Are we a Business or a Church?

by Apr 10, 2018

Are we a Business or a Church?


Most church leadership boards have been there: Well-intentioned businessmen and well-intentioned pastors unable to see eye-to-eye on HOW to run a church – like a church or business?

The business man in frustration says: “This would never fly in my business. If we did this we would be broke and I would get fired.”  The business man has a real frustration, and he is indeed correct. If he ran his business or department the way many pastors run a church, they would be broke and jobless. 

The pastor in frustration retorts: “You don’t understand how things work here. You can’t run this place like a business. They are not the same!” The pastor has a real frustration, and he is also indeed correct. If he ran the church like a business, the church would quickly shrink. 

The business man says: “I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but churches need to run their books, hiring, firing, and processes like any good business.”  To the businessman’s credit, he too is correct. How many churches have suffered due to bad systems? All of them.

So where is the disconnect?


Though there are definite areas of overlap between the organization of churches and for-profit businesses (HR, processes, financial accounting, etc..), two specific details fundamentally set church leadership apart from business leadership. If we overlook these, pastors and businessmen will continue to miss each other.

What is the difference between a church and a for-profit business?:


1. The “end” is different. Synonyms for “end”: bottom line, success

2. The “means” are different. Synonyms for “means”: resources, strategies

Churches & for-profit businesses use different “means” to accomplish different “ends”, and therefore require different strategies altogether.

“Our ends are different…

1. In church-world success = building better people, “disciples of Jesus”

2. In the for-profit business-world success is = financial profit and happiness.

In church or business, one can evaluate their actual end/bottom-line/definition of success /goal by asking a simple question: What is most clearly measured & rewarded: better people or bigger profit?

…Therefore our means are different.”

1. In church-world: money is primarily a means to build people. In fact, everything is a means to this end (ministries, money, programs, events, etc…).

2. In the for-profit business-world: people are primarily a means to build money. In fact, everything is a means to this end (customer satisfaction, great hiring processes, etc…).

It is totally appropriate for a business to seek to make money. That is the point. But that is NOT the point of a church. Churches spend money on staff, property, and programs with the goal of building people. People are our bottom line. We save money to build people. We spend money to build people. People. People. People. 

An illustration from an Elder meeting a few years back:


 Someone asked: “Is the output of our yearly VBS worth the $6,000 and hundred+ volunteers it takes to put on?” Great question!!! It MUST be asked regularly about every ministry.

We were all in agreement with a hearty “Yes!” We knew the answer, but discussing the question was healthy and affirming. Even if the $6,000 investment never pays back in financial terms by people coming to our church and beginning to tithe, the greatest value we receive from our VBS revolves around building better PEOPLE:

• VBS is a functional in-city mission trip for an entire week. Most churches spend much more than that to travel long-distances and put on VBS programs. We get to do it right in our neighborhood for a few hundred kids!

• Church unity is developed amongst our people. 

• Hundreds of kids and parents hear the gospel. 

• Our community gets to know us better.

• New attenders to the Village Church serve at our VBS and get better connected. 

• Inter-generational relationships are built.

• Leader training occurs

• People use their gifts in unique ways and discover gifts they didn’t know they had

• Kids trust in Jesus and are FOREVER changed!

• Parents who may not walk into a church come to pick up their kids every single day

• I could keep going….

Is it worth it? Yes. Will we get back that $6,000? It doesn’t matter because we spent that money to build PEOPLE which is our definition of success! People are our ends and our bottom line. Money and ministries are the church’s means to build PEOPLE.