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How faith institutions continue to lift up Dayton’s entrepreneurs during the pandemic

Churches provide support, social capital for entrepreneurs, yet they are missing from the small business survival narrative.


By Malik Keith, Elevate Dayton

Faith institutions play an important role in the lives of entrepreneurs.

Churches and congregations provide entrepreneurs with social capital—informal and formal networking opportunities that are crucial for entrepreneurial success. Entrepreneurs pray several times a week and are more likely to believe in a God who plays an active role in their lives, according to the Harvard Business Review, while other research shows that communities with a large concentration of religious congregations have a correspondingly higher level of small business activity. 

We also know that Black-owned businesses and those owned by women, other people of color and veterans are more likely to employ people of similar backgrounds and identities. Therefore, when these businesses were disproportionately harmed by COVID, so were their employees. Consider, for instance, that 41% of Black-owned businesses were closed during stay-at-home orders, compared to 17% of white-owned businesses. In many cases, churches are where workers and business owners turned for support.

“A community of faith can be a source of customers, investors, employees, and encouragement and ideas. And some congregations really emphasize the integration of work and worship and financial planning, as well as running their churches in more innovative, businesslike ways,” Mitchell J. Neubert, Chavanne Chair of Christian Ethics in Business and an associate professor of management and entrepreneurship at Baylor University told Harvard Business Review

And yet faith institutions are largely overlooked in the COVID small business survival narrative.


Many connections exist between faith and business. Here are a few.

When in-person services ceased due to COVID-19, fellowship at Black churches and other faith institutions was disrupted and donations plummeted, complicating the ability of these Dayton civic institutions to minister to community members and support the small business community.


In response, Dayton churches turned to innovation and collaboration.


“This history of the Church is to be a catalyst to assist small businesses." — Pastor Peter Matthews, McKinley United Methodist Church


Workshops resources, referrals

The West Dayton Caravan of Churches is an interfaith group representing churches of various denominations, including African Methodist Episcopal, Baptist, Presbyterian, Catholic, United Methodist, Episcopal and Lutheran. In August 2021, the Caravan partnered with First Financial Bank to provide workshops on financial education and offer support to consumers and business owners affiliated with the network of churches. Support included identifying alternative sources of collateral for business loans, referrals to micro-lending programs and referrals to local business counseling resources.

Pastor Peter Matthews is lead pastor of McKinley United Methodist Church, one of 20 churches in the Caravan. So far, the collaboration with First Financial Bank helped provide more than $20,000 in assistance, he said.

“This history of the Church is to be a catalyst to assist small businesses,” Matthews said. “This is something that is in our DNA, especially for those who are marginalized.”

McKinley UMC is one of the first African American churches in Dayton. Part of the church's mission is to remove some of the barriers minority small business owners might encounter.

“We work with them to make sure they have the right contracts and advocates,” Matthews said. “Access to capital is one of the most crucial pieces.” 

Rev. Dr. Benjamin Speare-Hardy II of St. Margaret’s Espicopal Church is president of the West Dayton Caravan of Churches. He also acted quickly to meet the needs of his congregation and community. To weather the financial challenges caused by the pandemic, St. Margaret’s staff voluntarily lowered their pay by 50% for four months, he said. At the same time, the church found a way to help members whose personal businesses or jobs might have been disrupted. 

“For the first 60 days nobody met in the building,” Speare-Hardy II said. “From there, we did an assessment of the area and increased our partnership with the Dayton Foodbank and delivered meals quickly.”

The connection and community people experience within faith institutions was also disrupted by the pandemic. Rev. Joshua Ward, senior pastor of Omega Baptist Church, said this was a problem they wanted to address, especially for seniors who are retired or live alone.

“We created a roster for our members who are ages 65 and up,” Ward said. “We assigned folks to reach out to them at least once a month—ust to engage, bring them communion on the first Sunday and check on them.“

As COVID restrictions lessened, Omega Baptist Church also provided safe service opportunities for members who missed the mission aspect of their church experience.

“They trusted us to learn how they can get involved safely,” Ward said. “We wanted to create those spaces for people.” 

Faith leaders say supporting entrepreneurs is vital to the growth of Dayton.

“We want to allow small business owners and people who have spiritual genius to give birth to their dreams,” Speare-Hardy II said. “They are the individuals who help invest in our community.”

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