WACO, Texas — Valerie Young is an entrepreneur. And she prays.
"I pray every day," Young says, "...'Thank you (God) for this opportunity to have this livelihood.' "
A new study by Baylor University scholars of business and sociology found that entrepreneurs pray more frequently, and are more likely to view God as personal and active in their lives than non-entrepreneurs.
The study published in the June 2013 issue of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion also raises questions about the ways in which religion and business intersect and how some religious communities may foster the entrepreneurial spirit and improve the economy.
"Our interest (is) in really exploring an overlooked potential connection to entrepreneurial activity," says Kevin D. Dougherty, a co-author of the study and an associate professor of sociology at Baylor, a private Baptist university in Waco, Texas. "That is the role of faith and faith communities. Does (faith) inspire people to take chances in the marketplace or is it an impediment?"
Dougherty set out to discover how entrepreneurs may differ from the general populace in religious beliefs, behaviors and affiliation. Dougherty says he suspected to find that entrepreneurs are so busy with their businesses that they might not go to religious services as often. "We didn't find that," he says. "What we did find was on the flip side."
The study found that in many religious aspects, America's entrepreneurs look no different than any other full-time workers. Entrepreneurs attended services at about the same rate as other Americans and believe in God at the same rate as the national average.
But there were a few differences.
The study found entrepreneurs pray more frequently than non-entrepreneurs. While more than half of non-entrepreneurs in the study said they pray a few times a week or less, more than half of entrepreneurs told the researchers they pray every day, and a third said they pray several times a day.
The survey did not ask what people pray about or how long they pray, which Dougherty said he would like to explore in a future study. He speculates entrepreneurs probably pray about the difficulties that come with long hours and starting and running a profitable business.
Jared Rubin, an economic historian at Chapman University, a private university in Orange, Calif. affiliated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), says that it is possible that entrepreneurs pray more frequently because they live more on the edge, and so they may need more comfort.
He also says they may pray more frequently because entrepreneurs take bigger risks.
"The assumption seems to be that entrepreneurs were praying for something," says Young, an entrepreneur and professional speaker and the author of "The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women." " 'Help my business survive,' 'Help me make the payroll,' 'Help me with my cashflow.' "
Young says she considers herself spiritual and often prays — but rarely asks for anything. "To me it is much more about being grateful. My experience with entrepreneurs is they have a different mindset."
That mindset, she says, tends to be optimistic. Entrepreneurs don't think in terms of failure, but risk. They take a risk. They try something. If it doesn't work out, they try something else.
"I have friends that are not entrepreneurs that say they pray for money or to win the lottery," Young says. "Entrepreneurs see themselves as being ultimately responsible for their success. There would be less of an inclination to ask for things or to put the control outside of yourself."
A more personal God
The study also found that entrepreneurs tend to understand God as personal and responsive to their needs more than non-entrepreneurs. This finding, that entrepreneurs believe in a personal God who listens and acts, combines with the other finding that they pray more often.
"We found that to be a real novel finding," Dougherty says. "It challenges the idea that entrepreneurs are people that have shed the confines of religion to forge their own path."
Instead, there was a connection to religion through more personalized and privatized practices.
The data comes from a national random sample across the spectrum of religious groups such as evangelicals, mainline Protestants and Catholics. The larger data shows that the different faith traditions do not have much effect on who is and who is not an entrepreneur, Dougherty says.
"There is something still unique about the American entrepreneur regardless of the type of faith community they belong to or even if they do not belong to a faith community in terms of (how) they view God and how frequently they pray to this deity," he says.
Young thinks believing in a personal God is attractive to entrepreneurs because it fits into their mindsets. "As an entrepreneur it does make sense to me," she says. "We are all guided by something, whether it is your gut. You turn to your gut, you turn to a higher power for guidance to make the right decisions. It involves a personal connection."
Where they gather together
The survey also asked participants the name and address of their place of worship. About 60 percent were able to give the contact information for where they attended religious services.
The survey also looked at the extent to which entrepreneurs were in faith communities that encouraged, either modestly or strongly, both starting a new business and making a profit in business. The survey asked, for example, "How is starting a business talked about, if at all, in your place of worship?" and "How is making a profit in business talked about, if at all, in your place of worship?"
Dougherty said it's not surprising that entrepreneurs are more likely to belong to congregations that encourage these things. "No other published research has ever documented this," he says. "And the results raise all sorts of interesting implications."
Dougherty wants to do further research to determine if some faith communities inspire people to take chances in the marketplace and start new businesses. "We think that is really fascinating," he says. "And for a country coming out of a recession, if that is true, then the 300,000 faith communities that dot our landscape will become even more important as potential catalysts for driving economic recovery and growth."
Last summer the Baylor research team traveled the country and conducted about 200 interviews at eight different faith communities to find out why entrepreneurs were in churches that were more pro-business. They asked about how and if their faith communities have inspired workers and entrepreneurs in their work. "So very soon we'll have an answer to that question," Dougherty says, "and I think it will be an interesting one for people."
This can-do attitude would be a very entrepreneurial, according to Young.
"Entrepreneurs think things are possible," Young says, "and they have faith that they are going to figure it out as they go along."
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