What if Churches Were Run Like Businesses?

Patrick DugganThis week’s post is written by the Rev. Dr. Patrick G. Duggan, Executive Director of the United Church of Christ Church Building & Loan Fund. Since 1995, Rev. Dr. Duggan has also served as senior pastor of the Congregational Church of South Hempstead in South Hempstead, New York.

The church is not a business. The church is a business. Anyone who has participated in a congregational meeting has probably been drawn into this debate. Regardless of divergent opinions on this idea, every functioning church has income, expenses, employees and offers services to people. A recent report by FaithCounts measured the economic impact of faith institutions in the United States at $1.2 trillion_more than Google, Apple or Amazon combined.  Although we may think of our congregations with sentiment and emotion, church leaders must also understand that the local church is a mission-focused enterprise that requires planning, investment, management, and administration.  Jesus had a treasurer (although he was corrupt). The Apostle Paul taught that “administration” is a gift of the Holy Spirit. To think that church planning, financial management and administration is not an essential part of ministry contradicts biblical theology and undermines the vitality of a congregation.

Generating profits for its owners is not the purpose of a church. A congregation is a nonprofit organization that serves a religious purpose. Every type of organization, however, requires excellent management, strong revenue streams, and the capacity to generate a surplus after expenses. Successful nonprofit executives understand that every three to five years, an organization should revisit and perhaps update its mission statement, discern a renewed vision of the future, and prepare a new strategic plan.  Many local churches do not see the need for renewed vision nor strategic planning, do not have a mission statement, or if they have one, do not review or revise it periodically. Imagine the transformation that would occur if every local church was clear about why it exists and had a strategy for advancing its mission in the world?

Currently, I am developing a theory of change for a new initiative that CB&LF will launch in 2020.  “Theory of change” is a term that has rapidly increased in relevance over the last 20 years. NCVO Knowhow explains that a “theory of change shows how you expect outcomes to occur over the short, medium and longer term as a result of your work.”  When done well, a theory of change is designed to connect a single project or an entire organization’s operations directly to its mission. Imagine if every local church developed a theory of change for each ministry, project, event, or for the entire church operation? How would the world be changed if every activity of every church was designed to advance some aspect of the church’s mission statement?

Perhaps the impetus of the business/not a business conversation is the idea that the local church is really a members-only club for fellowship, holiday celebrations, and occasional worship; an informal club that does not require engagement with outsiders, nor judiciousness in the financial management and administration. This idea may have worked in the mid- 20th century when there were blue laws and everybody went to church on Sunday morning, but that was 70 years ago.

Gone are the days when a local church can thrive by focusing only on Sunday worship and midweek prayer for its members. If our congregations only meet the needs of current church members, how can we expect new people to show up and give generously to it? Ministry must be designed to meet the life needs of the people in the communities we serve. In an era when Mainline Christianity is fighting for its life, every local church should be managed with excellence, have a clearly articulated vision for the future, a compelling mission statement, a theory of change that connects community-focused church ministries to the mission statement, and a plan that articulates expected outcomes over the short, intermediate and long term.

Imagine what God could do with 5000 congregations operating as if ministry is serious business?


One thought on “What if Churches Were Run Like Businesses?

  1. I m 70 years old and serving three congregations in far northern Minnesota to try and maintain a progressive voice along the Canadian Boarder. I’m just finishing my eighth year. I now drive a circuit of 138 miles every weekend, and again on Thursdays, whatever the weather, doing three services and spending a night in a motel. I do it at a lower salary then guideline and since I’m on Medicare the churches pick up my Pension Board supplement and withholding for Medicare. Sunday when I preached on Jesus’ commandment to love one another a woman walked out of church as I was shaking hands and asked if I meant she had to love Trump. How much longer I stay here is up in the air as the congregations try to work out the politics of what happens after me. I’m on the local Depot Museum Board, the Friends Group for the nearby state park, attending planning meetings for the local school district, on the county ministerial group, the county Suicide Prevention Committee and maintaining a Communion ministry at two Senior living communities. This is the ministry an older minister can be doing, often speaking as the only voice challenging right wing politics and theology. My congregation led the fight for same sex marriage a few years back in our country and we hosted two meetings presenting the truth about Islam in response to the hatred and fear driven by Trump.

    I invite any young clergy to consider this ministry in what ever shape it takes in the years to come. I promise things you will have less snow then the twin cities because of a freak of nature and an average temp. ten degrees cooler year round then the twin cities. Think about that this summer when it gets hot and humid. The coldest I’ve had for my drive if -40 and yes for the first two blocks my tires were almost flat on one side. I also believe there are less mosquitos here. You can also get your fill of wild blueberries-truly organic.. On your drive you can keep track of whether you see more deer or eagles, with occasional sightings of bears and wolves. A member did report seeing a Mountain Lion.

    Downside is despite repeated efforts by conference staff to organize online support groups few are willing to be on them. The nearest cluster is a six hour round trip away for an hour and half meeting. This site is my major contact with other UCC clergy. I believe this is the mission field my friends and it will probably be opening soon.
    JOhn Tschudy

    Liked by 1 person

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