Thursday, July 14, 2011

If Church Were A Business

If churches were businesses, a lot of churches would be going into administration.

Of course, one of the most contentious issues when I was at theological college, and for many clergy, was the extent to which business models have been applied to church leadership.  The church, some argue, is not a business, and should be run on biblical principles rather than worldly ones.

What is ironic about this view is that those who hold most dearly to it tend to see the church as a service provider – in (at least) two senses – and one which, like the NHS, provides its service to the community ‘free at the point of use.’  Of course, ‘free at the point of use’ does not mean there are not significant costs which have to be met in some other way.

More importantly, the problem with such a view is that the primary biblical model of the church – the ‘oikos’ – is precisely an economic unit, or, family business.  Consider Philippi.  Lydia’s household – composed of family members and slaves (90% of the population of the Roman Empire were slaves, making them much more akin to employees in our society than to abject slaves, such as today’s sex trade or child labour market) – were in the high-end fashion business...and that was not only their livelihood but their communal mission context.  The goaler’s household were in the law-and-order business.  Or consider Prisc(ill)a and Aquila, planting churches out of the business context of tent making (a literal trade which has lent its name to self-supporting ministry).

I share the discomfort of others where senior church leadership looks like being the CEO of a large corporation.  But...the senior leader of a church should look like the head of a family business.

In a family business, everyone is a stakeholder.  In a family business, you don’t get to see the accounts once a year.  You know when things are going well, and when you are facing hard times.  And everyone has a vested interest to contribute more time, more money or more effort in order to grow.  But where church is a club, where members pay a nominal fee and hold fund-raisers to meet the real costs, that is neither viable nor biblical.

We need to re-visit church as family business. 
How would you define the particular business of your particular local church?


  1. Coming from you, that means a lot to me. Would love to hear your thoughts :-)

  2. Ok - just some quick refections first up

    I don't like the concept because of what 'business' intonates

    But I do see some clarity in the melding of family and business. I will need to give it some more thought. It feels helpful albeit disturbing!

  3. I hear you. But my discomfort with your discomfort is that the church is meant to model a new humanity. The Christian 'oikos' was still an 'oikos' - but relationships, such as those between master and slaves, were supposed to look different from the cultural norm for the 'oikos'. But rather than modelling a new way to live, and participating in mission as a community, over time we have created a way of being and doing church that is set apart from the world we have been sent into...