Friday, June 03, 2011

What’s the Bottom Line?

We need to make one thing clear.  The church is not a business.  Denominational publishing houses are businesses.  Many faith-based organizations including the church often have to do some of the things that a business does like pay FICA taxes for its non-ordained employees or undergo fire inspections.  But . . . this does not make the church a business.

Please understand that I think that there is much that we can learn from business practices and organizational development that will help us to more effective as a church.  I participate in the Willow Creek Association’s Leadership  Summit (usually by teleconference) each year because I think we can learn some things from business gurus and corporate leaders like Patrick Lencioni, Blake Mycoskie, Jim Collins, Daniel Pink, Terri Kelly, Howard Schulz, and Seth Godin as well as from church leaders.  They have insights we need to hear and apply.

Most of our churches are fortunate to have business people as lay leaders.  They offer their expertise in financial, building, and personnel matters.  We can be grateful for their input into these matters for often this means we are better stewards of the resources that God has given to us at the Body of Christ.  They help the church to make informed and reasoned decisions that contribute to the health of the church as an organization.

The problem comes when someone substitutes the desired outcomes for a church with business outcomes.  What is the outcome we desire?  What is the bottom line?  In business, we are usually looking for return on investment measured in profit generated for shareholders.  We measure this in dollars.  Of course, we sometimes look at other metrics as well—retention of staff, new product lines, or even community service.  What’s the bottom line in the church?  Is it a comfortable facility?  No.  Is it a well-paid staff? We could only wish, but no.  Is it paying all the bills?  This is a good thing but it is not the bottom line when it comes to the church.

The measure of success in the church is men and women being transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ.  We are all in various stages of this process, but the real work of the church is making disciples.  If we forget that then nothing else is important.  When we come to the point that maintaining the organization is more important that growing the organism (the Body of Christ), we might as well put up a “Closed for Business” sign.

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