open for business

The Anti-Business Church

Someone always inevitably blurts the Old Statement: “The church is not a business.”

When a lay person uses a metaphor from the business world in a church meeting, you can count on someone chiding the person with the Old Statement. “The church is not a business.”

When someone suggests the church employ sound–and legal–employment practices, someone eventually resists, announcing that “the church is not a business.”

When people (like me) suggest that the church might learn some helpful leadership lessons from the business world (as I did in last week’s article about the demise of the Eastman Kodak Company), someone predictably drags out the Old Statement. “The church is not a business.”

Well, the Old Statement has become a tired, unhelpful, harmful saying. And the closed-minded thinking behind the Old Statement is part of the reason the American church is stuck. I’m afraid the dismissive utterance of “the church is not a business” has become a lazy excuse for mediocrity. Let me explain.

Of course the church is not a business. Neither is it a farmer’s field. Or a fishing hole. Or a medical office. But that does not mean that the church cannot learn something from those non-church settings. In fact, Jesus used those very settings–and many more–to help people learn about how to be the church.  “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field.” “I will send you out to fish for people.” “It is not the healthy who need a doctor.”

Jesus used parables and metaphors from another setting to help people see things in a new way. He did not cheapen his message by using these metaphors and parables. He did not imply that his church should actually become an agribusiness, a fishery, or a medical clinic. He simply helped people identify with what they knew outside the church–to learn what they might apply inside the church.

But, not everyone appreciated Jesus’ teaching methodology. His detractors found his challenges too uncomfortable and convicting.

Those detractors live on today, attempting to squash discussions with snide dismissals such as, “The church is not a business.” Too often the Old Statement is used as a door-slamming defense of the slothful status quo. “We’ve never done it that way before.”

And, repeating this Old Statement often comes off as a contemptuous slam at those in the congregation who work in the business world. “The church is not a business” sometimes drips with disdain for business people. They infer, “The church should never stoop to the cesspool of the farmer, or the fisherman, or the doctor.” That subtle inference is driving away some of our best lay people, who happen to earn their living in the marketplace. And that is a serious loss. D. Michael Lindsay, Gordon College president and author of Faith in the Halls of Power, has documented that legions of our country’s accomplished leaders with strong Christian faith have fled the church because they feel their real world experience is dismissed and despised by church leaders.

Of course some farmers, fishermen and doctors conduct their businesses in dishonest ways. So do some church leaders. But that’s no reason to categorically throw out everything that a profession may teach us, simply because of some “bad apples.”

And, not everything in one profession transfers to another. Of course the church’s “bottom line” should not be a financial figure. But the church can learn useful lessons about pursuing its true mission from other settings, such as the farm, the fishery, and the clinic.


Recently I received an email from a life-long churchman who read our book, Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore. He wrote: “I decided to visit other churches of all denominations to verify the validity of all I had heard about the demise of Christianity. I found what I was hearing was true.

“I am finding most churches are not willing to consider changes that would bring people to Christ and save their churches from dying soon. I am finding most ministers theologically qualified but resistant to anyone from outside their church suggesting any change. I have 50 years experience in entrepreneurial companies and find it crazy for ministers in dying churches so tied to doctrine and ego that they refuse to explore ways to turn their church around and become a refuge for believers and unbelievers alike.”

It’s literally true. The church is not a business. But that’s no excuse for lazy resistance to ideas that can help the church fulfill its mission. I close with another of Jesus’ business examples: “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.”

16 Responses to “The Anti-Business Church”

  1. Absolutely. Sound “business” practices are essential for church and home. Budgets, meetings, etc create accountability, integrity and responsibility to your ‘family of believers’. Our mission statement should be to love and serve God and others, the rest of the “business plan” of church is to properly execute that mission. Paul warned the church in Corinth about these matters and we’re nothing better if we do not operate with sound ‘business’ practices. Our churches should operate as lights in the business world to draw men unto Him.
    That’s my 2 cents anyways…. <

  2. I agree with you, Thom. Having worked in business my whole life, I know there are some helpful things from the business world that can be utilized in the church albeit adjusting some of the practices for a church setting. However, one caution is when utilizing business practices, make sure the people employing them are not unspiritual and approaching the church as a business enterprise. I’ve seen more harm done by the people pushing certain methods than the methods themselves. People for whom the church becomes their personal agenda and they will do anything and everything to make sure no one tampers with their baby. It’s not about Christ, but about ensuring no one steps on their turf and messes with their plan because after all, they know what’s best.

