By JOHN FORTMEYER
PORTLAND — In its nine years of existence, the Christian Chamber of Commerce of the North-west has encouraged thousands of believers not to do “business as usual,” but instead to do business “God’s way.”
Now, the Christian Chamber itself is being compelled to stop doing its own business as usual — or at least as it has been done since 2007.
In a letter last month from the Chamber’s board to the organization’s members, board chair Wende Jones, owner of Beaverton software development company Agile, announced that effective Aug. 31 the Chamber is ceasing operations as a formal business and will instead become an all-volunteer organization.
What form that organization will take is not yet known, said Jones, but the board has a meeting scheduled for Oct. 20 and anticipates announcing updates afterward.
Jones explained what led to the board’s action.
“The operating model we have been using was largely patterned after secular Chambers of Commerce, one that is built on membershp dues and sponsorships, the expectation of referral business from other members and the constant process of selling memberships to make ends meet financially,” Jones wrote. “While there is nothing inherently wrong with that model, it’s not produced growth for us. Membership has plateaud, and for quite some time, the Chamber has been struggling to pay its monthly bills.
“It’s pretty simple. Something has to change.”
Jones said the board has prayerfully determined that the Chamber’s schedule of 11 monthly meetings — from Vancouver, Wash., all the way south to Eugene — will be suspended as of the end of this month. Until then, regular meetings are being held and Chamber members are asked to join in special prayer regarding the Chamber’s future.
Memberships also were immediately suspended, with no dues collected and no new memberships issued.
“We will seek God’s plan to realize the vision of a marketplace ministry that fulfills the purpose of seeing Christian business leaders honoring God and bringing Kingdom values to their spheres of influence,” Jones wrote. “We want you to share your insights and revelation with us during this time as you sense the Lord’s leading for you and for us as a group.”
The Christian Chamber was founded by area business and ministry leaders at the suggestion of then-Portland-area resident Charly Kenyon, who, with the strong backing and involvement of her husband, Bill, served as the Chamber’s founding executive director. Kenyon said the vision for the Christian Chamber came to her shortly after she had given her life to Christ.
The Kenyons eventually felt called to other ministry and moved from the Portland area, and James Autry — already well known locally as a manager for Portland Christian radio station KKPZ and an active ministry networker through Serving Our Neighbors (www.ServingOurNeighbors.org) — replaced Kenyon as the Chamber’s paid director.
According to Jones, Autry’s work in that role is concluding and he is now raising personal support to serve as a “community collaborator” between local ministry organizations and the broader community through Serving Our Neighbors. Jones invites those interested to donate toward helping the Chamber pay Autry his remaining past-due salary, as well as to provide ongoing support for Autry in his new efforts.
Jones said those Chamber members who have paid their dues in advance and who desire refunds rather than “sowing into the next work” are welcome to contact the board. She added that the board and Autry anticipate his continued involvement in the Chamber in a volunteer role.
Over the past seven years, thousands of people have attended hundreds of the Chamber’s luncheons and “coffee chat” events throughout the region, and almost all the events have featured special speakers representing a wide range of Northwest businesses and ministries. Meetings have been held in Portland, Gresham, Beaverton, Salem, Newberg, Tigard, Tualatin, Albany and Eugene in Oregon, and in Vancouver, Wash.
(Disclosure: CNNW Publisher John Fortmeyer, the writer of this story, was one of the founders of the Christian Chamber, served for several years on its board, and is a co-coordinator of its Newberg meetings.)