It’s becoming very popular to teach church growth and leadership principles using ideas from successful businesses.
Some of the titles of books and articles I’ve seen lately include, What The Church Can Learn From...
- Harley Davidson
- Marvel Movies
- Japanese Management
- Marketing Experts
Despite the best intentions of these writers, I’m becoming more and more convinced that trying to bring renewal to our churches by adapting business ideas is at best ineffective, and at worst, potentially damaging to our souls, spirits and mission.
Business Ideas Won’t Fix The Church
I agree that we can learn from a variety of sources. For instance, I recently read an Inc.com article about how Chipotle revitalized their restaurants after having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year in 2017.
I had a momentary thought about writing an article about how churches can learn from Chipotle’s turnaround.
Then the moment passed.
Here’s why. The three ways Chipotle turned their company around, according to the article, were
- Emotionally intelligent marketing
For a restaurant.
It’s tempting to want to find church parallels for them.
But if your church is in trouble, I beg you not to give into the temptation to think your church problems will be solved by doing church versions of what Chipotle did, such as
- A cool, new coffee station in the lobby (modernization)
- Hiring a new staff member (talent)
- Better use of social media (emotionally intelligent marketing)
None of those are bad things. The church I serve has done all three at various times. But none of them were the cause of our church getting or staying healthy.
Churches Aren’t Businesses – Or They Shouldn’t Be
The issue is not that we shouldn’t use solid business principles or learn from well-run companies. Of course we should.
The problem is that the church isn’t a business, so the solution for a successful church turnaround won’t be found in the latest business trends. They’ll only be found by renewing our dedication to scriptural principles for health, integrity, worship, discipleship, relationships, outreach and ministry.
It won’t be found by looking in new places, but by looking deeper into the oldest places of all.
Scripture, prayer, worship, fellowship, ministry, discipleship.
Do the Jesus stuff.
Maybe in a new way. Certainly in a renewed way. Definitely in a more passionate way.
The Problem With Churchification of Business Ideas
So why is it dangerous when we rely heavily on business principles for a church turnaround?
Becasue we all have limited band-width.
In any given period of time we can only use so many ideas from so many sources. The more time we spend going to businesses for help and inspiration, the less time we have available to go to the Bible for help and inspiration.
If we keep on this path, business ideas won’t be supplementing biblical ideas, they’ll be replacing them.
Then we’ll start judging results by business standards, not biblical ones.
Eventually, we’ll replace our principles in the same way. What gets the numbers up will become more important than biblical integrity.
Church Turnaround Is Spiritual, Not Managerial
Unfortunately, we don’t need to look very far to see some of the recent, tragic results of that. Pastors who have compromised their principles for numerical increase. Churches that have grown large, but not deep. Congregations, both large and small, that entertain crowds instead of discipling believers.
Certainly it’s important to use wise business principles in all aspects of our lives. But they’re not designed to help churches turn around.
That’s a spiritual pursuit, not a managerial one.
Besides, when we think we need to go to a business model for church renewal, aren’t we implying that biblical principles can’t stand on their own?
I don’t know how it can be interpreted in any other way.
And what does that say about our mission to the world we’re trying to reach? If Chipotle, Harley-Davidson and Google are teaching us how to do church, why wouldn’t people bypass us and go directly to the source?
God’s Word contains all the inspiration and information we need to help any church get and stay strong. If businesses are using those principles in their companies too, that’s great.
And if businesses are able to help us see biblical principles in a new way, that’s great too.
But let’s not fall into the trap of thinking that anything but biblical principles are needed for a healthy church turnaround.
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