The mission is more important than the money.
A little appreciation goes a long way.
Communicate, communicate, communicate.

These are just a few of the lessons that have emerged from the first Best Christian Places to Work survey, a landmark study commissioned by Christianity Today and administered by the Best Christian Workplaces Institute (BCWI). It is the largest survey ever conducted on the attitudes of employees at Christian workplaces, with more than 8,500 respondents across a range of industries.

We accepted applications from any organization with more than 15 full-time employees, a Christian mission, and an explicitly Christian product or service. Employees of participating workplaces filled out an online survey that covered various aspects of their companies' people practices; the organizations also provided detailed profiles of their human resource policies. And to ensure that the survey results would be statistically significant, we asked for high employee response rates from these organizations.

An independent panel of judges weighed the employee scores, the employee participation rates, and the human resource profiles in order to select this year's Best Christian Places to Work. The winners, listed on our site today, were announced at the Christian Management Association (CMA) conference earlier this month. (For more on how the judges picked the winners, see "Great Places to Work.")

People stewards

One of our most notable conclusions is this: Employee satisfaction has nothing to do with their employers' budget. The annual revenues of the top finalists range from $2 million to $33 million.

Treating employees well is less about offering creative perks and high compensation—and more about managers having the right mindset toward their staff.

"We are stewards of every person God has brought to us," says David Stevens, CEO of the Christian Medical and Dental Associations, a top finalist in the Small Service and Product category. This is more than a platitude for the winning organizations. They see nurturing their employees as a spiritual mandate, for purposes well beyond the good of the business.

"The person they have the privilege of developing in their organization today might not be there tomorrow," says John Pearson, president of CMA, "but it doesn't matter because it's all work [that advances God's kingdom]."

The result? According to BCWI executive director Al Lopus, "Employees of our finalists trust their leaders and believe their organizations are well managed." The trust goes both ways, as these employees also feel trusted by their leaders and are strongly committed to their organizations.

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Finalists cultivate trust in a variety of ways, from avoiding micromanagement to offering creative and flexible working arrangements. Financial analyst Janet Thompson had left finalist Evangelical Christian Credit Union (ECCU) in 1989 to raise a family, and 11 years later was looking to rejoin the workforce. Although she was not expecting to return to ECCU because she now lived 90 minutes away, the credit union allowed her to telecommute, helping her set up her home office with a computer, phone lines, and a cell phone.

As a result, Thompson's commitment to the company is solid. "I have had numerous opportunities to work at local banks in my hometown," she says, "but I cannot see giving up such a great job."

To be most effective, employee-friendly attitudes must originate at the top. Quality of leadership was a significant factor in determining the survey's finalists. "All I have to do is watch employees at work and I will have some idea what values their leaders hold," says Walter Wright, executive director of the De Pree Leadership Center. "There is a direct correlation between how a leader behaves and how the employees behave."

Leaders who were cited by their employees as a key reason for making their workplace great consistently evoked the same descriptions: humble, approachable, caring, and godly. One such leader, John Howard, president of finalist Howard Publishing, doesn't spend much time in his office. "I walk around all the time and try to find out who has obstacles, and how I can help them," he says.

What often makes the jobs of these leaders easier is the knowledge that they have the "right people on the bus," as expressed by Jim Collins in his business bestseller Good to Great, which has been popular reading in Christian management circles of late. Due to the finalists' stringent hiring practices, their vacancies are often prized opportunities. "It's very difficult to get hired here because of the reputation that Group has in our community. I feel blessed to be one of the chosen ones," says Shari McCartney, distribution clerk at finalist Group Publishing.

Room for Improvement

Many surveyed employees were grateful for the benefits of working in a Christian environment—for example, the ability to talk freely about their faith at work. But Christian organizations do lag behind their secular counterparts in other areas.

