The Business of Church

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Have you experienced this? Is there a business mindset present where profit and loss are looked at; pastoral staff are seen as employees; parishioners seen as customers; and the council as management?

It begins with the best of intentions.

Bill knows his theology and the Bible. He leads a very well attended adult Sunday school. Everyone agrees that he’s gifted in administration and teaching. He works in upper middle management. He knows how to lead others and get stuff done. He’s been an elder a number of times and is once again elected as elder.

Jim is very caring. He’s deeply concerned about the spiritual care of the people of the church and leads the prayer team. He even visits people who are sick or having other issues. Jim is an owner of a small business which is growing. He is entrepreneurial. He was elected as a first time elder.

Sally has the gift of mercy. She rallied the congregation to support a local rescue mission, with the church serving dinner monthly. She’s led mission teams with World Renew. She’s an accountant at her job. She’s a newly elected deacon.

Tim also gifted in mercy. He runs a landscaping business in town and goes out of his way to hire veterans, especially homeless vets. He’s helped Sally in working with the rescue mission. He’s been a deacon a number of times.

Each person has the gifts for the office they been elected to do. As the council meets they begin to discuss different things going on in church.

First there’s the monthly budget report. Sally looks at it and it’s a mess. As an accountant, she can help clean it up and make it more efficient. It’s decided that she should be the church treasurer. She begins using an accounting software she’s familiar with, making the budget more efficient including showing profit and loss and giving trends. She reports the church’s profit and loss. Bad news is that giving is low and money is tight. The numbers clearly show things aren’t good.

Another issue comes: There’s been membership transferred out including of a couple of good givers. Jim mentions how people are starting to complain about different issues. Could this be the cause of the transfers? His entrepreneurial skills kick in. He wants to make sure they keep the people happy so they stay and help give to the budget.

In hearing this, Bill’s manager side kicks in. Is the pastor doing their  job? Are they performing at optimal level? Are people happy with the pastor’s job performance? What, as an employee of the church, are they doing to help keep the customer base happy in order stay and give?

The complaints come in about the look of the church. Tim suggests some things he can do. He suggests scheduling a work day at church and offers to supply some needed items.

Jim spearheads a vision and mission plan to better run the church and create a way to bring in more people. Bill adds his thoughts to run the church more efficiently. Sally finds ways to cut the budget and create more profit vs loss. Plans are put into place, goals are made, and quantative measurements are set to see if they are successful. If not, then things will need to be done, usually concerning the pastoral staff for not performing properly.

Soon the elders become managers/employers, the deacons handle the purse strings and the grounds keeping, the parishioners become customers, and the pastoral staff becomes employees.

No one meant it to go this way. The church became a business with the employees (pastoral staff) to keep the customer base happy (parishioners) in order to make a sustainable profit to keep the church running. In good business sense, if the pastor isn’t performing at the right level you cut them so you can hire a pastor who can retain the customer base and even bring more people to supply the needed funds to run the church.

Soon elders don’t eld and deacons don’t deac. They manage. They maintain.

According to Church Order the council isn’t supposed to run this way. But how does this happen? Many times there is no training and they slip into what they know—the business world.

Training is needed. And this can be tough. For some it is so entrenched in the DNA of the congregation, it isn’t even seen. This isn’t the main cause of church conflict and other issues, but it is part of it. With proper training, education, and a willingness to learn, much can be done to stop doing the church as a business and go back to the business of the church—being the body of Christ. 

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Joshua,

   I agree wholeheartedly! and I agree that training is the answer - the question is what training? How do we do the best we can in leading the church  - what does that look like in the face of a budget shortage, a lack of vision, a power struggle? What is the administrative role of the council?

  It seems our churches are floundering due to some systemic problem with our leadership structure.

There is some training and materials available for the elder shepherding role but I haven't found anything on administration and leadership.

Locally we have a monthly meeting of the area CRC council chairmen. It is apparent to all of us that there is much room for improving how we lead - but if there is no training or materials the only option seems to be 'take what we know and do our best' (which is the scenario you described in the article). Getting together and sharing experiences and 'best practices' is helpful but is still kind of the blind leading the blind. Often the result is abdicating our leadership role to the pastor which not only is a further time burden to him but often makes him the target when decisions are controversial

Any suggestions on leadership training for council members and chairmen and even future leaders would be very helpful.

Thanks for the bringing up the subject.

Community Builder

Marlin...Good questions. I know Faith Alive has Elder and Deacon Handbooks which are helpful in many ways. I myself learned about leadership through hardknocks, big mistakes, and lots of books. Courageous Leadership by Bill Hybles is a good one as is Leading From the Inside Out by Samuel Rima. One issue which needs to be looked at is the fact that the business culture has become so entrenched in our culture that it is hard to look at things otherwise. One big thing is that many churches use Quick Books for finances. Yet Quick Books lists profit and loss. A church isn't called to make a profit but to be one. Also look at how church budgets are laid out. They are generally laid out as what the item is (i.e. Sunday school curriculum) how much is budgeted and what the actual is. And the list goes on. What if the budget was listed not by just basic things but by what ministry it is part of. This shows that the priority isn't money but ministry. So instead of just listing Sunday school curriculum with outreach and the building fund, separate them into faith formation (Sunday school), The great commission (outreach) and hospitality (building fund). Just how you list things shows the priority we place on things and how we view it. If we shift from a business mindset which tends to manage things to a ministry mindset which tends to join God in mission, we can begin to change what our focus as the church is. My original draft was about 400 words longer than what is above. 

The installation/ordination of Elders and Deacons states the gifts needed and responsibilities for both offices. Yet these are largely ignored because people become focused on funding, on landscaping, on keeping people happy. This is now managing not ministry. Even just going through the charge to Elders and Deacons with your elders and deacons might help in basic training. Also reminding them that money is a tool to do ministry not the goal of ministry. Yes, lights need to stay on, heat needs to be pumped through vents, the pastor needs to be paid, etc., but these are all tools to do ministry not to goal of ministry. 

I would say that training begins by going back to the basics. When I was in football and the game went bad, we practiced in pads the next practice. This meant we went back to the fundamentals as the foundation of our practice and our next game. The best way to train is to go back to the fundamentals. Even if they've been an elder or deacon for decades, it never hurts to go back to the fundamentals and get a refresher course. You'd be amazed at how much people don't realize the importance of being a deacon outside of taking offerings and landscaping. Hope this answers some of your questions. Keep 'em comin