When Hobby Lobby’s David Green and his wife Barbara host a family gathering, things can get a little crowded. The founder and CEO of the crafting and home decor giant traditionally hosts birthday gatherings each month for their family, which includes 43 children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. They also gather for holidays at a location they like to call their “Legacy House.”
“We have a house just for family get-togethers, and we celebrate everybody’s birthday. We encourage them and honor them and believe me there are a lot of birthdays each month,” Green said, laughing. “Family is extremely important to us, and we try to lead by example. We’ve done that, our kids did the same thing, and now our grandkids.”
This month- as the calendar celebrates Father’s Day and fathers, grandfathers, and other fatherly figures- Green stresses the importance of family in both his personal life and business dealings. (Green will be one of the keynote presenters at the upcoming Legacy Grandparenting Summit at Shades Mountain Baptist Church in Birmingham on October 21-22.)
His thoughts on family and business, in fact, can be summed up in the word “legacy.” “We don’t want to spend all of our time on things that are temporal,” he said. “We want to make a difference for Christ, to always be in ministry.”
Humble Beginnings. David and Barbara started the business that would become Hobby Lobby with just a $600 loan from their local bank and a simple plan to make picture frames. “We were working at TG&Y and in 1970 we decided to go into business ourselves,” Green recalled. “We borrowed the money and bought a miter to make frames. We opened our first store in 1972, with around 300 square feet in Oklahoma City.”
Barbara noticed that women in the community were taking small frames and grouping them together on a wall; she took that small home decor inspiration and saw a need for a business to meet the trend. They shipped the frames to art and craft stores, paying their seven- and nine-year-old sons seven cents for each frame they glued together. “We opened our second store in 1975 and left TG&Y,” Green said. “Barbara worked the first five years without any pay at all, and God continued to lead us. And here we are today.”
Hobby Lobby today has 900 stores and is the largest privately-owned arts and crafts retailer in the world with 43,000 employees. Its corporate headquarters include more than 10 million square feet of manufacturing, distribution and office space in Oklahoma City. “As the years went by, we continued to be blessed by this opportunity,” Green said. “And as we got older, we decided we had to follow after Christ and let Him lead us.”
A Ministry Model of Business. Green said that generosity and ministry are at the heart of his business plan, and he puts his “money where his mouth is.” Hobby Lobby currently gives half of its earnings to ministries, and once a month, board members decide where the money will go. “We have about 300 requests a month, and we’re involved in 60 or 70 ministries with five or six that get the bulk of our help,” he said.
The scope of their giving impacts such groups as One Hope, which has put a billion Bibles into the hands of children; Every Home for Christ, which tasks itself to distributing the Gospel to homes around the world; and the Museum of the Bible, an interactive museum in Washington D.C. “The purpose of Hobby Lobby is ministry…to do what we can do to lead people to Christ,” Green said. “That’s what drives us.”
The coronavirus pandemic challenged the management of Hobby Lobby and affected the livelihood of its employees. Green said that was the most difficult aspect of the changes in 2020 and 2021- the way it impacted the people who depend on Hobby Lobby. The company shut down completely in April of 2020, with a payroll of approximately $90 million a month and $40 million in rent. Green had to let 35,000 employees go for a period of time.
“We didn’t know if we’d even survive or not and found ourselves on our knees every day asking for God’s mercy and help,” he remembers. “But all of our stores have been open now since mid-May of that year, and we’ve more than made up for our losses. It was especially nice to be able to welcome our employees back.”
Green has shared his philosophy of generosity in the book Giving it All Away…And Getting it Back Again; it details his family’s own journey toward understanding this purpose, and challenges readers to leave a legacy that goes deeper than money. “We believe it is by God’s grace and provision that Hobby Lobby has endured,” he said. “God has been faithful in the past and we trust Him for our future.”
Green makes the same salary as he did 20 years ago, and he said that his future plans are quite simple: to earn as much money as possible in a “good and ethical” way so that the company can do more ministry. “We can’t say we’ve arrived, while people still need to know Christ, whether it’s in Hobby Lobby, or in other investments,” he said.
Leaving a Legacy. That legacy of generosity and Christ-led living extends today to his family’s work with the company the Greens founded. The board of Hobby Lobby includes members of the family, with son Steve serving as President, son Matt serving as Ministry Investment Officer, daughter Darsee Lett serving as Vice President of Art/Creative, and son-in-law Stan serving as Executive Vice President.
“At every monthly board meeting we talk about who we want to be and how we want to follow after Christ,” Green said. “We try to be an example in business of that. We don’t always get it right, but we strive to represent Christ well.” Green said that one of his life goals comes from 1 Timothy 2:7, which says “This and this only has been my appointed work: getting the news to those who have never heard of God, and explaining how it works by simple faith and plain truth.”
Another verse that rings true to Green’s life and business model is Matthew 6:20-21, which encourages believers to
“Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
In the way Hobby Lobby is ministering in the world- and in his own family’s influence- Green’s “treasure” is obvious. Cheryl Sloan Wray is a freelance writer and book author who lives in Hueytown, Alabama. She’s also the coordinator of the Southern Christian Writers Conference, which takes place on June 4-5.