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Is the Church a Business?

In our last podcast, our panel debated the question: Is the Church a Business?

It was a fun and eye-opening discussion…and led to a number of personal examples that amplified the issue.

We all would agree that the Church—and particularly the local church—embodies both a Cause and a Community, but does it also exist as a Corporation? The idea of “Church, Inc.” feels awkward and smarmy, and there are certainly some churches that appear to be much more a business than the “beloved community”.

One of the things that popped up in our discussion was the nature, for instance, of a publicly-held corporation...and how it's interestingly similar to the Church. There are two critical questions organizations in that category ask:

(1) Are we achieving and/or maximizing our mission? That is, if our ambition is to build the greatest widget for doing this-or-that, are we actually doing it?

For instance, the upstart company Warby Parker began as a venture company out of Wharton with $2500 of seed money to sell eyeware online. They adopted the one-for-one concept (à la TOMS shoes): buy a pair of glasses from them and they’ll donate a pair to the non-profit VisionSpring. Two years ago they went public…and now the overwhelming majority of sales are in over 200 brick-and-mortar locations. Though methodologies shifted, their corporate mission remained unchanged: “To offer designer eyewear at a revolutionary price while leading the way for socially conscious businesses.”

Likewise, Nordstrom’s mission statement is to “give customers the most compelling shopping experience possible.” Though pricey, they certainly do that, often serving customers in over-the-top ways.

Does your church have that same kind of clarity around its mission…and do you regularly revisit it to see if it’s being maximized? For instance, if our mission is to “make disciples that make disciples”, we must be honest: are we actually achieving that? Or if it’s a mission of influence, e.g. Jeremiah 29:7: “Work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare,” how is your church measuring that and are you being successful?

The second critical question is: (2) Are we pleasing our shareholders, i.e. are we providing a return-on-investment? Shareholders take the risk of investing personally in a corporation, providing seed money for startups or new initiatives or believing in the corporation’s future enough to see a healthy return on their investment.

Here’s where this one gets interesting.

In the Church, we basically have One Shareholder: Jesus. He invested everything—his own life—for the sake of this “organization” he believes in. He is the Chairman of the Board. And I can guarantee that he is looking for a return on his investment; he explicitly said so in several parables.

It is this aspect that I wonder if we spend enough time thinking about. In the world of capitalism, this has become the major factor facing corporations—and some would say to the detriment of society—that shareholder boards are more attentive to their returns than the mission and, in some cases, the integrity and character of the corporation’s leaders.

But in the Kingdom, we have a Shareholder that is beyond reproach. And since God is love, as the apostle John reminds us, 1 Corinthians 13 gives us his character qualities.

But I return to our second question: Are you pleasing your major Shareholder?—and how are you assessing that?

Dave Workman | The Elemental Group

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