Is Church A Business?

I had this interesting conversation with a good friend about a month ago that’s still echoing in my head. It’s one of those questions that most people answer without even thinking about it.

Because it sounds bad.

But I’ve come to realize a lot of people have different perspectives on this question. Some say that church should be considered a business because of how it’s run, how it needs to file taxes.

Others say it’s not a business because of it’s nature as a body of believers. Or because it’s a non-profit.

And before I go on, I’m not talking about the Kingdom-wide, Big C “Church.” I’m talking about the local church. Your church. My church. Each local body of believers.

Is it a business? What do you think? Leave a comment!

30 Responses to “Is Church A Business?”

  1. Derek

    31 March 2011 at 7:41 pm

    Great question. I think it’s easy to argue both sides of that particular argument – that a church DEFINITELY IS or DEFINITELY ISN’T like a business – because there are so many different kinds of business out there to which to compare a church.

    On one hand, churches have a mission and file taxes and are made of committees, just like the corporation I work for. On the other hand, the local church can exist as a disparate bunch of small groups that meet in homes for the sole purpose of just spreading Christ’s message, which is pretty unlike the traditional idea of a “business”.

    I think the most important thing is that a church should be an ORGANIZATION, in that it should be deliberately organized, have a clear mission and values, and ethically manage its relationships with both internal and external stakeholders.

    A lot of people seem to think that church just happens. And certainly some church planners act like it should, foregoing the sometimes tedious activities associated with organizations. But those churches, more often than not, I’d bet, fail. If you’re going to do something, especially if it’s as important as carrying out God’s great commission, you might as well do it right.

  2. Todd

    1 April 2011 at 2:44 am

    In a lot of ways Church is like a business. The concept is to try to attract as many as possible to your goal or product. Churches spend a lot of money on recruiting “customers” to attend their seminaries, events, trips, programs, and social gatherings. Some go as far as employing marketing teams and research teams in order to form the best pitch. Once people have been encouraged to attend one of the gatherings of a church they are then provided some form of pitch to help insure they return. The pitches differ from styles of music, presentation of material, or the enrichment of their children. So yes churches are run in the form of a business, hopefully more along the lines of a non-profit, but still a business.

    But the one thing that differs from most businesses is the product that is being offered. Most businesses that run are for the benefit of stock holders, company owners, and the employees at the business. While churches primary focus is delivering the gospel to their clients. Those in charge of the Church should not be their for self gratification in any way, but for the full benefit of those that they are blessed to be leaders over.

    I do believe churches need to be run in some form like a business. This usually shows the best impact that a group can provide in using the resources they have in order to provide the best service to their client-el. The thing though is to remember that their clients are not their to feed the wealth, ego, goody goody feelings of the leaders, but to have their needs; spiritual, emotional, mental, physical, ministered to.

  3. Alvin R.

    1 April 2011 at 3:15 am

    My friend Abbie and I discussed this question after I saw it on Facebook. She and I disagreed on some points. It’s a really good one, Mark. This is what she thinks:

    “I have friends. We give each other things and do things for each other. But we do it because we’re friends, not because we’re a business and we provide goods and services or something. So, in the family of God… ministry doesn’t have to be considered businesslike because of what it provides.”

    “It would make people upset to think of a church in business terms… as though they were the product or merely workers for a boss… Though, apparently, being slaves to a master is okay.” (Romans 6:18, 1 Corinthians 7:22, Ephesians 6:6)

    My thoughts: “We aren’t a cold, distance company. We are a living institution that has the goal to serve. Not serving anything specifically, but to serve. But to those who insist the church is technically a business, then maybe we shouldn’t get so hung up on it. Jesus used “workers” to describe His followers in parables (Matthew 20:1-16). Whatever the local church is defined as shouldn’t really affect us and what we do.

  4. markhcox

    1 April 2011 at 12:00 pm

    So true, Derek. I like the term organization. I’ve heard a lot of people say that the church isn’t an organization, “it’s an organism.” I’m not sure I find the difference. Both are living. Both are organized and systemic. Thanks for weighing in!

