- The elimination of anything remotely religious from places of business
- “Merry Christmas” replaced with the neutral “Happy Holidays”
- Americans who consider the blessing of wealth a license for selfishness and excess
- Disastrous business practices that contradict God’s teachings of prudence and honesty
One notable family bucks these trends, dedicating their resources and influence to the Lord in myriad ways. The Greens of Oklahoma City are leaders of the Hobby Lobby group of companies encompassing 400-plus Hobby Lobby Creative Centers and the Mardel chain of Christian bookstores, along with other retail, media and real estate-based enterprises.
A Family Business, Then and Now
Hobby Lobby began as a family endeavor in 1970 and remains the same today as it spans the United States and generates, along with its sister companies, annual sales exceeding $2 billion. Husband and wife David and Barbara Green started a home business assembling and selling miniature picture frames, capitalizing on a decorating fad of the time. Sons Mart and Steve came onboard at the young ages of nine and seven, earning seven cents for every frame they glued together.
Four decades later, Mart is CEO of the Mardel chain and Steve is President of Hobby Lobby. Their sister Darsee Lett is Creative Director for the Hobby Lobby stores. Mart, Steve and Darsee’s cousin Randy Green is President of Crafts, Etc.!, the family’s online arts and crafts store. David Green serves as Hobby Lobby’s CEO, his office occupying a very modest space in the company’s 4 million square foot headquarters in Oklahoma City.
As members of a family of servant leaders, David and Mart Green work hard to serve customers with beneficial products and experiences.
“God makes people who are very creative, and they need to fulfill their gifting,” says David when explaining the role Hobby Lobby plays in the lives of its customers.
Mart likens the Mardel chain to a beacon, a place people can come for products and tools to enrich their lives. “It is a great privilege to serve communities as a resource center for families and clergy,” he says.
A Company Run by Christians
Hobby Lobby is often described as a “Christian company” in the media. Inspirational music plays on the sound systems of the Creative Centers. All stores are closed on Sundays. The company has spent millions on newspaper ads that unambiguously wish a Merry Christmas and worshipful Easter, reminders that these holidays celebrate Jesus Christ. The Hobby Lobby Web site lists numerous ministry projects and a statement of purpose tied to the Bible.
In explaining his corporate and personal outlook, David Green cites the effects of growing up in a minister’s family, “Being the preacher’s son, you get a lot from your parents. My mother was the greatest influence. I saw a total commitment to others and to mission. It’s kind of hard for you not to catch some of that.” To point, all of David’s siblings became involved in ministry.
As he laid the groundwork for Hobby Lobby, David proved that Christian humility can mesh with the American ideal of business success. “To be honest, I was always a dreamer. I envisioned a big chain from the very beginning,” he reveals. “My faith caused me to do the best I can based on biblical principles.”
David Green is the first to admit that his path has not been mistake-free. As all America reels from an economic downturn in 2009, Oklahoma businesses like Hobby Lobby remember the oil price collapse of the 1980s which hammered the region. The Greens had been expanding aggressively at the time and found themselves suddenly overextended.
“God used that particular time to bring me down from an ego trip,” David recalls. “They were the best days of our lives, because they were the worst days. God doesn’t want us to have a lot of debt, and the Oil Patch bust made us work to get out of debt. If we had adhered to his Word, things would have been better.”
The New Generation
Hobby Lobby survived the 1980s and thrived again. At the beginning of that decade, eldest son Mart assumed his place in the family business. Contrasting with Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, he never wandered from his father’s ways. Joining the company full-time at age 19, he tapped the work ethic developed when assembling frames for his parents as a boy.
“I learned to connect the dots between the value of money and the value of what you bought,” Mart recalls. “At age nine, I was into baseball cards, but I could only buy them with the money I earned. The more frames I made, the more cards I could buy.”
In ventures beyond the family’s retail core, Mart emphasizes media to guide the next generation of Christians. He leads EthnoGraphic Media, a multimedia company “dedicated to getting young people excited to live in the Bible.”
