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Church Leadership management Manifesto

Business Models in the Church

We celebrate businesses acting more like ministries.

  • We love TOMS Shoes buy one give one mantra.
  • We adore that Chic-fil-A is closed on Sunday in observance of the sabbath.
  • We show all our friends that In-N-Out has bible verses stamped on the bottom of their cups.
  • We got teary eyed watching Undercover Boss when the CEO of Frontier got involved in a co-workers homeless ministry.
  • We love when businesses embrace a holy inefficiency for Kingdom impact.

If you hang out with ministry types, you’ll discover that they celebrate ministries who make their churches more like businesses.

  • Churches hire HR professionals.
  • Churches lay people off.
  • Churches acquire other churches.
  • Churches hire MBAs to be “Executive Pastors.”
  • Churches hire CPA’s to run their finance departments.
  • Churches hire advertising executives to run their marketing departments.
  • Churches have departments!
  • Churches have board rooms, safe rooms, and even war rooms.
  • We love when churches a mantra of efficiency.

The Problem

Churches acting more like businesses has lead to reaching less of the population. (Read more here and here.)

Businesses acting more like ministries has lead to those companies growing in a down economy. (Read more here and here.)

Statement of the Obvious

Why don’t we celebrate ministry leaders who just want their ministries more and more like a ministry?

Let’s embrace some holy inefficiency and grow the Kingdom!

By Adam McLane

Kristen and Adam live in the San Diego neighborhood of Rolando with their three children.

16 replies on “Business Models in the Church”

Thank you. I hope someday we’ll learn. I pray that we’ll see that just because one church full of holy people made one decision that looked kind of business-like and worked, doesn’t mean that we need to switch our whole way of doing things from be guided by the Spirit to being guided by businessmen.

You want to know why? I think it’s because we allow ourselves to be governed by a theology of fear…which is borne of a theology of scarcity. The people making decisions (or at least making the most noise) in our churches have watched their own retirement savings dwindle…ok, plummet…in recent years which has led to a certain insecurity that what we *have* no longer measures up to what we *had* which we mistakenly believe is the same as what we *deserve.* So we break out the business systems of the mid 20th Century and “re-evaluate the bottom line,” or conduct one “cost-benefit analysis” after another, ultimately circling the wagons and/or lopping off any perceived inefficiency in an attempt to isolate ourselves from any further loss.

Except that we turn a blind eye to Grace (with a capital “G”) and fail to realize that nothing is ours that wasn’t first given to us by God. I think we’d be surprised if we actually got what we truly deserved. In the end, we really just guarantee our own demise by isolating ourselves from the very people who can breathe new life into our tired systems. Even worse, we turn our back on people in need…all in an attempt to build up our own kingdoms. I mean, is it a smart business decision to feed the homeless when we struggle to pay our own utility bills? Probably not…but that’s why we’re a church, not a business. My own church, for instance, just completed a capital campaign to raise over $1m for a new pipe organ…all while cutting local and global missions budgets by more than 60% over the past 4 years. The latest project is to create a list of every program and ministry our church “supports” (read “throws money at”), so we can “celebrate” (read “pat ourselves on the back”) for all the ways our congregation is “in ministry.”

It’s enough to make a sane guy crazy. Sometimes I feel like Fred Savage toward the end of The Princess Bride: “You mean he wins? Jesus, Grandpa…why did you read me this thing?”

Oh, by the way…you left off the success of Extreme Home Makeover.

(Thanks Adam…and I’m sorry for the rant. I guess this struck a nerve. Maybe I should print this article–and your links–and pass them around “anonymously.” Jerry McGuire, anyone?)

i like that you’re asking questions about this kind of thing. the problem is we’re all entangled into this kind of thing. I’ve said it to you before, efficiency is the enemy of community. Not, can be, but is. However it’s complicated by the fact that efficiency is cloaked in reaching new people, which by the way is a bit of a paradox at best.

