What is the purpose of Church? How does a Church function? How should it be run? These are all questions that to some may seem obvious to answer. A church may seem like a very simple entity but also very complex. Depending upon the size, location, and needs of the surrounding area, a church, its staff, and congregations function in different ways. In all of these ways a church acts in a gift giving mode, not a business mode.
The exact time is unclear but it seems to be a trend for some to refer to or view churches as businesses. This is particularly the case when discussing their functioning and operations, particularly by those who lead them or on Elder boards. This may be truly seen in the discussions leaders have regarding how to handle money and other “business like” tasks of the church. The evaluation of a churches “health” and “impact” are also areas that seem to be evaluated through business lenses and through business principles. No matter the church or those who serve in it, the building, bodies, and bucks matter and can be an important thing to think about. What is worrisome is that while these three “b’s” can be a good thing, they typically become the ultimate thing.
The purpose of this article is to address a topic that some will deny exists while others justify the mindset that a church is like a business. The main point that will be made is that that a church is not a business. In no form, function, or purpose is a church a business. It has never intended to be one and can’t function as one.
An accurate and healthy view of a churches functioning will impact everyone who engages in it and is impacted by it. To have a clear picture of how a church operates is also critical in finding the right people to serve in it and evaluating its effectiveness and needs as a larger whole. While some churches have significant budgets, employ many part time and full time individuals, and have finances flowing through them to support their infrastructure and missions, a church fundamentally lacks one specific thing which a business has. A church doesn’t sell a product or service which all business do. A church isn’t owned by a person, group, or stockholders. A church also exists for a purpose that a business doesn’t, to preach the Gospel message, develop believers, and act as the hands and feet of God in this world.
Over the last few decades churches have looked more and more like the world that they are surrounded by. Some buildings only are differentiated by the cross that sits on-top (if at all). It could be said that churches have lost some of the impact they once had on culture as well. Congregations and leaders are more and more worried about looking like those who are un-churched so that the church seems more accessible. This however does not seem to be making an impact due to the fact that a church looses its form and function. A pastor I heard once said that, “the church needs to impact the world around it and not be infected by it”. This seemingly is going in the opposite direction.
While many of elders, major donors, and leaders of churches are business men and women, the church is not designed to function in the way these men and women are used to. It seems that far too often a church is lead by business minded individuals who have been successful in their fields of work but do not fully understand the necessities of service and development of people. Too much of a business focus will ultimately result in failure of the mission and impact a church has. A church doesn’t sell a product or service, it serves the purposes of God.
While the gifting of a business person, accountant, or finance advisor can help a church significantly, these mindsets can infect a church and its functioning. The hiring of staff is one major area that these men and women typically fail at and one of the reasons for this is that a church needs a leader and the staff to be equipped in specific ways, not business ways.
Churches are designed for a set of believers to come and worship, connect with others, and to continue the work of sanctification in their lives. In the Christian church particularly, parishioners, pastors, elders, and leaders are also tasked with the role of proclaiming the Gospel. No matter what role a person has in the church it is consistently the fact that every role is one of “Service” not “Sales”
The area that is the justification for why churches are referenced as businesses is a financial one. Money that flows in and out of the church can add up to a significant amount of finances. It is wise for someone to be in charge or managing that money to make sure it is accounted for appropriately. Many business minds as well as congregants, would say that a gifting in the area of money management is important and individuals who have this gift should be leaders in the church.
There isn’t any argument here by the author that an individual who has a gifting a finance or business budget shouldn’t serve the church with their talents. The argument is that due the the nature of business and the minds that succeed in business, it is very hard for these business minded individuals to not fall in the trap of a transaction church looking to succeed in the Building, Body, and Bucks model. Many would see a church succeeding in its functioning when the church size is large and they are “significantly” impacting the area around them by the amount of what they do. The assessment of the functioning of the church is typically evaluated by quantitative ways and not necessarily qualitative ones.
Rarely do business last for decades, generations, and centuries. Due to the nature of them selling products of services that at some point run their course of usefulness. Culture and resources also change to where businesses either change what they sell, get bought out, or go under. The church has been around for centuries due to the fact that what is represents and its function. It has never and will never go out of necessity. It does not sell a product or service and as a result it is viable to every person, race, nationality, and generation. This is the functioning and focus that needs to be held to. A church is not a business.
It is not the job to sell people the bible or to sell the gospel. A church is not selling a product or service. Once the church gets back to its intended functioning, then growth, development, and impact will occur. This is because the church functions in a gift giving mode, not a sales, coercion, or business mode.