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Ministry and Money

Have I ever told you that I really like Chick-fil-A?

We got a Chick-fil-A location about four years ago in our town and it is wonderful. I love supporting them with my money because I feel a kinship to their company values, they serve a darn good piece of chicken, and their play area never smells like fungus.

My husband and I joke that Chick-fil-A is “Jesus Chicken” and how it’s “God’s Fast Food” so often I think our kids could be a little confused about whether those phrases are actually a company tag line or if their salvation might be at risk if they eat at KFC. (Just kidding.)

You know what else I like about Chick-fil-A? They clearly state their business and convictions, treat their employees well, and don’t create confusion with their motivation.

Could I get chicken somewhere else for a better price? Absolutely. But sometimes I choose with my feet and my wallet to participate in a chicken eating experience at Chick-fil-A without any guilt.

You see, we live in a world that is full of marketing, of words, words, words, as Dorothy Sayers puts it, and those words are used persuasively and effectively to lure folks into alignment with different principles.

You want to be a 21st century man? Use Gillette, because our razors are made by people who care about women.

You want to be a reasonable, wise parent? Use Luvs because parents who know what they’re doing choose Luvs.

Everywhere we go there are messages, packaged up into different wrappings, asking us to buy, to sell, to commit, to lead in different areas. They each offer a version of truth.

But their truth is not Truth with a capital “T.”

We can see the logic here, there is a “truth” for some that is not Truth with a capitol “T.” Truth with a capital “T” comes from God and a huge part of the training we give our children is to be skeptical of marketing, the truth with a lower case “t,” because it can be used to manipulate.

With this discernment, when I see Chick-fil-A just doin’ Chick-fil-A, goin’ to court over healthcare, standing firmly on their convictions as a private, for-profit company, I admire them. They rise in my esteem. I want to give them more of my money to eat their chicken and maybe even add a cup of fresh lemonade to my order.

Based on observation, it seems that honesty is a marketing technique that’s working for them. By standing for their convictions as a for-profit company, despite being constantly attacked by different agendas, Chick-fil-A has posted their highest quarters of earnings ever.

You see, even when people don’t agree with what you say, if you say it openly and honestly, they will step forward and call you respectable.

People know what they’re supporting when they drive up to Chick-fil-A. Jesus chicken and a helping of Southern hospitality. When you hand that cashier your money, you know you’re supporting a company that will fight for unborn children, Sunday Sabbath, and community development.

How may I serve you today?

Please, take my money.

On the flip side, you know what doesn’t work as a marketing technique? Taking advantage of customers with half truths. Leading people to believe that a company is a ministry with a motto like “Knowing God and Making Him Known” and operating as a ministry, but in reality being a for-profit million-dollar company.

Ya’ll, I’m tired of people promoting that Classical Conversations is a ministry. Yes, ministry is a by-product of what happens in many communities at a local level and a major reason why most of the Directors and middle-managers sign up for leadership, but there is major money being made within this company and people need to stop gasping in shock when they realize this.

(To be honest, the last Classical Conversations Sales Orientation I attended did explicitly state that they were a for-profit company and that the Support Representatives should be Sales Representatives… I remember the speaker standing in front of the room, and almost yelling “You are in Sales!” But because of the narrative previously, for so many years, my own bias, and the fact that the perfect candidate for the position is one who wants to serve as a comrade instead of a Sales Manager, I think that no one has really heard them or taken them seriously.)

So let me lay it out clearly here.

Classical Conversations is a company that is enjoying the profitability of doing business in a capitalistic country.

The Bortins make money and intend to make more.

Ministry is a by-product of that. The company enjoys the benefits of capitalism with a privately owned company that sells a product to home educators unlike anything else to date. That product – Classical, Christian curriculum modeled within community – has generated a significant amount of money.

Money can promote ministry. Ministry can make money.

Let’s elaborate.

