Caring, Sharing, Cooperative Commerce

Sam Wells says the church should learn how to do business. The church literally is business and commerce offers three ways of being church by being a business;  instrumental, exemplary and social.

  • Instrumental: all churches need money to keep going, so think of new ways to generate income from church assets like the church building.
  • Exemplary: in the church’s conduct of business, we can express our concern for humanity and environment through ‘Good Work’  and not just ‘Good Works’.
  • Social: by choosing a business form that causes positive social impact indirectly through its trading activities.

For William Temple the church is a particular form of business, a cooperative business. It’s through instrumental, exemplary and social cooperative commercial activities that the church demonstrates a deeper understanding of the Faith and a wider vision of co-operation than that offered by the modern secular cooperative movement, “the church is the only cooperative society in the world that exists for the benefit of its non-members."

Andrew McLeod speaks of the role of the church in the development of the modern secular cooperative movement which now makes up thousands of democratically controlled businesses serving millions of members worldwide. But both the church and the cooperative movement have largely forgotten the theological basis for cooperative commerce and  William Temple’s wider vision of the church as a cooperative society primarily of benefit to the wider community of non-members. McLeod points to  the experience of the first Christians in immediately creating a social structure based on democratic control of their collective resources, which were shared freely. This voluntary system carried great spiritual weight for them and was a clear continuation of values that were encouraged in the stories of the Old Testament.

For McLeod this presents a challenge to the contemporary church “…to shift from the soup kitchen [and Food Bank] mentality to becoming a birthing centre for cooperative enterprises that empower those who are struggling”.

For me, a mere two months into the role of HeartEdge Commercial Development Co-ordinator, I have come across a wealth of examples of churches, often unwittingly piloting, searching for and exploring such specifically cooperative approaches to instrumental, exemplary and social commerce. The irony is they are often doing this in isolation, reinventing the wheel on their own, rather than cooperating together to replicate and grow good practice.

HeartEdge is about sharing what we have and finding what we need. A big part of my role is to enable sharing of what works for you commercially and what you need commercially. It’s about making useful connections with other churches, co-operating together to grow co-operative instrumental, exemplary and social commerce across the HeartEdge network and beyond.

I’m currently working with churches to scope out and deliver 3 sorts of new instrumental, exemplary and social commercial opportunities, all of which are a series of variations on the theme of caring, sharing, cooperative commerce:

Develop new income streams from church premises and other fixed assets.


  • Community Renewable Energy schemes (mainly solar panels on church roofs). These reduce church energy costs and carbon footprint whilst providing an additional income stream selling energy generated to the national grid.
  • This work also involves looking at the feasibility of developing a nationwide Churches Energy Co-operative along the lines of the Schools Energy Co-operative or in partnership with them. This cooperative installs community funded solar panel systems on school roofs free of charge and pays all their profits to their member schools. This retains more income for the schools than they’d get from renting out their roof to commercial operators. A number of churches are also members of this cooperative whilst others are beginning to look at the feasibility of doing the same with churches through a separate ‘Churches Energy Cooperative’.

A second example concerns doing the same with Church Car Parks currently rented out to commercial car park management companies. Churches would form their own national cooperative Car Park Management Company and thus retain more of the income for churches who are members.

Develop commercial social enterprises and co-operatives to provide new income streams to finance the church’s mission, particularly social mission whilst expanding that mission through commercial activities. Developing Replication Strategies of successful church-based models with other churches.


  • ‘Beyond the Food Bank’ – churches as ‘birthing centres’ for food cooperatives and promoting ‘community right to grow on church land’ as a sustainable alternative to Food Banks and similar surplus food redistribution schemes; responding to McLeod’s challenge to churches to shift from the soup-run and Food Bank mentality.
  • Other examples:- A Craft Brewery in the crypt at St Mary’s Primrose Hill finances the Church Youth Worker from its profits.
  • The ‘Eat, Share, Pay What’s Fair’ Café at St Stephen’s Norwich  finances a Church Community Worker  from its profits.

Develop new sources of charitable giving to the church from mainstream commerce – ‘Re-inventing the Commercial Benefactor’


  • Piloting a new approach to charity fund raising through Community Payback placements with commercial employers who donate the monetary equivalent of the offender’s unpaid work to church charities and guarantee at least an interview for a paid job for the offender on successful completion of the unpaid payback placement. This supports commerce’s Corporate Social Responsibility agenda whilst  getting offenders into rehabilitative employment and increasing commercial charitable giving to church charities.