmental and social concerns, and now the spiritual good of customers is something many businesses consider, even in so-called secular marketplace. This has been documented in an array of global research, such as L. Colquhoun Silverkris’ work on corporate social responsibility and Sohail Inayatullah’s “Trajectories: Spirituality as the fourth bottom line?” And it’s a philosophy that informs more than just business themselves but also the choices of investors themselves — take Eventide Investments’ approach to values-based investment for example.

The quadruple bottom line is something every business should consider and something every business operated by Jesus-followers can begin to implement today. Profit isn’t the only indicator of success. These are the four to consider:

1. Financial Abundance

Every business must make money to stay in business. And the only way to have financial abundance is to make a profit. In the business world, this goes without saying and is typically the first thing a leader measures. In the mission world, it’s sometimes another story. I have worked with (and worked in) BAM projects that made willful decisions to not make a profit. But if a business is not making a profit, it will cease to be viable.

2. Culture Care

The culture of a business is bigger than the business. Every business must see itself as either a contributor or a detractor to the surrounding culture, and a business’s contribution can often be as simple as providing jobs and thus contributing to the stability of society. But it can be so much more.

Business leaders should see themselves and their work as a direct connection to their community. Makoto Fujimura, in his book Culture Care, says it this way, “Culture is not a territory to be won or lost but a resource we are called to steward with care. Culture is a garden to be cultivated.” Cultivate the garden both inside and outside your organization.

 3. Creation Care

Environmental concern is not a political issue (unless, of course, you’re making policy). It is a stewardship issue — and a theological one. Businesses around the world are implementing various forms of an environmental management system (EMS), which includes metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) for limiting environmental impact. Christian entrepreneurs in the BAM movement are leading on this front because of a solid theology of God as the creator of all things and us as stewards of that creation.

 4. Soul Care

Business connects people — customers, staff, vendors, neighbors, and community. It’s possible to make soul care a priority, even while honoring freedom of choice and religion. 

Cxffee Black is an interesting Black-owned business in Memphis, Tennessee, and a beautiful example of soul-care-conscious leadership done well. For one, they provide care for the soul of their community and their staff by being generous with time for rest and recovery after big events and busy seasons. Their business model is centered on answering the question of “what is good for our community?” Yes, profit is important. But soul care is arguably more so: “For what does it profit a person to gain the whole world and lose their own soul?” (Mark 8:36).

Business that makes a difference, whether in Boise or Bujumbura, considers the community, the environment, and the soul. Entrepreneurship needs to be profit-first. But it should never be profit only. 

How to get started

How can you start down the road of holistic balance sheets? 

Remember the sacred/secular divide is gone. The moment that Jesus died, something happened. The ground shook and the veil in the temple somehow split in half (Matthew 27:51). The divide between us and God himself is gone. The implications are that the life of God now invades every part of our world. Tim Keller and Katherine Leary Alsdorf, in Every Good Endeavor, write of the ways we underestimate the power of both original sin and common grace. Give thoughtful consideration of ways faith affects everything you touch.

Engage every stakeholder. Quadruple bottom line thinking influences leadership, customers, staff, vendors, and community members. So much good can happen with simple, intentional conversations, but you must first know this: who are the stakeholders in your business? Who are the people affected by what you do every day?

Assess where you are right now. You can start by looking at your P&L to see if you’re making a profit. It’s good to start there. Then begin conversations with your team about your culture and your community. What are the ways your business affects the environment? Does your staff feel they have the space to grow spiritually? Create customer surveys. Write it down. Make it objective. Consider the results.

Develop a strategy with goals and KPIs. Do this for each area: culture care, creation care, and soul care. Create strategies for each. Be clear. Be measurable. Consider monetary and time based KPIs.

Scroll to Top