Efficiency is what we talk about when we aren’t doing life with others. There are no efficient ways to disciple people. But in a system and world in which community doesn’t happen, efficiency is what we talk about. Institutional systems require consumers and efficiency is integral for working with people who consume rather than contribute.

This won’t change though, until those of us who see the problem begin to live into a different reality. A reality in which our lives overlap with our neighbor. Otherwise, our diagnosis is simply a sophisticated form of whining.

First off, I said, OUR whining.. I’m putting myself with you here. But second, whining doesn’t change things. It only alienates us, isolates us, and actually puts the responsibility on others to change rather than ourselves. We need to change first. that’s all I’m saying. the system is the system. it consumes people who consume. we aren’t going to change that with diagnosis. We change that through life giving community.

I hear you. 🙂

And just know that I take my job of reaching my own neighbors seriously.

To TC’s point, changing the church will not come from people within vocational church. It doesn’t work that way.

2 thoughts that pop into my mind first. as i’m reading.

1. you’re writing from the cozy confines of your (para)church business office paid for largely by tithes of business-oriented churches appropriated to you. i’m okay with paradox and i wish more people in such places would write like you. but at some point you might need to come to the dark side, luke skywalker. we need you out here. or, please send money.

2. by definition ministries are not celebrated. see: jesus at the cross. there are and have always been ministries operating from the kingdom but as the saying goes, the revolution will not be televised. i am losing faith in the idea of reforming the church from within. hasn’t it been going of for centuries now?

point number one is a good one.
point number two in interesting. Seems like you’re falling for a trap I fall for constantly. Trying to change a system because it lacks the diversity of ideas, to conform to your idea isn’t only ironic, it’s what gives more power to the system you’re fighting against.

I’ve been thinking through this a lot myself lately. Thanks for the post, Adam.

I followed your links for, “Churches acting more like businesses has lead to reaching less of the population,” but I’m not sure what content in those articles support this. I couldn’t find anything about acting more like a business or ministry there. Can you point me in the right direction?

I didn’t have time to locate the “right” story, though I’m sure many have made the correlation between the decline in church participation and the turn in the 70s-80s towards business models. We know, for sure, that more money and more staff work are being used at fewer church and we also know that fewer people, per capita, attend church now than 20-30 years ago. Like I said, I know there is research out there that makes the leap– but in the 1 hour a day I allocate to write blog posts… I couldn’t find it.

doesn’t this all come down to the idea that bigger is better and that if you are constantly building bigger sanctuaries/new facilities and have more people in the seats each week that you are doing better ministry/are more anointed/are holier than the church down the street that has been in the same building for 20 years?

I know it’s easy to say but Jesus never charged us with building churches, ministries, etc…it was simply….give until it hurts….turn the other cheek….Love God more than anything….love your neighbor as yourself…the idea I see at my own church is if I’m pouring into 5 students who are beginning to be plugged in and growing and I’ve got 60+ other students I’ve failed as a youth pastor because the other 60+ students aren’t pushing themselves deeper…or I’m not leading them all by the hand all the time…

i want to reach as many people for Christ as I possibly can…i just don’t want more church members….smarter church people….better churches….I want to see passionate disciples of Jesus Christ made…even if that means I spend years pouring into a few that want to be more like Jesus every day…….

maybe I’m crazy?

So, sounds like you prefer the chaos that comes from someone who doesn’t know a credit from a debit maintaining the church finances. Or church politics making decisions on who should manage different ministries or aspects of ministries which leads to more problems. Some of your points I agree with. I don’t like the growing number of churches with pastors that have no seminary or even a biblical studies degree. However, if your church  needed a new roof the first person you’d talk to would be the roofer. HR, finance, and just plain getting things done are all business specialties. You’re church’s plumbing is probably repaired by a, follow me now, a qualified plumber. When applied with biblical principals business disciplines definitely have a place in ministry.

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