Five Healthy Ways to Run Your Church Like a Business

August 19, 2019

One of the most common responses we receive at ThomRainer.com is something like this statement: “You can’t run your church like a business.”

I get it. Our goal is to glorify God. Our goal is to make disciples. Our goal is to be faithful to God’s Word.

Our goal is not to make profits. Our goal is not to adopt secular principles in place of biblical principles.

So, when someone insists we not run the church like a business, I understand his or her heart and intent.

But there are indeed some business principles that correlate with church practices and biblical truth. To say we don’t run our church like a business carte blanche may be a signal that we are ignoring sound and, at least indirectly, biblical counsel. Here are five examples:

  1. Healthy businesses are determined to spend wisely. So should churches. Sound business practices require a company to have systems in place to evaluate expenditures constantly. Frankly, I’ve seen many businesses that understand better why they spend funds than churches do. Too many churches just do things the way they’ve always done it.
  2. Healthy businesses have clear financial accountability. So should churches. Good business practices include clear and demonstrable accountability to owners and/or stockholders, as well as the Internal Revenue Service. Churches would do well to emulate some of these practices.
  3. Healthy businesses make tough personnel decisions. So should churches. Jim Collins, in his classic book Good to Great, uses the bus metaphor to describe personnel decisions of healthy businesses. He says they have to get the right people on the bus and in the right seats on the bus. Too many churches allow for poor and postponed decisions about personnel. To use another metaphor, they “kick the can,” hoping things will get better. They usually get worse.
  4. Healthy businesses plan for the future. So should churches. Many churches follow the same calendar and plans they have been using for years. The leaders and members often act like it’s 2005. Or 1998. Or 1975. Healthy businesses plan for the future and allocate their resources accordingly. While neither businesses nor churches have a perfect knowledge of the future, it only makes good stewardship sense to plan with the knowledge we have.
  5. Healthy businesses are constantly trying to understand their audiences. So should churches. A business will not stay in business unless it understands clearly its market and customers. While churches don’t have customers and markets as businesses do, they are commanded to go and make disciples in the community and in the world. It is hard to know where to go, when to go, and how to go unless we have at least a basic missional knowledge of our community.

For certain, there are both healthy and unhealthy businesses. For certain, there are both healthy and unhealthy churches. For certain, churches should not emulate businesses completely. But to say categorically a church should not run like a business at all can be both unwise and a poor practice of biblical stewardship.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

46 Comments

  • Yes… and, the church will have to generate sustainable going forward as Tithes and Offerings will no longer alone be enough to fully fund vision/mission. See http://www.bit.ly/churcheconomics.

  • My own thoughts have been see-sawing with this topic lately, for the reasons many commenters have stated. Lately, though, my thinking has been along these lines…

    Should the church run like a business? No. The church should be run better than any business. Because ultimately our boss is the Lord himself, and we have the most important message in the world.

    Businesses are financially astute. Yet the church should be even more so, because it is using God’s money.

    Businesses are effective marketers. Yet even more so should the church be, because we have the ultimate message (and ‘product’ in salvation).

    Businesses are nimble. Yet the church should be even more so, because the Spirit may lead us in paths no one could predict.

    And so on.

    Obviously we cannot and should not rely solely on our flawed human abilities. But I’ve also seen on a number of occasions marked lack of excellence (or outright acceptance of mediocrity) in being willing using our God-given abilities to do His work.

  • John Bedford says on

    I responded with ” I think it is pathetic that we need the world to show us how to do church!” to the article by Dr. Rainer. I apologize for the bluntness of this statement! I am not angry. I am really grateful for all that Dr. Rainer does for pastors. I do think churches
    should be wise in the way they do church. I guess I am coming from having some
    challenges from members whom I have pastored for the past fifty years who wanted to do church the way their corporation did their business. I was speaking from the premise that a church is different than a corporation in nature, in motive and purpose. I thank God
    for Dr. Rainer who is doing more to help pastors than anyone I know about.

    • Thanks for your kind words, John.

      I add content daily, and I mess up a lot! I am grateful for the pastors and church leaders who show me grace. I need it!

