Many Churches Try to Operate Like a Business Even Though That Model Doesn’t Apply
In our culture we’re familiar with the structure of businesses. We either work for a business or we run one. It’s a natural extension to apply these business practices to the church. But we shouldn’t, because a church isn’t a business. And the church needs to stop acting like one.
Consider these common elements of business practices:
A CEO runs a business. Ultimately the CEO controls everything and makes all decisions. While the wise CEO will delegate both responsibility and authority, in the end the CEO stands accountable for what happens.
Incidentally most CEOs receive huge compensation packages for their trouble.
In churches many people wrongly elevate the pastor to CEO status, and many pastors try to grab unto it. Jesus was a servant leader and so should today’s pastors. And by the way, they shouldn’t be a pastor for the money.
Jesus wasn’t a wealthy man, and he stands as a worthy example for ministry leaders.
Board of Directors
Businesses have a board of directors. In some cases these boards agree to whatever the CEO wants. In other cases the board rightly serves as a check and balance to the CEO.
Although some churches are truly democratic, where every decision results from a congregational vote, most churches have some sort of board. Some boards are elected, others are appointed, and a few are comprised of big money donors (money speaks).
In most cases the board serves as a rubber stamp for whatever the pastor wants. But the other extreme is micromanaging the pastor and dictating every action. The early church operated by consensus. Maybe today’s churches should, too.
Many times the chair of the board is the CEO. This means the board tasked with overseeing the CEO is also run by the CEO. The result is an ineffective board.
In many churches the pastor also runs the church board, rendering the board as largely ineffective. The pastor, who serves continually, gathers strength over time, while the board, which turns over every few years, becomes weak.
Companies are in business to make money. Even nonprofits need to generate a positive cashflow if they hope to remain viable.
While the motive of a church should not be money, often cash becomes the soul focus of concern. The constant pressure of bringing in money causes churches to make decisions based on finances and to kowtow to the demands of big-money donors.
Return on Investment
Businesses make decisions based on ROI (return on investment). Remember, they’re in business to make money.
Churches shouldn’t be in the money-making business. They should focus on changed lives. The ROI for the church is souls, not dollars.
Businesses are owned by stockholders. The stockholders expect a profit from their investment.
While churches don’t have stockholders, most have members. And these members wrongly expect something in return for their participation. They forget the church’s real purpose is others not members. They forget to lay up treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:20).
We understand business practices, but we are wrong to apply these lessons to churches. A church that runs like a business becomes an institution and fails to embrace the Kingdom of God that Jesus talks so much about.
Read more about this in Peter’s new book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover.
Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.
Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.