Classical Conversations is a for-profit company and it is doing a reasonably good job of its business. CC is “a K through 12 educational services company that supports homeschoolers. CC helps facilitate like-minded families coming together “To know God and to make Him known.” CC has developed a copyrighted curriculum and they stock and sell products that support that curriculum. In addition they provide extensive training for all of the licensees that lead a Classical Conversations program. They also provide supplemental content online that can be accessed by families for a nominal subscription fee as well as an annual parent equipping free of charge.” (From the “Response to Anonymous Letter Sent to Churches” that was removed from circulation with the statement it hadn’t been fully vetted before publishing. It was also circulated by team leaders and was quoted in an email as recently as yesterday.)

Guys – they’re telling us what they’re doing pretty explicitly. But we’re hearing their words through the lens of our experiences. Because CC on a local level is a ministry to soooo many parents it’s really, really hard to recognize they’re actually a for-profit company intending to make a money off of the dollars we sacrifice and shave off of the weekly grocery budget for books and tuition.

We can’t cry foul when we’ve been gullible and swallowed the marketing ploy hook, line, and sinker.

“The great enemy of the Truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic.” ~ John F. Kennedy

Friends… stop believing the people who promote CC as an organization by moms and for moms. Just stop it. Take the rose-colored glasses off and look at things logically.

Firstly, let’s identify that this homeschooling market was so small for so many years that it wasn’t really worth marketing to so it became safe. We starting thinking we didn’t have to comparison shop and find the bargain. We were naive enough to think we had a safety net.

Twenty years ago there were approximately 850,000 homeschoolers across the US. But today, that number is closer to 1.8 MILLION children being homeschooled. Times are changing. Homeschooling is turning into BIG money. That means there is money to be made and there will be people coming along, eager to claim their piece of the prosperity pie.

‘Merica, baby.

Classical Conversations had about 120,000 students last year (2018), which is around 15% of the entire market share of homeschooling children in the US. The licensing fees they received per student ranged from $55-$345. Let’s be generous and on the cheaper side of the issue and say that each child is an average of $100.

That’s a $12 million dollar income from licensing fees. Easily.

Then look at the bookstore sales, which can range from $3,000-$20,000 PER PRACTICUM. There are approximately 600 practicums held each summer. Let’s, again, be on the low side and estimate an average of $5,000 in book sales per practicum, times 600, is about $3 million dollars. I’m guessing that practicums are the big money makers because of their timeliness and ability to purchase the books without shipping. So, OK, let’s guesstimate that bookstore sales the rest of the year are just another $3 million. So let’s say that we’re at (conservatively) $6 million in bookstore sales annually.

But wait, we aren’t done! There are practicum camp enrollments because this is a diverse company! In 2016 there were approximately 30,000 parents who attend practicums. So, let’s assume each parent enrolled at least one child in a camp at the going rate of $42/child (again, these are low numbers because there are often multiple children in camps from each family). We’ve got an additional $1.2 million.

Next, let’s think outside the box with how parents can support parents. Ah ha! CC Connected! The goal for 2016 was to have 10% of all families enrolled in CC Connected. At that time there were roughly 37,000 families in CC… so let’s stay with those numbers (assuming they’ve grown over the last three years and the goal was achieved), and say we’re looking at 3,700 families enrolled in CC Connected each month for at least $6/month. (My family personally has been enrolled in Foundations, Essentials, and Challenge for a grand total of $11/month.) So on the conservative side we’re seeing at least a $266K income on creative items developed by enrolled families using the resources (Guides, etc.) they have previously purchased, and uploaded for free to be helpful to the greater homeschooling community.

We’re up to a highly conservative estimate of $19.5 million in gross income each year.

I don’t know much of anything about Testing Services but I’m guessing they make money for the company or it wouldn’t be something CC pursues. Academic Transcripts and dual enrollments probably bring in a bit of money too.

Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t a massive amount of expenses, and this post isn’t speaking about those expenses because I have no idea what a website costs, what the employment and payroll looks like, etc. I’m just saying that families are delusional when they defend this company as shoe string. It used to be shoe string. It is not any longer.

