As unemployment spikes as a result of the pandemic, there is an urgent need for churches with kingdom-minded entrepreneurs and investors to bring new jobs and hope. My co-founders and I have created more than 150 jobs in Bethlehem so far, in challenging conditions with movement restrictions, high transport costs and sporadic border closure. In our current time of restrictions, I hope to inspire you by drawing out lessons for tackling unemployment here in the UK; and point to organisations, networks and resources that can help.

The Transcend story

Transcend turned the normal business start-up process on its head, to tackle high unemployment, especially among graduates, and build hope. Instead of seeking the best business idea and location to maximise returns, the starting point for me was to bring God’s blessing to the community he had called me to; then to use the resources available (strong language and IT skills) to meet the challenges faced.

Tackling unemployment has always been part of God’s call on my life, having been made redundant twice. I led an export development project in Bethlehem in the 1990s but this work came to a close with the worsening political situation. However, in 2004 I went to New Wine, the Christian festival seeking a fresh direction and felt a call to return. I joined Transformational Business Network (TBN) and took a group of business people out for a few days, meeting people across the political divide and listening to what God was saying. Through that I met Nassim Nour, an evangelical Palestinian Christian. He said he had been waiting for a group like us to come and invited me to return to facilitate a workshop on creating robust jobs that would survive in the challenging environment.

A business built for movement restrictions


Several initiatives emerged from the workshop, but the big, hairy and audacious goal was to start a contact centre, using local language and IT skills to offer bilingual English/​Arabic voice services to companies serving customers in the Levant and Gulf. It would be an invisible export that could not be stopped at borders, with scope to work from home in the event of a security lockdown.

Neither Nassim nor I knew anything about call centres. A potential partnership with an Israeli call centre came to nothing in the end, though it did enable us to prepare a detailed research-based business plan and thorough risk analysis. The failure was in part because sensitive information came out in the media too early, damaging trust.

I wondered if I had heard God wrong. Then I came across an American Christian who ran the Gulf Bank call centre in Kuwait. He came to Bethlehem to meet Nassim, we pooled our own money, borrowed from the bank, received some support from the Dutch government, built an 88-seat centre to international standards and opened in April 2012.

Developing skills and modelling integrity

The first year was immensely challenging; sales did not grow as expected, we were under-capitalised and losing money fast. Humanly speaking we should have been out of business by early 2013. But God had other plans. Intervention from a venture capital company sympathetic to our job creation aims enabled us to bring in a senior management team.

Today we have 155 staff providing both contact centre and software development services for clients in Palestine, Israel and beyond. We are transcending the separation wall, developing skills and modelling integrity and gender equality. When COVID-19 struck, we were 100 per cent working from home within two days. This year we’ve brought in another investor and plan to grow to 1,000 staff.

Lessons for the UK in 2021

Unemployment here is growing. According to an analysis by Rest Less, the number of unemployed over-50s rose from 35,000 at the start of 2020 to 121,000 by the end of the year. Worse is to come, with more than 640,000 over-55s still on furlough. The youngest groups and those joining the workforce are also hard hit.

Churches increasingly recognise the challenge of unemployment following the pandemic. Many churches are involved in job clubs. When unemployment is low, it’s a great way to help people get back into employment. But what about when there’s no local job club, or when there are dozens of excellent candidates for every role? How does the church, in the broadest sense, create jobs to replace those that are lost, and the self-esteem and hope that goes with it?

We have been here before. In the 1980s recession, Buckhaven Church in Fife became the largest employer in town, creating 870 jobs in a trading company and rebuilding the port and the theatre. St John’s Pen-y-Darren employed 1,300 people.

Nine lessons on job creation from the Transcend experience:

1. Clarify the need. Which groups of people in your community most need jobs (young/​old/​BAME/​recently graduated)? Be as targeted as possible.

2. Clarify the opportunities and resources available. What are the skills, interests and resources of the target group? What potential market opportunities can you access? For example, is there a tourism sector locally, or a business park, or any identifiable group of people that might have unmet needs?

3. Set a clear and simple overall goal. It’s hard for a business to succeed in its early years so avoid too many constraints, however worthy they may be. Better to use self-employed people and short term contracts at the beginning than commit to generous employment terms and then fail.

4. Work with others. Leadership in the Bible is always shared. But, equally, don’t try to set something up by committee.

5. Take a risk. The early church took massive risks, yet we have become risk averse. You might lose money and lose face. But reduce this with a proper risk analysis on your top six or so real threats and do all you can to mitigate them. Launch as a pilot, with a budget and time scale, so the worst case scenario is clear.

6. Manage your communications. Aim for transparency, but remember that releasing information before it has been shared with key partners is usually a mistake.

7. Keep praying!

8. Persist. Abraham, Joseph and Moses waited decades to see God’s will unfold and many never get to see the fruit of their labours. If it’s God’s idea, keep going!

9. The fruit comes from God, not our efforts. It’s His work, not yours. He gets the glory. Seek to stay in the centre of his will and remain in the vine” (John 15:4).

Resources and approaches for 2021

It’s difficult for someone with a charitable, church ministry or public sector mindset to create commercial, viable jobs. It’s not without risk and involves working within the constraints of having to break even. However, there is a growing range of resources and support.

A simple way churches can help is by using the free Mind Your Own Business workbook. It’s a step-by-step approach to help people create a job for themselves tailored to their skills and interests. The workbook helps identify the right business for them and then test whether it’s viable, before they put any money into it.

Going self-employed or setting up a small business can be lonely and requires motivation. Being part of a small group going through the workbook together provides support and encouragement. All it needs is one person to facilitate a regular gathering to discuss each section of the workbook and take the suggested actions. There are also podcasts and templates providing further support.

Small businesses, however, are only part of the answer. Businesses with the potential to employ hundreds of people tend to be started by more than one person, with experience and capital between them, often using technology in an innovative way. There are a growing range of organisations that provide training, coaching, capital or support:

There is immense satisfaction from creating employment or helping people in our communities create businesses.

I have been privileged to know a couple who, as a result of a business start-up course, had the confidence to sell their house, buy a barn and develop spa services, workshops and accommodation in beautiful surroundings; a talented but homeless artist who learnt how he could sell his artwork and make a living from something he loved and felt passionate about; and a former refugee who started an art and craft therapy, training and mentoring business.

This year, I believe God is especially calling us to release our spirit of creativity and enterprise to His glory.