It’s interesting how the term “bottom line” has evolved over the years. At first, it simply referred to the financial profitability, the final total or account balance. But, it’s also come to be used to mean the ultimate outcome or end result. Whether as a performance measure or a summary goal, the term itself has grown as well. With the rise of corporate social responsibility, people started talking about a “triple bottom line”, which included people, profit, and planet (the social, economic and environmental measures of a company’s success). This has now expanded to a “quadruple” bottom line: people, profit, planet and purpose.
In the business as mission community, I usually hear the quadruple bottom line described as the way our work positively impacts society, provides fair wages and economic opportunities for growth, stewards God’s creation, and addresses the underlying spiritual condition of the people we serve. On one hand, I really like how this concept of a quadruple bottom line helps us to think more holistically about how the Gospel transforms people and societies, especially among the poorest of the poor and least evangelized of the world. But, there’s something about the term that makes me uncomfortable. You see, in practice, I’ve never met anyone who can perfectly balance all four elements and see real fruit across the board. The desire may be there, but reality sets in and things get difficult. There are competing interests, the outcomes may stand in direct conflict with each other, and sometimes they’re even mutually exclusive. So, while it’s good to keep all four in mind, I find that when the pressure is on usually one of the four wins out. As a business coach, the quadruple bottom line is useful to start a conversation or help people consider areas where they may be neglecting or ignoring what is important to God. And, I really wish they could all be true at the same time. But, I find that ultimately people must decide in advance what one factor really drives them. The bottom line is that there’s really only one bottom line. What’s yours?