At first glance, there isn't much difference between Mark Gadow's driving school and his competitors' - red means stop, a solid yellow line means no passing, apply the two-second rule when following another car.
But at Gadow's school in Caroline County, the $325 tuition gets you more than just 36 hours of lessons on how to be a good motorist - it also gets you a lesson on how to be a good soul.
That's because on the 10th and final day of classes at Gadow's Christian Faith Driving School, he will bear witness to how prayer healed his hip and joint pain. He'll share how his deep faith in God led him to leave his longtime career in law enforcement to start his own business. And, upon request, he will sit and pray with students.
His business, Gadow says, is not about preparing young drivers just for the road, but for life. That philosophy has won Gadow and Christian Faith many fans. Every class he teaches is packed 25 to 30 students deep.
Think of it as faith at work - or maybe even the business of faith. Across the country, growing numbers of Christian companies are hanging their shingles on their religious beliefs and finding that customers are eager to embrace them.
That ministry would show up in the workplace was perhaps inevitable, with religion and spirituality no longer confined behind church doors but boldly present in so many aspects of life these days - film (The Passion of the Christ), television (7th Heaven, Joan of Arcadia), politics (the so-called moral values vote), even weight-loss fads (the "Maker's Diet," involving biblical encouragement).
"Look at how we were awe-struck by Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ," said consumer trend expert Annette McEvoy, a consultant in New York. "Look at the November elections. There are a substantial number of people who want to vote this way and support businesses this way, according to their values.
"I believe there was some pent-up feelings about religion and now people want to express themselves."
The cultural embrace of faith has given birth to what experts call the "values shopper." For this consumer, value means living - and spending - according to his beliefs.
There are no firm figures on how many Christian businesses are operating now compared with years past, but what is clear is that they are becoming more open about their faith.
"You could say some of us are coming out of the closet, too," said Wesley Cohee, an Eastern Shore farmer whose 16-year-old daughter recently completed classes at Christian Faith and aced the driving exam.
"A big reason why we chose his school was because of his faith. It gave me some peace of mind. ... If there's a Christian in business, I'd probably lean that way.
"It's based on Scripture," Cohee said. "Do good to all men, especially to those of the faith."
It used to be that Chick-fil-A was a quirky exception - its restaurants closed on Sundays because of owner S. Truett Cathy's Christian faith. These days, other companies have followed that lead, like fitness giant Curves for Women.
Flip through the Yellow Pages and there are dozens of listings for small Christian businesses that reach beyond the obligatory bookseller to include plumbers, real estate brokers, dance instructors, pest controllers and computer technicians.
Finding a Christian business used to mean relying on local Christian telephone directories or word-of-mouth referrals from church members. Today, a simple Web search will turn up countless networks such as Dis ciplesDirectory.com in Massachusetts and 123Christian.com in Colorado that can link Christian shoppers with Christian providers of goods and services.
Not a new concept
The concept of Christian businesses is nothing new, experts say, but what is new is their increased visibility.
"We had a Tokyo television station call us recently and ask us what was the deal with all these Christian businesses," said Bill Cooper, owner of Texas-based ChristiaNet.com, which attracts 2 million visitors to its Web site every month. "Christian businesses have always been around, but we've become more vocal about our presence. We've become more outspoken about our faith.
"It's natural for people to patronize businesses with the same belief system," Cooper said. "That's been done throughout history whether through the Jewish faith, Islamic faith or by ethnicity. You could say [Christians are] just catching up to speed, finally."
In New York, Peter Weisner started Christianmortgage.net 10 months ago based on the idea that faith and trust would put his clients more at ease to discuss personal financial matters such as bankruptcy and debt.
Here in Maryland, Joe Morson opened a Crofton branch of Florida-based Christian Financial Services in 2000 to help clients invest in companies that reflect their values.
Also in Pasadena is This is It! Christian Fitness ... For Ladies which opened last year. Inside the gym, exercisers are surrounded by Scripture inscribed in copper paint on the walls while Christian music plays in the background.