Legally speaking, churches are non-profit businesses.
Though, as a church planter, it’s hard to swallow the idea that the church is a business, because that sounds so formal, so rigid, so not-the-church. Nevertheless, you have to do some “businessy” things as a trust-worthy, ethical, legally-sound non-profit. Things like pay attention to trends, numbers, charts and P&L statements and on and on. And I for one am glad we do.
But there’s one assumption people often get wrong when they think about the church as a business. In fact, it is an assumption that gets a lot of churches into a lot of trouble. Not financially or legally, but it comes into direct conflict with the mission of the church — which is the mission of Jesus:
For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.
Understand me when I say, “I can not save anyone.” But I can seek and I can arrange “dates” between people and Jesus. That’s why our mission at Two Cities Church is to lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.
So, what’s the bad assumption then?
I’ve sat in board meetings at churches where great men said things like:
- “You’ve got to take care of your customers”
- “You’re customers are the ones who will keep this thing going, so make them happy”
- “Your mission is to help as many customers as possible achieve their dreams”
Now, I don’t think these are necessarily bad things, but there are two problems with these statements:
- If you’re on the board, don’t use “you” statements. Use “us” “our” and “we”
- Who are these men assuming the customers are?
There are many kinds of churches, but one way to classify them all is by this simple measure:
Are they more concerned with reaching people or keeping people?
In a traditional for-profit business your customers are those who buy your product or service. In a traditional, off-mission, church the customers are the givers and they are the most important people in the room at all times. But what’s the difference between that and a country-club? If you want a country-club where people pay for membership and to be valued, go join one. There’s no room for that in a church.
But in a great, on-mission, church… making the givers happy is not the main thing. In an on-mission church, a church that is all about the mission of Jesus, you don’t concentrate all your time and efforts on those who are already a part of the church. In fact, you spend a lot of time and resources engaging the people who need a relationship with Jesus.
Let’s take it one step further. I submit to you that a great on-mission church should actually view it’s board, leadership, staff members, givers and servers all as part of the staff. Every part of the church works together to be a part of the body of Jesus, which is the church — a body of people, not a building. (I know, a strange concept for a body of people to be the body of a person…but check it out here.) So, who’s left to be a customer? That leaves two groups:
- Attenders who are not yet engaged beyond sitting in rows
If you’re a part of a church, you should not view yourself as a customer of that church that comes to get filled up. You are part of the body, you are a volunteer employee of that church, you are a vital part of the mission and you fund it. You don’t come to merely get filled up by some music, preaching and hang-out time. You come to help create the environment that inspires the attenders, guests and “volunteer staff” to take a step towards faith or a step in deepening their relationship with Jesus and others.
So with that new framework, new paradigm in mind…if you are a part of a church, who is that church’s customer?
Still not convinced? Let me make it clear, legally, if your church considers itself a non-profit and it provides a good or service in exchange for tax-deductible donations — the organization could be fined anywhere from $10 per donation to $5,000 per fundraising event. (Check it out) Those laws are there for a reason AND they just so happen to help us keep the eye on the ball. It’s not all about keeping the giver happy, it’s about the giver and the rest of the church working together to accomplish the mission of Jesus Christ.