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Survey respondents expressed the most dissatisfaction with the training and development opportunities made available to them. Compensation scored the next lowest. "I did not have any official training and have not had a single review in my five years of service," says one surveyed employee. "Also, because of this I have not received any recognition or rewards given for a job well done—not that I expect it, but it would be an incentive to keep improving and adding to my responsibilities."

Employees also want to see higher levels of diversity in their workplaces. Many lamented a lack of women in leadership. While 53.4 percent of survey respondents were women, only 0.8 percent were senior managers. Also, nearly 90 percent of all survey respondents were Caucasian. CMA's Pearson says that the lack of diversity is "an issue of huge concern. If you had told me in 1968 that we would only be this far along, I would not have believed you." In conversations with CEOS of Christian organizations, he is encouraged that they regret the lack of diversity on their teams, "but they don't know how to change it."

Al Hsu, associate editor at finalist InterVarsity Press (IVP), says, "Christian organizations sometimes assume that their workplace environment or culture is basically okay for everyone, without recognizing that people from other backgrounds might not always fit in with 'how we do things around here.' " One of IVP's core values is "Dignity of People and Relationships," which says IVP celebrates each person's contribution of gender, ethnicity, church heritage, and personality. Hsu believes that organizations with a stated commitment to affirm multiethnicity and diversity are more likely to have an environment that attracts nonwhite employees.

Show me the Mission

In the end, what keeps Christian employees coming to work every morning is their organization's mission. Although those who work in Christian organizations generally get paid less than they would at comparable secular companies, employees who feel valued and who are excited by the goals of their organization more readily accept their compensation. In organizations where people do not feel valued or do not feel committed to the mission, the opposite tends to be true.

Although money is an important factor in an employee's satisfaction—and in fact the finalists in this year's survey tended to pay more competitively than nonfinalists—the results indicate that mission matters more than money.

"In the eyes of the world, there are places to work where the pay and benefits would be far greater than at Medical Ambassadors International," says IT director Jim Muncy. "If your heart is to serve a living God, then you must believe that your job satisfaction will be to find where you can be most effective in advancing his kingdom. I cannot see anywhere that I could do that better than at MAI."

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But De Pree's Wright cautions that an overemphasis on the mission can backfire and be a liability. "There is a tendency to put money into the mission. But leaders have two responsibilities: their mission and their people. If you are called to leadership in a Christian organization, you are accountable for the growth of every person in that organization as well as fulfilling the mission. It's not one or another. It's both." This pioneer Best Christian Places to Work survey salutes the workplaces and leaders practicing just that.

Helen Lee is cofounder of the Best Christian Workplaces Institute and a former assistant editor of Christianity Today. To order copies of this issue, write

Related Elsewhere

Also appearing on our site today:

Inside CT: Great Places to Work | There is indeed much to praise and imitate in Christian companies.
40 Best Christian Places to Work: The Complete List & A Closer Look at the Top Finalists | Christianity Today salutes four finalists in ten categories.

Profiles of the first place companies in the survey's ten categories include:

Co-CEO Synergy | Sharing leadership works at Christian Medical and Dental Associations.
Rigorous Hiring | Group Publishing places importance on the quality inside the company and not just in the product.
People of the Hugs | Howard Publishing's pajama day, adoption support, and National Hugging Day celebrations create a family-like ambiance.
Freedom and Grace | Covenant Christian High School teachers and staff are encouraged to be creative, lead classes in innovative ways, and take initiative.
Lives in Balance | At Evangelical Christian Credit Union, professional development is not just a nice bonus but also a spiritual responsibility.
What Burnout? | The Coalition for Christian Outreach takes seriously its responsibility to care for employees.
No Prayer, No Results | Medical Ambassadors International's emphasis on praying creates a strong sense of commitment.
President in Sweats | Leadership's informal style reflects an atmosphere of openness on the Whitworth College campus.
Practicing What They Teach | Dallas Theological Seminary and Multnomah Bible College and Seminary share a philosophy on managing employees.
Shepherding Hearts | Phoenix Seminary focuses on mentoring the balance of head knowledge with character development.

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