One of the most common responses we receive at ThomRainer.com is something like this statement: “You can’t run your church like a business.”
I get it. Our goal is to glorify God. Our goal is to make disciples. Our goal is to be faithful to God’s Word.
Our goal is not to make profits. Our goal is not to adopt secular principles in place of biblical principles.
So, when someone insists we not run the church like a business, I understand his or her heart and intent.
But there are indeed some business principles that correlate with church practices and biblical truth. To say we don’t run our church like a business carte blanche may be a signal that we are ignoring sound and, at least indirectly, biblical counsel. Here are five examples:
1. Healthy businesses are determined to spend wisely. So should churches. Sound business practices require a company to have systems in place to evaluate expenditures constantly. Frankly, I’ve seen many businesses that understand better why they spend funds than churches do. Too many churches just do things the way they’ve always done it.
2. Healthy businesses have clear financial accountability. So should churches. Good business practices include clear and demonstrable accountability to owners and/or stockholders, as well as the Internal Revenue Service. Churches would do well to emulate some of these practices.
3. Healthy businesses make tough personnel decisions. So should churches. Jim Collins, in his classic book Good to Great, uses the bus metaphor to describe personnel decisions of healthy businesses. He says they have to get the right people on the bus and in the right seats on the bus. Too many churches allow for poor and postponed decisions about personnel. To use another metaphor, they “kick the can,” hoping things will get better. They usually get worse.
4. Healthy businesses plan for the future. So should churches. Many churches follow the same calendar and plans they have been using for years. The leaders and members often act like it’s 2005. Or 1998. Or 1975. Healthy businesses plan for the future and allocate their resources accordingly. While neither businesses nor churches have a perfect knowledge of the future, it only makes good stewardship sense to plan with the knowledge we have.
5. Healthy businesses are constantly trying to understand their audiences. So should churches. A business will not stay in business unless it understands clearly its market and customers. While churches don’t have customers and markets as businesses do, they are commanded to go and make disciples in the community and in the world. It is hard to know where to go, when to go, and how to go unless we have at least a basic missional knowledge of our community.
For certain, there are both healthy and unhealthy businesses. For certain, there are both healthy and unhealthy churches. For certain, churches should not emulate businesses completely. But to say categorically a church should not run like a business at all can be both unwise and a poor practice of biblical stewardship.
This article originally appeared on ThomRainer.com.
Thom S. Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources (LifeWay.com). He was founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism, and Church Growth at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His many books include “Surprising Insights from the Unchurched,” “The Unexpected Journey,” and “Breakout Churches.”