Holy profit margins!

Besides its cover story on evolution and intelligent design, the Aug. 15 issue of Time includes a sympathetic six-page spread on evangelical-owned businesses. The range of businesses includes a youth-gear chain, a beauty salon, a bank and a driving school (with the straightforward, if less than imaginative, name of Christian Faith Driving Schol). The most interesting business owner profiled here is Steven Skow, CEO of Integrity Bank in Alpharetta, Ga. A photo of Skow shows him holding hands with other executives at Integrity Bank. All have their heads bowed in prayer except for Skow, who gazes skyward with an expression worthy of a Norman Rockwell painting.

What Skow lacks in a camera presence he makes up for with savvy banking incentives:

Skow begins every business day praying with the top officers at his Integrity Bank. At the main branch in Alpharetta, a wood carving of the Prayer of Jabez hangs over the entryway, and Bibles are stacked up in the boardroom. But to attract customers, Integrity doesn't rely on prayer alone; it offers higher-than-average interest rates on CDs and checking accounts and reimburses atm fees charged by other banks. Some 10% of the bank's real estate loans are to churches--which don't get a special deal. Integrity, with $590 million in assets under management, went public in August 2004, its stock shooting up 108% to $24 in late July. "We've been blessed with fast growth and profitability," says Skow, who earned $215,000 last year. "It's not me -- it's the people and God's will that have made this thing successful."

The article, by Lisa Takeuchi Cullen (backed by the usual array of Time's worker bees), includes good critical-distance observations by Alan Wolfe of Boston College and James Twitchell, author of Branded Nation: The Marketing of Megachurch, College Inc., and Museumworld. How's that for a grab-your-collar subtitle?

It's a fine model of how journalists may cover a trend in an informed, nonpatronizing manner.

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