Target markets. Advertisements. Growth projections. Do these terms make you think of your local church?
Perhaps they don’t–and yet maybe they should. The funny thing about churches is that they really find themselves in the same “business” as the retail giant down the street–the business of people. In fact, I would suggest that the body of Christ can learn quite a bit from the examples of successful for-profit businesses. Accordingly, here are three basic areas in which churches might (with discernment) learn to be more “businesslike.”
A successful business is always bent on growth–how to better reach its market, how to further improve its product, who to add to its team, etc. The business that stops moving forward is the one that is quickly left behind. So too must churches never shift their gaze from expansion and outward growth. Jesus said, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Far too often do churches lose their passion for growth as soon as they gain enough members to become self-sustaining. The church that finds itself content with seeing the same faces week after week is a church that has forgotten its reason for existing.
The Right Focus on Growth
However, there is a right and wrong way to understand this “bigger is better” mentality. Too many churches today view growth as a numerical objective. Attendance quotas, marketing campaigns and multi-million dollar facilities might get people in seats, but can they get them on their knees? Don’t get me wrong–large churches can be tremendous vehicles for reaching the lost. However, the temptation is much stronger for large churches to focus their efforts on “results” and lose sight of making disciples. The church that pursues the Great Commission will likely not be the one with the most seats in its auditorium, but the one that can point to the number of people it has equipped and sent out for ministry. Christ did not command the Church to grow upward, but outward.
2. A Focus on Finance
Business is money–plain and simple. Everything about operating a business–everything–can be explained by when, where, why and how cash flows into it. Churches can often overlook the importance of financial foundations in their zeal for immediate results. Some spend too much (on new buildings, technology, events, etc.) and some spend too little (for fear of spending too much!). In either case, a church must treat its budget and spending with both the care and precision of a for-profit business. Money is the primary tool with which churches are equipped to share the gospel. Squandering that tool might not only be the difference between the life or death of a church, but between its status as “good and faithful” or “wicked and lazy.”
The Right Focus on Finance
Yes, the Church needs money–but even so, try to find a place in any of Paul’s missionary letters where he addresses the best tactics for church fundraising. One must remember that the early church focused first on making disciples, then on logistics. Today, we churches must strive to avoid the temptation to work in the opposite direction.
3. A Focus on Audience
Finally, just as a business has to understand the needs, desires and habits of its target market in order to survive, the Church too must understand those it is trying to reach. This goes beyond educated hunches about what people want. It means actually getting to know the people in the community–their wants, their needs, their scarred pasts with Christianity. The church that tries to blindly push its own style or resources on the people around it will be about as misguided as a baker trying to shove bread down the throat of someone dying of thirst. The church has to know its market.
The Right Focus on Audience
However, there also is significant danger in elevating personal preferences above all else in a church. While a business focuses on the needs of its customers to keep them happy, churches must avoid doing so at all costs. The Good News of Jesus Christ is not about giving comfort or happiness, but life. This means preaching difficult truths, even at the risk of offending some. A good doctor does not look at a cancerous tumor and, for fear of losing a patient, say nothing. A good doctor will point out the problem and insist upon treatment, no matter the pain involved, because life is more important than blind happiness. A church is not “in business” to make people happy, but to show them their disease and the One who can heal it.