Blue Ash-based workplace ministry aims to expand

Posted at 7:00 AM, Sep 26, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-26 07:00:23-04

CINCINNATI -- Most Christians go to church on Sunday and go to work on Monday, leaving their faith behind – they are spiritually asleep at work.

That’s according to Chuck Proudfit, who founded At Work on Purpose in 2003 to wake up those spiritually sleepy Christians. With 6,500 members, the Blue Ash-based nonprofit believes it is the largest citywide workplace ministry in the United States, and in recent years it has taken steps to export its ministry model to other cities.

Many Christians don’t live out their faith at work because it’s risky, Proudfit said. He cited the example of Rowan County, Kentucky, Clerk Kim Davis, who was jailed for contempt of court for refusing to sign marriage licenses for gay couples, which she said would violate her beliefs.

In some workplaces, Proudfit said, even mentioning the name Jesus will get you fired, so many Christians keep quiet because they feel intimidated. Others simply don’t know where to begin – they don’t know what Christian faith lived in the workplace looks like.

“They wouldn’t know a ministry moment if it hit them across the forehead,” Proudfit said. “They don’t know how to set up a Bible study where they don’t get in trouble with the HR department.”

Part of the problem is that local churches don’t typically focus on the everyday work lives of their members, he said. At Work on Purpose aims to fill in that gap by providing training for individual workers and by facilitating networking among Christian business people.

Those networking opportunities include monthly executive roundtables, called “collaboratories,” in which Christian marketplace leaders meet to encourage each other and discuss how they can steward their businesses in a godly fashion, Proudfit said.

“The main thing is that they provide an opportunity for like-minded people, with the same worldview, to talk about issues happening in their lives,” said Lynne Ruhl, a collaboratory facilitator who founded Perfect 10 Corporate Cultures LLC, a consulting firm that helps businesses assess their corporate culture.

The collaboratories, which typically bring in about $10,000 a month, are the main source of revenue for At Work on Purpose. Participants pay from $150 to $500 a month, Proudfit said, based on the amount of revenue their businesses generate.

“It’s like group consulting, but at the fraction of the cost you would typically pay a consultant to come into the company,” he said.

At Work on Purpose aims to pay its operating budget through revenue generators such as the collaboratories, Proudfit said, and pay long-term projects through donations and grants. The organization has no employees, Proudfit said, and much of its work is done through volunteers.

In 2014, At Work on Purpose earned $144,000 from services provided, such as the collaboratories, and received $126,000 in grants/contributions, said Terry Grear, an At Work on Purpose board member and CEO of the local accounting firm ScrogginsGrear. Total expenses were $275,000.

Over the past three years, At Work on Purpose has spent most of its contribution revenue on a $200,000 project formally known as Citywide Marketplace Ministry in a Box, but lovingly referred to by Proudfit as “AWOP in a Box.” It is a literal box filled with DVDs and glossy pamphlets designed to help replicate the At Work on Purpose model in other cities.

At Work on Purpose began selling them two months ago, for $150 apiece, and has now sold more than 20.

Proudfit pitched the product and told the history of his organization earlier this month for half a dozen participants in Ohio’s first GoodCities City Convene Conference, held at Christ Church in Mason.

Proudfit told the group that in the early days of At Work on Purpose, he held evening events during which he interviewed local Christian businessmen about how they integrated their faith into the marketplace. Those interviews were conducted in the round, with audience members surrounding the stage.

That experience shows when Proudfit addresses small groups. He’s extremely animated, and repeatedly makes eye contact with each listener around the table. His eyes tear and he gets choked up when he tells the story of how the videographer he hired came to Christ while he was videotaping a testimony from a Christian businessman dying of cancer.

One attendee, Rebecca Walls, said she might buy a copy of AWOP in a box, but that she wasn’t sure starting a new workplace ministry was the solution for her city. Walls, the executive director of the Dallas nonprofit Unite the Church, said Dallas already has about 40 faith/work ministries. The pieces are already there, she said, they just need to be put together.

Proudfit's listeners included representatives from cities as far away as Paris, France. In response to a question about startup costs, Proudfit said that in the early days of the ministry, he subsidized At Work on Purpose from the profits of his consulting business, SkillSource Inc. That amounted to $2,000-$5,000 every one to two months, he said.

Although SkillSource once subsidized At Work on Purpose, the nonprofit now reimburses SkillSource for work that Proudfit does on behalf of At Work on Purpose. In 2014, Grear said, that amounted to $124,800.

In recent years, SkillSource has been paid more than in previous years, in part because Proudfit has traveled to other cities to help start ministries, Grear said.

That travel has continued this year. In June, Proudfit went to Nairobi, Kenya, to help start a workplace ministry. In November, At Work on Purpose plans to meet with a professional facilitator to talk about the best way to roll out marketplace ministries in other cities, Gear said.

At Work on Purpose is committed to doing whatever it takes to make that rollout happen, Proudfit said.

“We do see workplaces being transformed as a result of this work,” he said.