  5. markhcox

    1 April 2011 at 12:01 pm

    Good stuff, Todd. Gooood stuff. Love the similarities.

    p.s. I miss you! Let’s hang soon!

  6. markhcox

    1 April 2011 at 12:03 pm

    I got a “two-fer” with this comment! I love hearing the results of y’alls conversation. I especially love your line, “We are a living institution that has the goal to serve. Not serving anything specifically, but to serve.” It’s been resonating with me all morning. Thanks for stopping in!

  7. Chris P.

    1 April 2011 at 1:58 pm

    I may be banned from future requests to comment for saying this but…Church is run like a business. Money comes in, there is a “Board of Directors” or Committee that decides what will be done with the money, and there are actionable requests, plans and activities to bring in more money.

    And Todd is right. What ever it is, it IS an Organization and should therefore be “organized” or it can fail. If there were a for-profit business that couldn’t manage to properly communicate details with its employees or customers in a timely and efficient manner, then it will likely fail or, at the least, have serious trouble realizing its ultimate goals.

    In fact, I’ve noticed that if Church is run like any business at all, it actually more closely resembles a Network Marketing business. In traditional business, the CEO hires a workforce of a specific, determinable size and sells its goods or services to the consumer who is the unaffiliated end-user. In Network Marketing, the CEO “recruits” unlimited amounts of “Distributors” who will be both the affiliated worker and the end user and will also be willing to recruit more who do the same.

    Traditional – Hires a limited number of workers at a set wage to bring in unlimited profit for the company alone. (doesn’t conform to Non-Profit guidelines)

    Non-traditional (Network Marketing) – Gathers unlimited members who are asked to do more “gathering” in an effort to bring in money AND an experience that are also unlimited for the COMMON GOAL OF ALL INVOLVED. (can MORE than conform to Non-Profit guidelines)

    In Network Marketing any person can earn more than the CEO. And in a Church any person can change and/or save more lives than the Pastor if they decide to (and have the time to) invest in themselves and others enough.

    Even though it can be called a business, I do believe Churches should be allowed to be non-profit. I also think that since, at times, it can be like sitting in a Network Marketing meeting/seminar and we can be asked to go out and bring others in who will contribute financially & personally to the common goal (dropping hard-earned and very limited traditional wages into the plate to pay for God’s work), then the Church should be open to bringing in money in that same way.

    If the standard Church business model is to “recruit” more people who will tithe their 10 percent in an effort be able to “help more people”, then it would stand to reason that the Church would be all for EACH person being able to earn unlimited amounts of money. Because then each person would have a better quality of life (financially at least) and the tithing would be able to increase exponentially without necessarily having to buy more chairs for the Sanctuary. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV)

    It is strange that the entire thing is literally like being involved in the oldest, largest and most profitable Network Marketing Organization that has ever existed and yet we still have to expand the buildings and add chairs for every new dollar that comes in. If we’d only embrace that last little benefit of such a system and let the dollars bring in more dollars (because they don’t need their own chairs), we could help more people, open more churches, do it all without having a Debt-Reduction Budget, and the people involved (congregation) would have more free time to volunteer instead of being stuck somewhere at a job only able to participate on Sundays.

    Just sayin’.

    Do I want the people at Church to sell me makeup or tupperware? No! But Church IS a business and maybe someday it will be willing to listen to the ways it can finally do what it’s main goal is to do and… without it being a hardship on anyone. The more money & time a given person has, the more of each he/she can give. It really is that simple.

  8. markhcox

    5 April 2011 at 10:19 pm

    I just realized I never replied to this…sorry bro! And for the record, your thoughts will never be banned here. No matter how cracked out they are! Ha! Just kidding. Good thoughts, though, Chris.

  9. Helen

    2 December 2011 at 3:02 pm

    Some churces are. Some churches are not. The churches that are not, should protest the IRS provisions that try to force them to become businesses.

  10. Louise

    5 December 2011 at 9:16 am

    In each bulletin, my pastor writes a column, and has written several on our demographics (middle age with children, in their peak earning years). Another pastor I know obsesses over money to build, and who might donate land someday. I read these articles and hear these statements, and I just think “more Jesus, please.” I know that there is the business of church, but I don’t believe church is a business. And the embalance is obvious.