  3. On Facebook, Doc wrote: “I love the line ‘lazy excuse for mediocrity.’ Sadly I think that phrase could apply to other situations in church, too.”

  4. Well said Thom! Ditto for you too Pat Pope!

  5. From Cheri on Facebook: “Let’s see….employees, payroll, background checks, office purchases, finance admin to track the money coming in and going out….looks like a business to me.”

  6. From Brit on Facebook: “I enjoyed this and can’t agree more. The irony with this statement is that the identity crisis it creates in the church. We aren’t called to BE a business but with all the parts moving as one it causes disfunction and laziness which you hit on. Good stuff.”

  7. You have to understand that most people who go to church don’t get involved in or see the business side of church. All that business stuff is done behind the scenes in meetings during the week with the deacons and elders. So of course, church is not a business, to them. You might get away with having a church that is anti business if you go to a home simple church where no money is collected and no one gets paid to preach and teach. Brick -n- mortar churches are expensive. Just as I go less and less to brick -n- mortar stores to instead buy things off the net because prices are cheaper and those businesses are hurt, so people like me can find any biblical content online for the cost of internet which hurts what ever local church I could be going to. I’m not saying people are leaving church to get church content off the net like I do. If I do there are probably others. My connection to God is through prayer and my bible. The internet is as this, peoples opinions on what ever the topic at hand. I enjoy this.

  8. The Church is a service industry. There is staff (even if it’s volunteer) to fill, events to coordinate, and budgets to manage. The more mega the local church, the more services needed to be provided.

  9. The more I think about this, it occurred to me that some people are anti-business because they associate business with worldliness. But another reason that I think some are anti-business is because with business comes politics. Just approach some people about joining a committee or taking on a position and they shake their head ominously as they say, “No!” because they know of some of the politics involved. And that is something that doesn’t belong in the church. At least not the kind of politics that involves backstabbing, manipulation, undermining, etc. But as long as the good people refuse to serve or to stand up to church bullies, the politics and wheeling and dealing will continue unchecked. What people really need to see and experience are good, honest people operating the business of the church with integrity and a Christlike spirit.

    • I would argue that there are far more politics in church than in a business.

      • I don’t know, Ali. Working business for the last 30 years, I can’t say that one has more than the other. No matter what values the company espouses, it tends to boil down to who you know for getting ahead and people can actually be held back from advancing if it benefits the bottom line to keep them where they are. I see the same type of dynamic in the Church. If you’re in the right clique, you’re on the right committees and get to virtually run things according to your own agenda unchecked. And if you stand in the way of that agenda, well there are ways of working around you.

  10. What makes me sad is that too many churches have adopted the worst of business, but rejected the best of business. Mainstream churches embrace exploitative marketing practices and promotional strategies, the dark side of “over promise, under deliver” business. However, they reject the fiscal accountability of delivering services to their community as effectively as possible for the money they collect. LA Fitness runs a profit (and an Olympic swimming pool) at $30 a month, but you are “struggling” with funds at 10% of our income? Come on…

    When you bring up process improvement, administration discipline, or service accountability you get “that’s worldly” but when you talk about a Facebook campaign to bring in new members that is “visionary.”

  11. Wow….I’m one of those Anti-business model people, but not to the dismissal of innovative thought. The typical business model breeds return customers – dependent on those supplying the services. What does this mean – return business – keeping customers reliant on your version of the product. What many fear is a church that blurs the lines between the “laity” and the “clergy” where the “services” of the “clergy” are no longer required because the “laity” has learned to become independent/inter-dependent entrepreneurs – per say. A body of believers where everyone is on equal footing that acts more like an organism. No need to take up offerings for the poor – because the members see the poor (especially those that are in the faith) and give directly to them. Businesses thrive on keeping you needy – as soon as you don’t need them – they’re out of business – that would be a great Christian plan, build believers up to the point that they no longer need your “services”, but are now ready to help one another in times of need (without co-opting them into your business model).

    • That is precisely my philosophy as well.
      I’m quite disgusted now at the current popular church model. It’s atrocious. It says that the model in the new testament doesn’t work.
      I’m currently working on developing a “new”, but old style of church. One that helps every member explore their spiritual gift, exercise it, and use it everyday. We are all supposed to be ministers of Christ, but that term has become nothing more than a cliche term to ask members of the mega church to bring a friend.


  1. What I’m Reading | Waiting for Green - February 3, 2014

    […] The Anti-Business Church […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s