“That’s not how we do it at church. This isn’t a business.”
In the decades of my life spent working in and with churches, I’ve heard time and again that churches and businesses are different. Different goals. Different mindset. Different values.
There’s some truth there, but I also believe there are no black-and-white, absolute lines or tidy one-size-fits-all standards between the two types of organizations. Rather, they have plenty of similarities and opportunities to learn from each other.
Making the Sale
I don’t think I’ve ever met a pastor who claims to be in sales or a sales director who would claim to be a pastor. Saving souls is not selling a product.
But, what about hospitality? Welcoming guests? Investing in the aspects of a worship experience – environment, safety, music – that keep people coming back week after week? While pastors aren’t selling a tangible product, there are aspects of the church experience that guests are buying into each time they attend a service.
A pastor knows his community, its preferences, its needs and probably even some of its wants. That knowledge helps him build relationships and deliver what’s most helpful for his guests and church.
A sales director knows his clients, their preferences, their needs, and probably even some of their wants. That knowledge helps him build the relationship and deliver what’s most helpful for the client.
Managing a Bottom Line
For those of us who’ve grown up in church, feelings about the bottom line can be complicated. Yes, giving matters. The reality is that it costs money to keep the lights on, floors cleaned, and the sanctuary decorated. That funding has to come from somewhere. But to make the finances a central part of discussion or focus? Some people around the proverbial church leadership table start to squirm, believing a church’s mission isn’t money.
As churches grow, the bottom line gets more complicated. New hires are made. Buildings are built or purchased. Costs for goods (chairs, toilet paper, coffee cups) and focused efforts (email platforms, streaming equipment) to keep guests engaged go up as more people are welcomed and served.
There are many different aspects of managing church finances, and of course, the same is true for business. Even the most mission-minded companies with one-for-one giving models or nonprofits providing services have to manage budgets and fund their initiatives.
Having a realistic, informed understanding of a church or ministry’s funding does not indicate a lack of faith. On the contrary, a deep understanding can help us better see God’s provision. We can trust data AND discernment to work together and lead us forward.
Some churches, especially those that are just starting out, don’t have the benefit of a super knowledgeable finance leader like most businesses would – and I think that’s okay. I suggest that the ability to get curious and ask intentional questions is just as crucial as CFO-level skills.
What are the church’s costs? Where are those coming from? Are they contributing to ministries and efforts that align with your priorities? Does your spending/investing match your focus?
Just like a CFO might raise an eyebrow about gourmet coffee or plush excursions for staff members, church leaders can (and should!) ask questions and search for data that helps them steward the financial aspects of their work.
One notable difference between business and church sections is how decisions are made. Very rarely have I been in a business setting and heard someone say, “God’s given me a vision for this project, and we have to trust it’s the direction to go.” More often (and perhaps too often), decisions are based on numbers and spreadsheets with little thought to emotional or spiritual impacts.
On the other extreme, I’ve been in plenty of church-setting meetings where “letting the Spirit move” is code for inaction or pursuit of an idea with no quantified rationale.
For organizations driven by faith, I believe a more accurate, discerned decision-making process is somewhere in the middle. We can use data AND prayer to make choices. We can rely on numbers AND “God moments” to help us see if our actions are having the outcome we feel called to pursue.
Being followers of Jesus doesn’t mean we sit back and let God move without participating in the work. We’re co-creators of His vision and efforts, and we do that work best when we are informed disciples. We need both data and discernment to reap abundance in our work.
I believe God wants us to use all the tools at our disposal – data, prayer, reflection, dialogue with each other – to build the kingdom, regardless if we’re in the business or church sector. We’re more similar than it seems.
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