  11. Louise

    5 December 2011 at 9:26 am

    … The church is compared specifically to the family in scripture, never to a business. We need to earnestly test the claim that church is a business, not just swallow it because it’s pragmatic.

  12. louise ft wayne

    9 January 2012 at 12:55 pm

    a church is a place where people of GOD meet to know more about him and to fellowship with other follower of our LORD JESUS CHRIST because they take in money other than tilthes and offering to meet the need do not mean it is a business everthing must be done in order so that is the reason for the diffent offices if it is a business that are 100 of people not getting paid and WHO DO U SAY OWNED THE BUSINESS ? WHY R THEY A NON PROFIT ORGANIZATION AND A BUSINESS BOTH AT SAME most bussiness make profit or the shut down most business paid u to work for them at there business but we give to the the church to be there

  13. Cobus

    30 January 2012 at 9:40 pm

    Reading Acts 6:1-6 I see the balance of organization and organism. The Apostles say that they as leaders need to be busy preaching and praying (why? The edification of the body of believers, equipping them) and some other need to do the organization (support and organizing things) . What a good balance

  14. markhcox

    1 February 2012 at 9:19 am

    Wow…great insight! Great thoughts.

  15. markhcox

    1 February 2012 at 9:19 am

    Interesting thoughts! Thanks for weighing in!

  16. jorick velgera

    17 July 2012 at 2:09 am

    yes !!!!! that is the thing that i waited for i always questtiion that the church help u n our daily lives it is a bad thing but that is the trueu

  17. Charles

    29 November 2012 at 12:19 pm

    A very interesting question the answer believe Christ would give is the same as paul Paul. Gave when he stated that he did not burden the church but continued to work as tent maker the monies collected by the church are for. The needy the widows and orphans not to make individuals rich

  18. Charles

    29 November 2012 at 12:19 pm

    A very interesting question the answer believe Christ would give is the same as paul Paul. Gave when he stated that he did not burden the church but continued to work as tent maker the monies collected by the church are for. The needy the widows and orphans not to make individuals rich

  19. markhcox

    4 December 2012 at 8:40 am

    Good thoughts!

  20. Luke

    17 December 2012 at 4:32 pm

    I love the input on this topic. I guess I would throw my two cents in here by asking what is the church “supposed” to be. I see many people here distinguishing between the BIG C and the little c and then others saying some churches are businesses and some are not and still others that refer to it as a Network Marketing Organization.

    The first error in thinking here is that we are trying to attach some form of humanness and worldly definition to an idea that is of God solely. We are not meant to put words to it or try to define it, we are called to love the Lord our God with all of our heart and soul and strength, and love our neighbor as ourselves. If we fix our eyes on heaven and what God has already said and what He says to us every day He will reveal the answer. However, that picture gets convoluted by our inherently error-ed perception of reality. That is to say because we are human and are flawed and in need of a savior we can’t rely on what we think or what someone else tells us to think.

    You are to walk like Jesus walked and talk like Jesus talked. Jesus picked up his tool box and His lunch box and went to work every day. Never once did He ask people for money to support the ministry. I pastor a church and we have a basket that sits our for people to put money in if they feel led, but if they don’t guess what, God provided every single thing we need. We number about 25 and we outreach to over 300 people a month in a city of 60K. We have just started but attentiveness to the call of God is key to watching things go. BTW, I do not collect a salary and every single dollar raised goes back into ministry in one way shape or form. Not trying to elevate us in any way but that is the way it is supposed to be. That was the way God intended it. If you want to run a business, then run a business. Maybe even a Christian based business is good for you (i,e, coffee shop, bookstore) but don’t call it church for the sake of being Christian.

