Is The Church A Business?

I hear it all the time: “The church is a business.” I hear it from congregants, from lay leaders, even from seminary students and pastors. Usually  the comment is made in the context of conversation regarding how a church should handle money, marketing, measurement, or general management. 

I think the perspective behind that comment is that local churches should seek to emulate the best-run business organizations in these areas. I also think that perspective is dead wrong. 

Why? Because it reflects an assumption that churches and businesses share the same underlying purpose and values. But nothing could be further from the truth.

The purpose of a business is to make money. Say what you want about taking care of employees, being a good corporate citizen, or making products that make people’s lives better or even change the world. At the end of the day, the purpose of a business is to make money. Period. Businesses are built upon human measures of success, and those measures are rooted in the foundational values of financial profitability and the pursuit of more.

The purpose of a church, on the other hand, is to share the transforming power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Its mission is to give, not to get. It was established by Christ the King to do the work of his Kingdom. And the economy of that Kingdom is directly antithetical to the economy of commercial enterprise. In the Kingdom, the poor are rich. The least are greatest. The weak are strong. The path to success goes down, not up. It is the opposite of business, where Jesus says you can gain the world but lose your soul.

I’m not saying that it is inherently wrong or sinful for churches to have or even make money. It’s just not the God-ordainedpurposeof the church. I also get and completely agree that churches should be wise stewards of their financial, material, human, and spiritual resources, and good neighbors and community citizens. But we should take our principles for “best practices” in all of those areas from the Bible, not from business. 

By starting with flawed perspectives about the nature and purpose of the church, we end up with flawed practices in the church:

  • Qualifications for leaders

  • Motivations for activities

  • Measures of success

  • Methods for managing everything from communication to crisis to conflict to capital campaigns

Businesses and churches share some external similarities. But at their core, they are completely different animals. 

Is the church a business? Let’s perish the thought.

For Your Consideration

  • In what ways has your church (perhaps unwittingly) adopted business values and principles?

Angie Ward