Mart commissioned a research project to determine how Christianity can resonate with 21st century youth. “There are eight core values that 70 to 80 percent of people around the world agree with,” Mart explains. “The ranking of these values depends on a person’s age. ‘Caring’ and ‘personal responsibility’ are top values for the youth generation. We can connect this back to God’s Word and let youth know that this passion is from the Lord.”
“Media is a tool,” Mart explains. “We should stop complaining about bad media and start creating good media. The Purpose Driven Life, The Shack, the Left Behind series and ‘Fireproof’ show that people want to be affirmed in belief.”
The Holiday Ads
Hobby Lobby harnesses the power of media to express its own Christ-centered viewpoint. Twelve years ago, the company began running newspaper ads across the country to counter secular, commercialized interpretations of Christmas and Easter. The ads are poignant, respectful, and unmistakable in asserting Jesus Christ as “the reason for the season.” A page on the Hobby Lobby Web site archives the ad series from its Easter 1997 origin. The company solicits feedback via e-mail and provides phone and Web contacts for the Need Him Ministry for anyone who would like to know Jesus as Savior and Lord.
“It all started when the Lord spoke to me after I noticed there were no ads that said ‘Merry Christmas,'” reports David. “We run our holiday ads in papers in every city where we do business. We get hundreds of responses, and the majority of them are positive.”
Ministering to Employees
While energies are rightfully focused on customers and outbound communications like their holiday ads, the Greens never forget their employees. In a voluntary program for staff, they provide organized Bible study and company chaplains. A weekly devotional goes out to all offices and stores across the country. One-on-one, pastoral counseling is available to address employee problems at home or work.
“We have to send a message that we do care,” says David. “But we don’t do it because it’s good for productivity. It always has to be done to please God. He wants you to do things for the right reasons, not profitable reasons.”
To help employees further in a walk with the Lord, David’s wife Barbara and son Steve have directed the launch of a new church congregation, 360Truth. Serving the 2,000 workers at Hobby Lobby headquarters and open to the community, 360Truth holds services on Sunday evenings to complement and not compete with other churches that employees may attend.
The Greens see employee wages as an occasion to uphold biblical beliefs. In mid April 2009, they raised their minimum wage to $10 per hour for full-time hourly employees, more than 50% above the national minimum wage. Other employees earning up to $13 per hour received raises as well. In total, over 6,900 employees got pay hikes. The Greens have a legacy of boosting wages amid difficult economic times. During 2008’s run-up in gasoline prices, they gave employees earning up to $12 per hour a permanent raise of $0.25 per hour to help cushion the blow.
“Investing in our employees and sharing our success is an important part of our Christian philosophy,” says David. “We believe the success of Hobby Lobby is a result of our strong values that are based on biblical principles, including integrity, service to others and giving back to those in need.”
The Christian Business Example
The Green family is proud to run a company based on biblical principles, but mindful that such a commitment does not insulate against substandard business practices.
In describing the deportment of Christ-centered organizations, David insists, “They ought to set the highest possible examples in the world. They must be squeaky, squeaky clean.”
The Greens verified their belief in sound Christian business practices when Oral Roberts University faced a crisis of confidence and leadership. The family donated over $70 million to ORU as Mart Green supervised application of the funds and an overhaul of the school’s operations.
“Mission must mix with economic sustainability,” according to Mart. “Oral Roberts University was strong in mission and had great graduates, but the Higher Learning Commission saw weakness in other areas including governance and financial management. We wanted to help.”
The Greens’ efforts have assisted Oral Roberts University in reducing debt and rebuilding trust. Subsequently, ORU has received the “Award for Institutional Progress in Student Learning Outcomes” from the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
Biblical Principles for an America in Need
Now, the United States faces a crisis as companies large and small fail. Divergence from God’s Word is the root of many of the problems, according to the Greens.
“We have leaders coming out of schools with no absolutes, no anchors” says David. “We can’t run anything without good biblical principles. Everything about God’s Word is positive for business.”
So as Christians, we may be dismayed when faith is squeezed out of the holidays and the workplace, when the affluent and captains of industry ignore God’s Word. We may simply resign ourselves to these events. But the Green family of Oklahoma does not. They won’t accept Christmas without Christ, workers without ministry, or business without accountability to the highest authority. Their ongoing success story is testimony for us all.