Can Faith Really Grow In a Box?

How the formerly atheist Faithbox founder hopes to shake up complacent Christians.

A neat, compact cardboard box sits on my desk. “Let us not grow weary in doing good” — Galatians 6:9 — is printed on the cover flap. The lid of the box, in chunky script, reads “Faithbox.”

Similar to popular services like Birchbox, Faithbox is a monthly subscription service — only it’s filled with items geared toward Christians, like socially responsible products. My first Faithbox contained a devotional, a Hope International quinoa bar, Guatemalan-ground THX coffee, Soapbox soap, and a few other things.

I received it at a school orientation event for The King’s College, though most customers are individuals who buy Faithbox subscriptions for themselves or others. Faithbox subscriptions cost $17 per month if you sign on for the one year plan or $20 if you buy month-to-month. Since its official launch in January 2015, less than a year ago, Faithbox has shipped more than 10,000 boxes.

Faithbox founder, Willie Morris, at his office in New York City.

This seems nice, but wait — is Faithbox just a business built to simply profit off of Christians by selling Christianity? Founder Willie Morris doesn’t seem to mind being asked; he smiles as he says no, he sees Faithbox as a promotion of worthwhile products.

Morris’ original vision for Faithbox combined his skills in user-experience design and service and went something like this: build a company “that’s not a nonprofit, but that can create a huge impact and work with nonprofits.”

In a June interview with Patheos, Morris further explained the for-profit model of Faithbox. “It’s very important as Christians to support companies that respect creation [and] respect people through their ethical business practices,” he said. He recognizes that Christians are consumers and helps them discover socially responsible businesses they can support.

Morris believes his customers — or the community, as he called them — have responded so well to Faithbox because of “the duality of the devotional and the products.” The products, he said, are fun to receive. The devotional, on the other hand, serves the purpose of making “faith relevant every day.”

Faith lost and found again

Prior to launching Faithbox, Morris was running his own design agency in Florida. At the time, he was an atheist, despite being raised going to Catholic school in Virginia. He was a “curious kid” who wasn’t satisfied with faith-based answers to life’s questions.

Ultimately, Morris walked away from his faith during his time at Auburn University. He recalled thinking as an 18-to-20 year old, “If I can’t get answers, obviously it’s not true.” Back then, he said, that was the easier path.

Still, Morris was drawn to purposeful work. He began doing pro-bono work as a user-experience designer for a family-owned nonprofit in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. He liked the mission of the organization, which was to be the first to serve residents in disaster areas.

In 2011, following disasters such as the Joplin, Missouri tornado and the Bastrop, Texas wildfires, a co-worker handed Morris a stack of handwritten cards and said, “I’m gonna leave these here. You should read these and you should probably do it when nobody else is around because you’re probably going to cry.”

Morris, bemused but curious, later read the cards, written by the individuals and families his nonprofit served. He was deeply moved by the gratitude and faith expressed by those who had lost everything, but were still “thanking God” for the nonprofit’s work.

One such card read, “How very kind of you and your family to bless so many in our time of need. Jesus is certainly going to say ‘well done’ one day to you [and] show you the far reaching effect your generosity has been to so many others. It makes me think of throwing a rock into a pond and watching the ripples spread all the way to the edge.”

Another wrote, “your kindness will never be forgotten. (Our Heavenly Father will never forget as well).”

While this did not lead to a radical conversion, Morris said that reading those cards and discovering the “humanity” of the writers led him to “reexamine” his discarded Christian beliefs.

In the early stages of Faithbox last year, Morris wrote a piece for Medium titled “How the hell did I get here?” He wrote, “A year ago, I wouldn’t have believed that I’d be comfortable speaking outwardly about my own beliefs and faith, and never in a millions years would I have imagined running a faith-based startup.”

So what happened next? There isn’t exactly a moment Morris can point to. Just as he gradually drifted out of the faith, he was drawn back in. Morris did say that speaking about his faith is new for him; nonetheless, he jumped right into talking about his revelations as a somewhat new Christian — one of which had to do with shaking that all-too-common Christian complacency.

Morris urged those who feel flat in their faith to discover what makes them feel most intimate with God. “I would say that they really need to break out of any mold that they’ve been feeling that they’ve had to conform to. For me, I feel most intimate with God when I’m doing service or when I do something that completely quiets my mind,” he said. “Keep pushing, try new things, and take the time out of your day to see if it’s working or if it’s not.”

Passion for purposeful work

Morris says he’s happier and more passionate than ever working at Faithbox. It is here that he feels like he’s living out his “calling” — which, he said, simply looks like “being able to wake up every day and know that what you’re doing is the purpose God calls you to, even if it’s just for a time.”

Morris gets excited about Faithbox’s partnerships with faith-based businesses and leaders, such as non-profits like Rice Bowls and authors like Joyce Meyer and Jefferson Bethke. He appreciates the community he has built in his partnerships and, likewise, in his workplace.

The support Morris receives at Faithbox is crucial, as he’s learned it’s no easier to run a Christian business than any other startup. Things still go awry, like the time the postal service lost an entire shipment two days before Faithboxes were supposed to be packed.

“I was in another tech startup and just going to the bar and drinking away my stress,” Morris said. “With this, I do have a great community around me. I have people I can fall back on and pray with and help get me through things more than [they] know.”

Having a community, Morris said, is also necessary to make a large, collective impact. Though small gestures of kindness may not seem meaningful, they add up. Like the writer of the thank-you card penned, benevolent actions have a ripple effect.

Morris said, “I really urge people to [see others] with the compassion that we’re called to be filled with and use it every day and then go out there and do some good.”

Images courtesy of the author.

Adrienne Scrima
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