Aaron was a good employee. He worked in our shipping/receiving area, primarily third shift. He contracted cancer and fought it for a year before dying at the age of 26.
Aaron had no family living nearby, nor was he part of a local faith community. When his health crisis struck, our company chaplain shared the love of Jesus Christ with Aaron and his family, helped them cope throughout the year, and provided the family with an oasis of solace after his death. We at Zion Industries all cared for Aaron, but it was our chaplain who spent time with him, in the hospital and at home. We all could share many good stories about Aaron, but it was our chaplain who really knew him and who performed the funeral service. We, as a company, made some difference in the life of an employee and his family, but it was our chaplain who made a lasting difference.
Who Uses Workplace Chaplains?
My company is not unique in its use of a workplace chaplain - not even peculiar. As of May 2003, approximately 47,000 employees had access to workplace chaplains employed by Corporate Chaplains of America. And, according to Marketplace Ministries, another provider of chaplains, over 250,000 employees and their family members across 36 states are ministered to by their 1,200 chaplains. The demand is growing, too. The International Fellowship of Industrial Chaplains, a training and certification group, reports that company requests for workplace chaplains has out-paced their capacity to train them. Concurring, Rev. Robert Vickers, director of chaplaincy evangelism for the Southern Baptist Convention, says that business and industrial chaplaincy is growing within his denomination by about ten percent per year.
And it's not just private, Christian-owned-and-operated companies fueling this trend. Even publicly held companies employ workplace chaplains. To cite just two examples, Allied Holdings, based in Georgia, has employed chaplains since the mid-60s and after going public in 1993, maintained the program. Today, they employ 77 part-time chaplains (representing 17 denominations) at 97 locations in 35 states and 9 Canadian provinces. Similarly, Tyson Foods employs 52 part-time chaplains serving in 39 plants, with John Tyson (grandson of founder of the company and presently CEO and Chairman of the Board) as the driving force behind the program.
What Do Workplace Chaplains Do All Day?
Chaplains have what has been called a "ministry of presence." They are specifically trained to work in a secular environment, and they are on-site or on-call 24 hours a day to counsel any employee on any matter, personal or professional. Representative is Rodney Brown, director of employment counseling at R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., who, speaking to the National Catholic Reporter, said: "In the workplace, our greatest service to employees is to be available-right now." Gil Stricklin, founder of Marketplace Ministries, agrees: "We don't work by the hour. We work by the needs."
Clad not in collars and robes, but in polo shirts and khaki pants, workplace chaplains regularly visit with employees at their work stations and offices, establishing a rapport with workers and making them aware that counseling is available at any time, especially during emergencies. Chaplains also visit sick and bereaved employees and their families, and when no other minister is available, they officiate services (as mine did with Aaron). Essentially, they are an extension of an employee assistance program (EAP), offering an indispensable spiritual dimension to the traditional EAP approach.
That spiritual dimension sometimes entails running on-site, voluntary Bible studies and prayer groups, and it occasionally entails sharing of the Gospel. But as Gil Stricklin notes, chaplains are not in the workplace to push religion. "My faith is not an instrument to offend you," he says. "It's an instrument for me to love you." In the same vein, Scott Toussant from Chaplains at Work does not see his ministry as evangelistic, but one of providing "basic human kindness." He attempts to influence people for the kingdom of God by "being there for them when they need you."
Those who do offer someone a Bible tract, or who verbally share Jesus Christ's good news with employees, do so only by permission of the employee. Stricklin comments: "We do not go into the workplace to preach or proselytize, but if a worker asks a theological question, we will answer it from a Christian perspective." Gerald Rogers, company chaplain at McLane Corporation in Virginia, echoed this perspective in Employee Benefit News: "Some people we help come to Christ; some we just help. And that's okay, because that's why we're here-to help."
Still, a more-than-occasional outgrowth of that "help" is bringing people into God's family. Mark Cress of Corporate Chaplains reported in May 2003 that 600 employees had come to Christ through Corporate Chaplains of America since the beginning of the year. And Marketplace Ministries claims that during the past twelve months, approximately 4,000 people became Christians through their ministry, with 65 percent of those new believers now attending Bible-teaching fellowships.
Does All This Promote Litigation?
Such statistics prompt predictable and legitimate questions in our litigious culture. Am I risking a lawsuit by launching a workplace chaplaincy program? Not if the chaplains approach their job in accordance with their training. In the United States, employers are permitted to offer faith-based services to employees, provided that they do so without discrimination and without creating an environment where employees feel pressured to conform to a particular faith. In practice, for example, this means that companies may employ chaplains and may have prayer or Bible-study sessions, as long as they are voluntary and those who don't attend are not discriminated against. Employees must not feel that their terms and conditions of employment are in any way contingent upon their religious beliefs.
Legalese aside, Mark Cress offers what might be the more compelling answer to this question: "During more than 60 years of workplace chaplaincy history, no company offering a Chaplain Assistance Program, nor any chaplain agency, has been the target of litigation concerning chaplain care." He adds that his chaplains serve one company that has over 400 Jewish employees and there has never even been a complaint, much less a lawsuit. A representative from Allied Holdings says they, too, have never had a complaint in 35 years of providing workplace chaplains, even though Allied has a very religiously-diverse workforce. Gil Stricklin presents a similarly striking statistic: Marketplace Ministries has logged over 1.2 million hours of contracted service during the past nineteen plus years, without legal incident.
What About The Business Results?
Although solid research does not exist to quantify the business value of workplace chaplains, anecdotal evidence strongly suggests a positive ROI. Testimonials abound on the websites of both Marketplace Ministries and Corporate Chaplains of America, attesting to the practical value of corporate chaplaincy. "This was the best business decision I ever made" and "This is the only benefit that employees have ever thanked me for" are typical. Beyond the information from the chaplain providers, a widely-reported comment comes from Austaco, a large Pizza Hut and Taco Bell franchisee corporation, which credits its chaplain program for reducing its annual turnover from 300 percent to 125 percent. Moreover, in the trucking industry, where 100 percent turnover in drivers is not unusual, Allied Holdings has a turnover of four percent, partly, they claim, due to their employee care programs like chaplaincy. Kent Humphreys, President of Fellowship of Companies for Christ International, also suggests a competitive advantage, having employed corporate chaplains for fifteen years with, he says, significant results in the areas of employee retention and morale.
What Does This Cost?
Since there's likely a positive return here, probably the better way to frame the question is: "How much will I need to invest to get a chaplain?" That will depend on variables like company size, number of employees, and number of shifts served. Typically, though, an employer will pay a flat fee per month, in the neighborhood of five to ten dollars per employee.
Where Do I Go To Find More Information?
There are several organizations that offer clinically- and theologically-trained workplace chaplains. Among the larger organizations are:
. Corporate Chaplains of America: www.iamchap.org
. Chaplains at Work: www.chaplainsatwork.com
. The National Institute of Business and Industrial Chaplains: www.nibic.com
Keith Starcher's thirty year business career includes experience in large and small corporate settings, including General Electric. He recently joined the business department at Geneva College as a full-time faculty member, after serving as President of Zion Industries for seven years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.