All of these things add up, so can we please stop the narrative that CC is a ministry only?! It’s a business, run by a man who has a business priority and is actively seeking ways to squeeze the profit out of a brilliant idea that meets a huge need for homeschoolers… in order to fund a pretty awesome National Athletic Village and Rugby in the U.S.

That’s all allowable. Absolutely. This is America, we praise and enjoy the success stories and I send the Bortins family a figurative high five from across the country for being awesome a what they do.

BUT….

Can CC own that with the same enthusiasm as Chick-fil-A owns its Jesus Chicken? Can the people contracted by CC stop telling others that this is a ministry opportunity and own it as a business opportunity that, if done right, can benefit our children well?

Nope.

Because here’s where the rub comes in. The people with boots on the ground, the heart of the organization, they aren’t in it for the money. And, frankly, they aren’t seeing much – if any – of that money in their own bank accounts.

They are doing what they do because they love their kids. Because they want this curriculum and the community for their families. Because they’ve seen the value in the curriculum and believe that homeschooling is a sacrificial area that the IRS will not bless you to pursue but that God will give you crowns in eternity for completing.

For the average person in leadership… they are not here for the money. They’re here because they believe they are devoting hours and hours to the greater good and homeschooling as a cause.

And, because those folks aren’t making anywhere close to millions (most of the time not even close to thousands), it kind of blows their minds when they realize there are actually millions being made.

You know what? I’ve played into promoting that attitude. I can’t tell you the number of times I approached someone with the Support Representative position with the words, “This isn’t about the money because you’ll work far more than your hours will be compensated. But you’ll know you’re helping fight the good fight, that the fields are ready to be harvested and you’re a part of it. It will be worth it. You’ll be protecting the future for your children and homeschooling and know this is something that God may have called you to do!”

When you present the God card it’s very hard to argue.

Lord help me.

Honestly, I still believe that the work I’ve done as a representative of this organization has made a difference. I have encouraged the mama who didn’t believe she ever could homeschool to know she has a hope and a community and that her children will be tomorrow’s leaders. I know that because I’ve spoken, because I’ve sacrificed, children and parent are more confident in their intellectual abilities, ready to take on new challenges, and lead when it’s hard to stand strong.

I still believe that effort was not wasted. Because I always did it for the ministry and I know for a FACT God’s will was accomplished.

But I do not feel smart, or like a wise consumer. Because all of that goodness has been accomplished while I put my family, my children at risk with a liability we could not withstand if something went wrong, and within a company that enjoyed the profit of my labor without the loyalty of relationship.

God uses all things for good for those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose. I trust Him for that.

But I have removed my faith from a company that will profit on the vulnerability and hope of their people.

With homeschooling – or really anything we identify as a ministry – the savvy consumer isn’t looking quite so hard to find the deception in the spin. This is why it hurts so badly to learn that the motivations of others might be different than our own.

I fear that because of the desire from highest corporate authorities to turn a profit God has removed His hand of protection from this company. That the communities that have been the life blood of the organization will fall in a flood. The Directors who have been the hands of homeschooling in community will find their hands raised in surrender, like my own, because the liability is too great and the corporation will not help them with the necessary changes.

All because the vision that was originally cast is so very different from the vision of today.

I wish that the organization would just own what they’re doing and make sure that all who are working for them would acknowledge it as well. And yet, I know the Truth.

People don’t want to be a part of a company or a transaction. They want to be a part of a family.

And so we are at an impasse.

Edits: I have edited this post from original publication slightly. I corrected typos (darn fat fingers!) and I was incorrectly using the word “profit.” Sales and profit are not interchangeable. I’ve tried to correct this in every spot. I added clarity that all of these numbers don’t take into account any of the expenses. I also removed the statement “Ministry is by-product of that. If it weren’t, they would be organized as a non-profit, not a for-profit company.” Upon consideration I think that the founders probably just didn’t want a board of directors and that oversight… thus a non-profit wasn’t the way to go.

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