David Green
Hobby Lobby Founder David Green (The Becket Fund)

"There are decisions that, through man's eyes, look like they would not be profitable, but when you really have faith in God and know it is His business and try to do it His way, then things are better," he says. "He will bless you. How can He bless you if you always have your hands in the cookie jar?"

That cookie jar is sometimes tempting. One store opened in an area that quickly degenerated. The Greens closed the store and moved it to another location but were stuck with an expensive lease. A liquor store offered to buy the lease—which would have released the Greens from a commitment to $350,000 a year for eight more years.

They refused and are still losing $30,000 a month on the lease. To Green, making a decision based on moral and ethical integrity was more important than the bottom line.

"There are a lot of opportunities ... in our private life and our business life that we are tested," Green says. "God tests us to see, 'Do you really believe the Bible?' So we try our best to do what is right. We have lots of opportunities to compromise. When we don't compromise, that's when God is going to bless us."

Some of the testing came at a time when it seemed the whole business was about to go under during Oklahoma's oil bust in the mid-'80s.

"We received a letter from the bank threatening to foreclose, to take our inventory and to sell it off. That was probably the worst time of our business and probably the best time. The best, in fact, because we learned at that time to give the business to God."

During that difficult time the Greens spent a lot of time in prayer.

"I'd be underneath my desk almost daily asking God what He was trying to say in all of this," he says. "What were we supposed to learn? Because it was His business. He is bigger than the oil bust."

The company survived, and the Greens learned something about success.

"I'm not real sure there are a whole lot of us who can handle success without going through something where God says, 'This ain't about you,' Green says. "Sometimes we have to learn that the hard way. That's why it was the best thing that ever happened to us, so that God would prepare us to be able to give us the success that He has."

Burden of Success
Not that success isn't without its own problems and responsibilities. The Greens take seriously their roles as stewards of the wealth God has given them. "We don't own this company," he says. "God owns everything. We have to find His will."

With that attitude, this wealthy businessman has decided to share his profits with worthwhile Christian causes. Green says his family feels strongly that God directed them to invest heavily in a few large projects rather than give small amounts to thousands of smaller ones. Two ministries top the list, the Book of Hope and Every Home for Christ.

The Book of Hope is a compilation of the four gospels that is distributed to schoolchildren in countries throughout the world.

"We've distributed about 180 million of these books," Green says. "We're committed to do 49.5 million this year."

Meanwhile, Every Home for Christ takes gospel booklets door-to-door to every single home in a country. The ministry's China project especially captured the Greens' hearts. "In seven years we intend to get the gospel to 400 million Chinese people," Green says.

The Greens are concerned about spreading the Word here in the United States as well. Last year they bought four theaters around the country and donated them to churches. Their donations actually make good business sense, too.

"It's a situation where the government will allow you to write it off your taxes on the basis of the appraised value vs. what you actually pay for it," Green explains. "So, it's just a way to expand what we do in ministry without costing us a lot of money."

When word got around about Green's charitable work, his office was inundated with calls asking for help with building purchases. But Green says his charitable work is focused on evangelism and he is not open to new projects at this time.

"We get about 300 requests for finances a month," he says. "We can't even answer them all."

That doesn't mean Green isn't ready to jump in when the Lord shows him an opportunity. That's how the full-page ads the company runs during Easter and Christmas started.

Green realized as he read the newspaper on Christmas Day that all the ads said, "Happy Holidays" or "Season's Greetings." He couldn't find a single "Merry Christmas."

"I thought, 'This is terrible,'" Green says. "People are afraid to say 'Christ.'"

So he placed full-page ads in newspapers in every major city in the central United States. "There are full-page ads on Easter Sunday and Christmas Day proclaiming what that day is about," he says.

From the holiday advertisements to the full-time chaplain Green hired to minister to his employees, his company is run with an eye on eternal values. And that's the advice Green has for Christians who want to start a business.

"Don't try to control it. Turn it over to God and make Him part of the business," Green says. "As we allow Him to be a part of the business, and lean on Him, He promises to give us the answers to problems and to open the right doors."

Doors continue to open for the Green family. Plans are in the works to grow from 309 to 500 stores this year.

"Personally, I don't need them," Green says. "I could live the way I do with 10 stores. So why do we want 500 stores? So we can tell more people about Christ. That's what excites us. That is the purpose. Our purpose has to be something beyond our lifetime."


Suzanne Jordan Brown is a freelance writer and pastor's wife. She also teaches writing at the University of Oklahoma.

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