Should the church run like a business?



Over the past 25 years I have had a number of people (usually those serving on finance teams) tell me, “The church should run like a business.” Typically this sentiment is expressed in how the church should make decisions about spending money, but if we follow the analogy we need to go all the way!


I’m totally committed to the idea that the church should run like a business, but before we can even think about “running like a business” we have to define, “What IS our business?”  


Jesus clearly establishes the business (mission and purpose) of the Christian church in Matthew 28:18-20, “Jesus came and said to them... ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.’”


So Jesus tells us we are in the Disciple Making Business (DMB)!


Another way we could say it is that we are in the Soul Winning Business, or the Life Saving Business, or even the Spiritual Awakening Business!


Whatever we call it ours is a business (according to Jesus) that is to…


  • Connect people with God

  • Teach people to be faithful disciples (spiritually and socially), and

  • Send faithful disciples into the world to “grow” the business (ie. connect more people with God)

Now that we have defined our “business” the next step in “running like a business” is to determine whether or not our business operation is successful.


  • Is it producing? (ie., number of new disciples being made)

  • Is the “bottom line” going up? (ie., more new people getting connected with God)

  • Is the “sales staff” (ie., members) producing? Are they increasing their “sales”? (ie., Reaching new people)


The real business question is “Are we growing and expanding our business operation”?


Here’s where some people start backing down off the “we should run like a business” mantra. That’s a mistake! It’s exactly these kinds of questions that help us learn how to improve and increase our business operation.


Here’s the issue the church (especially the mainline church) is facing…


If we are truly in the DMB (Disciple Making Business) our business should be BOOMING! It should be booming because there are record numbers of people NOT connected to any church or faith group.


The truth is our churches have been in steady decline and aging for the past 40 years! (There has been a great deal of study on this decline so it is really not a secret! Simply google “The decline of the mainline church”)


If we are truly going to “run like a business” then we have to begin asking the really hard questions like:


Why is our business operation NOT booming, not growing, in a potentially profitably rich environment?

  • Is the issue our product or our presentation of the product?

  • What barriers is our business facing to growth?

  • What changes need to be made?

  • Why do our sales staff (ie., members) have declining sales reports? Do they need to be retrained?


When a regular business is no longer profitable these are the kinds of questions that the business will begin asking (that is if they want to stay in business).


However, like a business, a church needs to identify the reasons for “declining sales” and then take corrective action. This is another point where many churches STOP thinking they should “run like a business”! Why? Because it means there will likely be major changes to how they do their business, and they may not have the resolve to do what needs to be done.


Corrective Business Action Often Means: Removing barriers that impede attracting new customers. In business terms this means ending or dropping business practices that no longer prove fruitful.


So, if our “business” should be booming and isn’t then something (maybe a lot of somethings) need to be changed and adapted to reach new people in the world today. In adaptive churches CHANGE will be constant and built into the DNA of the organization. The members will become adaptive disciples because they will be willing to do whatever it takes to expand the business.


ONLY when we are focused on the primary purpose of our business can we truly run like a business. It is then decisions become far easier to make, and less time to make, because everything comes down to one thing…does this decision (financial, facility, programming, etc.) support THE business or not? Does it help us make disciples for Jesus Christ or not?


To “run like a business” takes an administrative team that is committed and focused on THE business of the church, contributing to the business and modeling best business practices for all participants (all members).


This approach allows the business of the church to be continually and constantly adaptive to changing circumstances. Churches that are able to conduct business in this way have a good chance of continually being a vital and productive “business” for years to come.


So, I emphatically say “YES!” the church should run like a business, as long as that business is THE business of making disciples for the transformation of the world!  

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