    • John, thank you for coming back and clarifying. I think there are things that churches and businesses can share to help the other improve the way they go about their work. However, businesses are driven by the bottom line in most cases and a lot of the Christian ethos has marginal impact on the secular bottom line. Likewise, having a clear and well articulated vision helps businesses succeed – and churches would do well to articulate their vision to the people they are trying to reach.

      As I said earlier, it’s not a zero-sum game or mutual exclusivity when it comes to the intersection of faith and business.

  • How about… Drop all 501c 3 status capabilities for churches and let God sort ‘em out.

    Pay taxes on the land and buildings responsibly. Drop all Board of Directors based on State / Federal Laws.

    Render to Caesar what is Cesar’s as Jesus taught. End “church” status of Christian universities.

    Then walk by faith. House churches will rise to meet the demand.
    “Let My people go.”- Yahweh

    • Guy in the Pew says on

      When faced with financial concerns a deacon at my previous church said, “What are we suppose to do, run the church on faith?”

  • Guy in the pew says on

    This post is based on the perspective of 1st world affluence and wealth and then equates that to health.

    If you strip away all the affluence, all the money, all the business plans, all the charismatic personalities, what will you have left? The answer to that will tell you how healthy your church is.

  • Christopher says on

    I’m one the people to whom Rainer is referring. However, I never said you can’t run a church like a business. Obviously you can and that’s the problem! Almost all churches today are run like businesses, albeit not always successful businesses. The problem is when you run the church like a business your purpose is no longer discipleship, it’s customers.

    I’m not saying Rainer’s points are not wise counsel, but is there anything in the NT that admonishes churches to have a sound business plan? Did Peter have a ten year planning committee or a detailed budget? Did Paul give seminars on facility usage and how to hire office staff? What’s emphasized repeatedly is preaching the Word with sound doctrine and holiness. All the business principals in the world will not make up for those two things. However, if a church would focus on those two things God will bless it even if the leaders don’t have an MBA.

    One more point, there are many, many businesses that do everything Rainer listed and still fail. However, God can bless a family of faithful believers without an ounce of business sense.

    • I have seen two major reasons why people are forced out of the ministry. First, sexual infidelity. Second, financial infidelity. If the latter is because of ignorance it does not matter, the result is the same. People and ministries have been destroyed and the work of God’s people lies in ruins.

      Perhaps Thom Rainer can add some dimension to these comments.

      • Christopher says on

        I never said financial responsibility was not important. Wisely handling money is a Biblical principal. However, my last church was incredibly unhealthy because they ran it like a business. The senior pastor was thrown under the bus to protect a corrupt youth pastor because the youth pastor was perceived as being better for business. The deacons were more concerned about the bottom line than doing the right thing.

        I would also add that financial corruption is one thing, but if a church and a pastor’s ministry are laid in ruins because of an honest financial mistake then there is a much deeper problem than money.

      • How do you define “an honest financial mistake”? That is dubious at best. I have sat in congregational meetings where this exact phrase was used, and I was in the meetings behind the scenes… they were outright lying to the congregation to cover their rear ends. I do not accept such a thing as “an honest financial mistake”. It is one thing to improperly report something, but there are only dishonest financial mistakes. There are plenty of educated people who know finances available, those in power do not want them knowing what is going on.

      • Christopher says on

        So in your view money trumps grace. As I said, much deeper problems.

      • I think my view has been misrepresented. I believe very strongly the Gospel of the Grace of God as preached by the Apostle Paul in I Cor. 15:1-4 is hardly ever preached in its fullness, instead it is replaced by all kinds of other confusing so called ‘gospel’ messages. As an example, I have led men’s groups for over a decade and asked the group to do an assignment and define the gospel, not one was able. As we discussed, they realized they were confused by all the conflicting messages of today.

        However, financial issues were a very real part of the Apostle’s concern. As one example, he addresses money in the ministry (in I Cor. 9) and would not allow the Corinthians to contribute to his work, lest they think his judgment and manner toward them was affected. While money is neutral, people are affected big-time (see I Tim 6). I have seen people who I thought had great integrity, use boldface lying to get what they wanted with their money to elders and a congregation and individuals (even changing their story for different groups)… it is like politics… it corrupts… all but a few.

1 2