One of the cries I often hear is the church is not a business. This normally happens as we formalize something, such as organize a rota with an online planning method or we use a “secular” means of advertising such as billboards or leaflet distribution. I have read a lot of business leadership books and marketing books and they have helped me with the church so much. The truth is that the answer to the question “is the church a business?” is not as simple as “yes” or “no”.
What you normally have on one side of the debate are the people who are sitting in a living room, running a church of 6-8 people who decry anything that involves hierarchy and organization. For them, church isn’t a business. But it also isn’t going into all the world and making disciples, it isn’t fulfilling the great commission. Or the pastor who inherits a church of 30-40 people, who hire the pastor, and he maintains church isn’t a business. No, for him it is an extended family. It could grow – it could have so much potential. Often I think the reason so many pastors don’t like the word “business” is because it comes from the word “busy”, and they don’t want to be busy.
On the other side of the debate, there are people who see ministry purely as a means for financial gain. There are vulnerable people in the church, and selling snake oil that will heal cancer can be a lucrative business – anointed prayer clothes, holy water from Israel and so on and so forth. They have made church a business and ripped Christ out of the church to do so. I have been in services where the offering has taken hours – 4 to 5 times as long as the preaching of the Word. That is not right!
Both of these extremes are clearly wrong. So where is the balance. What can we learn from the world of business, and what must we reject.
Things We Can Learn from Business
- The importance of excellence. People come to church and the building is delapidated, the paint is coming off at the walls, and the place is falling apart. The grass outside is 10 feet high, the usher hasn’t washed or shaved for 3 days and worship band are all out of key. They are not going to be repeat customers. But that’s carnal you cry – people should come for just the Word. Some people will, but you want to reach carnal people. Or do you only want to gather disciples, not make disciples? If you want to make disciples, the people who come to your church are not disciples. Therefore, you need to ensure a standard of excellence. Remember we are serving the Lord not man, we are offering eternal life, not burgers and photocopiers. We should be doing things with excellence.
- The importance of customer care. Services industries have spent millions of pounds on how to get repeat business by caring for people. For us, called to love one another – filled with the love of God, it is embarassing that a shoe company can get repeat business better than the church just because they care more. Love is not a feeling, it’s tangible actions, and we can learn some of those tangible actions from business
- The importance of planning ahead. So many churches live from day to day without a vision, a goal, a dream. Companies don’t – they know the importance of a mission statement, a plan to live from and a place to step forward to. Dreams and visions are supposed to be in our realm, and Toyota has a 500 year vision plan, and most churches don’t know what is happening next Sunday. You need to learn how to plan, and businesses can help you with developing a plan, and communicating the plan
- The importance of culture. There’s no point in getting where we need to go if we forget who we are on the way. Culture is who we are on the way. All good businesses do culture on purpose, and all healthy churches do as well. There are some great business tools on developing culture and building culture.
- The importance of leadership. If you can’t lead people, you are just going for a walk. There are some great resources on leadership, on developing people, on raising teams, on building volunteers in the business world.
Things the Business World Doesn’t Know
- The leading of the Holy Spirit. The business world is limited to sense knowledge. We have access to a much higher realm of knowledge – God’s knowledge. Sometimes God will call us to do things that make no sense in the natural, but when we step out in faith in His Word, amazing things happen. We have access to a source of wisdom beyond anything the business world has.
- The power of sowing and reaping. Business is about getting all you can. But we know that by sowing financially, giving generously and investing wisely, we can see an abundance of harvest.
- The importance of the one. In business, everything is about metrics. I am all for metrics – I measure everything. But there are somethings you can’t measure. When a marriage gets a bit better. When someone sleeps through the night. When someone is alone and feels peace rather than despair. When someone gets a revelation of grace. Sometimes, it is important to remember that the change of one life can change everything.
- The value of eternity. Toyota may have a 500 year plan, but God has a billions and billions of year plan. You are going to be around for all eternity. What we do doesn’t just impact earth it impacts heaven. If the church is just a business dealing in the here and now, that’s a real loss. We are the gateway to heaven, the doorway to eternal life. We are not just a business.
The church has a lot to learn from business. It needs to become efficient, it needs to know it’s mission and it needs to operate in excellence to win the world. It needs to dream big. But we have to go beyond business and ensure we never lose touch with our unique place as the body of Christ on earth.