What business are we in?

Churches are primarily, if not exclusively, in the people business. We gather, organize, and manage people to help them grow into faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. Others might argue, well that’s beautiful idealism, pastor, but the church is still a business. We need to raise money, pay salaries, and keep the buildings in repair. True enough, but do those two concerns, building people and maintaining an institution, have to be mutually exclusive?

Peter Drucker, whom Forbes Magazine once called “the most perceptive observer of the American scene since Alexis de Tocqueville,” doesn’t think so. Listen to his sage summation of business principles and see if we can learn anything for the church.

The mission comes first. The mission of nonprofits (including churches) is changed lives.

  • The function of management is to make the church more church-like, not the church more business-like. (What if our boards and committees, for instance, became small groups for spiritual formation?)
  • An organization begins to die the day it begins to be run for the benefit of the insiders and not for the benefit of the outsiders. (Heaven help us if the church becomes just another club!)
  • Know the value of planned abandonment…you must decide what not to do. If a program has run its course, let it go.
  • Know the value of foresight…you can’t predict the future, but you must assess the impact of present events on the future.
  • Focus on opportunities, not problems. Most organizations assign their best resources to their problems, not their opportunities.
  • Management is a social function and has mostly to do with people, not techniques and procedures.
  • People decisions are the ultimate mechanism of an organization. That’s where people look to find out what values you really hold. (If procedures, programs, or protocol are more important than people, then something is out of whack.)
  • All work is work for a team. No individual has the temperament and the skills to do the job alone. The purpose of a team is to make strengths productive and weaknesses irrelevant.
  • The three most important questions are: “What is our business?” (Calling people to faith in Jesus Christ and shaping them into faithful disciples.) “Who is the customer?” (Church members and attendees, spiritual seekers, and the un/de-churched.) and, “What does the customer value?” (This is all over the map, but if we plan everything for insiders, we will never attract outsiders.)

I think this is a pretty good list of principles to help keep us on the target of our purpose. As we think about defining a vision and a strategic plan in preparation for calling a new pastor the first question we need to ask is, “What will it take to reach our goals?” not “What will it cost?” And as we think about programming we need to ask, “What do we do well and how can we strengthen it?” and “What has outlived its usefulness and is it time to let it go?” Idealism and realism can be friends after all.

About Norman Bendroth

Norman Bendroth is a Professional Transition Specialist certified by the Interim Ministry Network. He has served as a settled pastor in two United Church of Christ congregations and as a Sr. Interim pastor in seven other UCC congregations. He was also an executive for three different non-profit agencies. He has had additional training in Mediation Skills for Church Leaders from the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center and training in Appreciative Inquiry from the Clergy Leadership Institute. Rev. Bendroth has the M.Div. from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and his D. Min. from Andover Newton Theological school where he concentrated on theology and systems theory. He is married to Peggy Bendroth and has two adopted Amerasian children.
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