  21. Marc

    27 August 2013 at 5:29 am

    When I was younger I had this “experience” of what a church was… more like a family. Nowadays I have found that:
    1) I’m nothing but a resource ($$$) for those that want to advance “the kingdom”.
    2) I’m old and not exactly “Hollywood” material… Now the focus is on the younger “American Idol” generation. But be sure to bring your 10%, and your special offering, and your sacrificial offering, and your first fruits offering, and your missions offering, and…
    3) If I don’t vote Republican, I’m going to hell.
    4) Many of those same nice looking and bright shinning believers that are so on fire on Sunday mornings are not willing to move a finger on Monday mornings to stand up for the many injustices that happen at work. As one “certified minister” told me, “he gives us money”, and “it’s like a costs/benefits” analysis.
    5) Those that are asking me to “give it all” for the kingdom have lifestyles that I can’t afford, as hard as I work.

    For these reasons I believe in God, I believe that He grieves at what is currently happening, and that institutionalized evangelicalism is an unfortunate waste of time. Yes, it is a business.

    The church as I remember it is gone.

  22. markhcox

    25 September 2013 at 9:57 am

    Marc! Thanks for writing! I can feel your pain through your words and can only hope and encourage you not to give up on God’s church! Certainly, not every church is perfect, but neither are the people in it! I am thankful for your input, though, for sure. Blessings!

  23. WithAllYourMind

    20 November 2013 at 12:06 am

    This is an important question. I am so glad to see people thinking about it.

    In a nutshell, I agree with Luke: “If you want to run a business, then run a business. Maybe even a Christian based business is good for you (i,e, coffee shop, bookstore) but don’t call it church…”

    I have thought about this question a lot, and there is a sense in which a local church is a business, but there is another sense in which it is not. The distinction is very important for a healthy church. It is vital that churches get this right because if this distinction is not made clear, all sorts of contradictions ensue. The local church is a business in that it is an organization that needs to be, well… organized. There are administrative, legal, and practical considerations that God has trusted us with. These aspects are similar to any other business. However, the local church is quite different in that its work is self-sacrificial. There needs to be no requirement upon those served, directly or subtly manipulatively, for repayment of ministry performed, not even the recent tax-dodging trend of offering ministry in exchange “for a suggested donation in the amount of $XXX…” (suggesting donations for ministry that others receive is legitimate, however). So this is the distinction. A local church exists to serve selflessly and to teach its members how to do the same, not to burden people, explicitly or implicitly, with a debt of repayment for service. At the same time, a business is right to expect and demand payment for all services rendered. A church that takes a business philosophy in this sense is not just an ugly church, but is also keeping people in bondage, which is antithetical to Christianity.

  24. markhcox

    20 November 2013 at 12:47 am

    Wow! This was a phenomenal, well-thought-out response! Thank you! I think I agree with you. There are issues on both sides of the coin on this one; BUT…you have to get the “people” side of things right before you get the “organization” side of things right. Thanks for jumping in the conversation!

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  26. clement wejah

    23 January 2014 at 7:08 am

    may church is trying to go on the market but some how i find it difficult to go through. how can i make possible above praying to God for help?

  27. Ricardo Williams

    23 April 2014 at 7:48 am

    Most churches I know are run like a business. It is important to develop a model for success or they may risk failure. For the church congregation, the gospel teaches us to live by faith even when faced with difficult situations. It will be interesting if there was a portion of the church service where the poor and needy can ask for money to meet their needs. Seems to me church leaders get to do that during particular times in the service.

    I sometimes ask myself if there were no money available will there still be pastors bringing the word of God with a joyful heart? For me whether I’m broke or I’m wealthy I’m still serving Jesus, although I seem to do it more when I’m broke than wealthy.
    I sometimes wonder if the reason for so many Christian church denominations is to differentiate themselves so that they can build membership.

  28. Ricardo Williams

    23 April 2014 at 8:01 am

    Another thing about Church as a business is that those who give more money to the church are treated like celebrities in the church, where as those who give less are shunned. Those who tithe, but don’t necessary have left overs for all the extra requests from the church are sometimes treated as those who never tithes. The love and humanity that Christ teaches is over-shadowed and dictated by the need for money. The danger then is that the need for God is disguised in a Dollar bill. We can’t serve God and money at the same time and Jesus knew that.

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