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Books for those in ministry organizations who desire to take their leadership, teams, governance, and ministry effectiveness to the next level.

18 Oct '12

Should a church be run like a business?

Posted by T.J. Addington in church health, ministry excellence
Often when I work with church boards to clean up crazy making governance systems someone will be concerned that we are moving to run the church like a business. How does one answer that question when we know that a church is not a business?

The first part of the answer goes to the job description of elders (or the senior leadership board of a church). Unlike a business, their job is laid out in Scripture: Ensuring that the congregation is taught well, cared for, released into ministry, protected, and led in healthy directions. And, they have a ministry of prayer for the church (often not practiced much as they are so busy doing management stuff). So, the focus of their work is very different than is the bottom line of a business - adequate profits.

The second part of the answer is that the reason business organizes itself in efficient ways is to maximize their effectiveness and minimize the waste of time and energy. This ought to be true of church boards as well. Any governance system that helps us do what we do better for the sake of the mission of the church makes sense. The simple principle is that how we do what we do matters and our way of doing board work should serve what we are trying to get done.

Think of the issues faced by many church boards:

  • Inability to make decisions in a timely manner.
  • Long board meetings
  • Revisiting decisions multiple times
  • Lack of clarity on what is staff responsibility and board responsibility
  • Not enough time to prayer and thinking as time is eaten up by administrative issues
  • Preponderance of day to day management issues robbing the board of time to think about the future
  • Lack of clarity as to where the church should be going
  • Board members who hold up the process or violate board practices
  • Lack of clarity on what the board is supposed to be doing
  • Inability to move through agendas in a timely manner
All of these kinds of things are time and energy wasters which ultimately hurt the ability of the leadership to lead well and which ultimately hurts the ministry of the church. So, how well a board manages itself, creates systems for its work has a direct impact on the ministry effectiveness or lack of it for the entire congregation.

Thus my answer to the question to should we run a church like a business is no and yes. The no is that the job of elders is different than business leaders. The yes is that the governance systems may well look like those in a business because they are simply good practices that help you achieve what you want to achieve. Those good practices actually help you do what God has called you to do as leaders well. 

When business is not led well they go out of business. When churches are not led well they plateau and go into decline. How we lead matters in both business and ministry settings. We change our leadership practices in churches in order to maximize our ministry effectiveness. What we do in ministry is very different than in business. How we do it may look very much like how we do it in business.