But The Church Is Not a Business

Patrick Vaughn, Pinnacle Affiliate

Throughout the 20th century, the church borrowed practices from the world of business. The purpose was simple: to enhance the effectiveness of our ministries. We developed vision and mission statements, created standing committees, focused on nurturing leadership, and adopted financial policies and procedures.  

Until the mid-1960s these practices were largely successful. They helped our churches organizationally to welcome the influx of baby boomers, support local food banks, and build new facilities. 

Much has changed, however, over the past fifty or sixty years. Today, the church has been marginalized, institutional trust has eroded, worship attended has plummeted, and financial giving has dropped. In desperation and fear, some exclaim, “We need to run our church more like a business!” 

While perhaps understandable, this tactic is doomed to fail. The stability and predictability that allowed business practices to flourish in the church in an earlier era no longer exist. Few  people today want to serve on a committee. Fewer people really care what might be written on a vision statement.

More importantly, the church is not a business. Our goal is not to make a profit but to bear witness to God’s love in Jesus, and whenever we long to return to the past or settle for quick fixes, we are in danger of forsaking our baptismal identity. 

I am not in any way suggesting that we ignore the insights offered by organizational psychology, personality theory, or even business. I am suggesting that it is imperative in this era of transition that we engage these with a more critical eye, an eye that is ever focused on the  Christo-relational matrix of community and service. 

Many people do yearn for community, for an opportunity to build relationships marked by kindness, compassion, and trust. These are the very types of relationships that the church seeks to foster.

Likewise, many people today do want to invest their time and talent into projects that make a positive difference in the lives of others. We want to be a part of a a movement that is larger than ourselves. 

Instead of resorting to practices that were successful one or two generations ago, churches today would do well to explore how they might provide opportunities for men, women, and children to 1) grow in community, and 2) join together in service. 

As I have spoken about the exodus of the Dones, I often recommend two resources that offer to help us grow in these areas.

The first is called Sticky Church. It is written by Larry Osborne and provides a model for establishing sermon based small groups. Not only does this invite Biblical and theological reflection, it nurtures relationships between its members.

The second is entitled, Every Member in Ministry by John Ed Mathison. It is available on the  website beating his name. John Ed served for many years as the senior minister of the Frazer Memorial Church in Montgomery, Alabama. When he arrived it had 400. When he retired, it had 8800. While most congregations suffer from the 80/20 rule (20% of the people do 80% of the work, Frazer was more aligned with the 90% rule. A staggering 90% of its members participated in one or more ministries. 

Both of these resources are very accessible and practical, and, just as importantly, they speak to a church that lives not in the 20th century but strives to be faithful in the 21st century!

Helen Renew