Thursday, December 4, 2008

Separating the business from the church

Businesses and the church are not the same. The objectives of a business and the objectives of the church are two very distinct and competing propositions. What makes a church successful is far removed from what makes a business successful. I have seen businesses that try to sound almost church-like in their mission. One business touts: “Our business is to serve people.” But the reality is it exists to make a profit just like most other businesses. Even “Non-profit” businesses make a profit, and cannot function if they lose money continually.

There are some businesses that have as a mission to resource the kingdom of God and are not about making money. They wrestle with the tension of serving the church and surviving at the same time. I know, because I am part of a team that leads such a resource business: CMAResources.

We have, more than once, made suicidal decisions for our business. I will elaborate more on this in a later chapter, but suffice to say, our purpose is not self-preservation but kingdom expansion. That sounds very church-like, doesn’t it? Some would wonder then why we would consider ourselves a business and not the church. We are a business in that we seek to resource the kingdom; we are not a church. We exchange goods and service for money and that puts us in the business category, even if we’re intentionally not very good at it.

I learned something a few years ago about all this. It is a simple two-point formula that seems to make sense and bring clarity.

1. Running a business like a church will kill it.
2. Running a church like a business will also kill it.

When this became clear to me, we decided to separate Church Multiplication Associates (CMA) from CMAResources so that we could view them both differently and not unwittingly kill both of them.

CMA is pure kingdom, no employees, no job descriptions, no organizational flow charts, and no exchange of goods and services for financial remuneration. It is like-minded servants of Jesus who are in relationship together while on mission for the King.

CMAResources, however, does have employees (two of them). We exchange resources for money, and that alone puts us into a business category as far as I am concerned. We are an intentionally lean organization that tries hard not to be exploitative. We keep our prices lower then we have to so that our resources are more accessible. We intentionally give much away. Our mission is to create resources that reproduce healthy disciples, leaders, churches and movements. But we are a business, although not a profitable one.

We may actually be a business that functions like a church, but not the other way around. Now, I did say that such a proposition would kill the business, didn’t I? Well it can, and actually, we’re okay with that idea. We do not exist to make money but to further the kingdom. Still, we want to stay in the business category so that we do not assume the sacred trust of being a church and all that goes with it. We want to resource the church and not compete with it. If we go “out of business” in fulfilling our mission without exploiting the church, we would view that an acceptable risk…even a success.

There are also a great many churches that, unfortunately, function like a business. In fact, this is a rampant problem of epidemic proportions in my opinion. Churches have become brokers of spiritual goods and services to Christian consumers. They have a board of directors and a CEO, and if they are large enough, they may even have a CFO (Chief Financial Officer).

Running a church like a business is a far more dangerous proposition then running a business like a church. A business that runs like a church will just go out of business. Running a church like a business, however, will suck the life out of the church. The church will die, but unfortunately, the business may not—it may continue to thrive and remain a business that calls itself a church. That is the danger.

It is a very scary plot when a business carries on with the authority of God’s sacred church behind it in the eyes of God’s people. Science fiction horror stories are made of such schemes. An exploitive company that acts in the “business of God” and is profited by it, all with tax-exempt benefits is a dangerous proposition if you ask me.

We all seem to understand the principle of the separation of church and state. Perhaps we should start understanding the wisdom of the separation of church and corporate business. Everyone who knows me or has read any of my previous work would know I am not saying that church should be removed from the marketplace. No, I am suggesting that the marketplace be removed from the church. Perhaps we should overturn the money tables again.


Aaron Snow said...

Hey Neil, Aaron Snow here. Glad to see you've started blogging again. This post is HUGE. A post I made a few days ago spoke to this issue a's a portion from it:

Side note: These things have seemingly crept into, and plagued the “church” in America. Oh, the lovely life sacrificed to “ministry”. The amazing titles, and salaries that grow with those titles. The business plans, and elaborate infrastructure. The hiring and firing. The need to perform, succeed, and maximize the “return on our investment”(ROI for you business majors. Oh, and i’m not lying: I was once told that by my “boss” while on staff at an institutional church) The husbands spending hours away from their wives and kids for the “sake of the ministry”, which somehow makes it ok. No need to keep going. Oh wait, the business models, strategies, COMPETITION for numerical growth, and fancy offices. Ok, i’m done.

Look forward to the next we'll be seeing each other. Tell your kids I said hey. Take care.

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