Bible Subjects

The Church is a Business

The Church is a Business

When using business practices within the church one tends to think of the negative moral influences which we receive from the mass media about businesses. However, if we look at these business principles positively from a Christian point of view, one can achieve aims and efficiency when incorporating them into the new paradigm of our local SDA church. The following chapter gives the advantages of looking at the church as a business.

The World SDA Church

Although the church is not a commercial enterprise mass-producing a product, it should be in the business of serving the community, helping people to know Christ and baptizing them into the church. The church is also engaged in business-related activities. Linamen writes, “well over 60% of all persons in the United States . . . are reported to be affiliated with some religious group. To provide adequately for increased membership, the minister and his staff have become involved with business-related activities.”[1] The minister, although he is educated as a theologian, has to have some business experience in a growing church; otherwise, he cannot survive the pressures of increased membership. The annual business meeting in the church is not referred to here as business, but it is knowledge in how to run a church successfully using business principles. Some ministers have a natural inborn ability to use business principles in running a church, but not all have this talent. Is it important to view the church as a business and train ministers in business principles? William Johnsson wrote in the Adventist Review, in regard to finding out how big a business the SDA Church was in 1983, “Our church must be one of the most international and complex organizations that exists.”[2]  This is because there are members from many different countries around the globe, speaking many different languages and having different cultures.

What kind of business is Johnsson referring too?  A dictionary gives this definition of the word business: “a person, partnership, or corporation engaged in commerce, manufactur­ing, or a service; profit seeking enterprise or concern.”[3]  The SDA Church is an organization engaged in service, but it also needs to be financed through tithing to carry out that service.  What is the SDA Church worth on paper?  At the General Conference meeting in Toronto, Canada, during the summer of 2000, the following statistics were given: the Church´s total membership for 1999 was 10,939,182.  The church employs 166,000 persons.  Tithe contribu­tions for the year 1999 came to a total of $1,605,715,044, and its total assets for 1998 were $13,247,156,105.[4]  The statistics reveal that the SDA Church is in big business all around the world whether the members are interested in business or not. 

The Local SDA Church

The local church is related to this large business organization. Linamen confirms that “anyone who evaluates carefully the nature of the business functions performed on behalf of the local church soon becomes convinced of their importance to the success of the entire program.”[5] The business activities of a local SDA church would include the upkeep and running of the church building and the upkeep of all furniture, carpets and musical instru­ments inside the building.  In addition, it should involve every member in serving the community and evangelism. However, this has not been the case. Linamen continues, “Local church leaders should endeavor to conduct these business activities in the most effective manner possible.”[6] If they fail to do this, then questions should be asked such as, why is it not possible and what are the solutions if there are any? Why is the church not growing? Is there anything that has been overlooked?  In looking at the local church as a small business enterprise, and using business principles, we can evaluate and employ its methods in a more effective manner of running the church.

Reasons for Small Business Failures

Recognizing some of the problems encountered in running a small business might help us in running a local church more efficiently and effectively. David Gumpart in his article “Managers Journal” reports that “approximately 600,000 new ventures were started in 1981.”[7]  From these, approximately 50 percent went out of business after one year, within five years 80 percent had gone bankrupt, and many of the 20 percent that survived were acquired by larger firms.[8] What are the major reasons for these small businesses closing down or selling out to other organizations?  Hodgetts and Kuratko disclose that “the major reason businesses fail is incompetence . . . , unbalanced experience . . . , and a lack of managerial experience.”[9] In addition, Gill elaborates that the “three top failures in entrepreneurs going out of business were inexperience, insufficient funds and lack of marketing skills.”[10]

In much of the material written about small business failures, the major reasons which appear again and again are incompetence and lack of managerial experience. When these principles are applied to the local SDA church, the same reasons for lack of church growth and failure are discovered.  Many of our ministers are trained only in theological lines and know practically nothing about running a business. Also, the church tends to employ ministers who can master virtually every job in the local church.  He could possibly run the church all by himself, being able to perform all jobs the members are doing.  But a minister who can do all the jobs of the local church is not the right man qualified to run a church effectively. Gerber, who runs a training school for managers, reiterates this false assumption. “If you understand the technical work of a business, you understand a business that does that technical work. . . .  This assumption is the root cause of many business failures!”[11] The reason for this is that many small-business owners start up in business because they know everything about how to manufacture the product they are selling, but they know nothing about how to run a business. They have no business managerial experience, only the technical experience.

When a technician/owner tries to delegate his work to his employees, he always thinks he can do the job better because he is the technician who knows everything about the job. In addition, he puts more hours into the work to pay off his loans, he becomes stressed, and sooner or later he experiences burnout. It is at this point where most businesses fail.  Gerber explains “the owner realizes that the business cannot continue the way it has been; that, in order for it to survive, it will have to change.”[12]  This is for better or for worse, and in many cases it is for worse due to the lack of managerial experience.

Literature on business growth reveals that “firms started by those with a management background . . .  show the fastest rate of growth.”[13] This is because they know what they are doing and can manage a business. When these principles are applied to the local church, we realize that many ministers, church committees and members are not qualified to run a church; therefore, a change is inevitable if church growth is to succeed. Finally, Arnold confirms that “church leaders must manage resources and people as if they are business managers or in biblical terminology, ´stewards´.”[14] Therefore, church leaders and ministers of local churches have a responsibility to run their churches in the most effective manner possible because they are called to be stewards of God.  If the minister or members do not have a business degree, then it is suggested that they follow a strategic business plan, as recommended in the following chapters.

Argument for Applying a Business Plan

“Business planning is the process of creating a picture or model of what a business unit will be.”[15] We probably never have seen the business structure before, but we have to start off with an idea, picture, or model. Then we should ask ourselves the questions, “who, what, when, where, why, how, and how much that makes the business concept come alive in the minds of its owners and managers.”[16]  Business planning is not a new concept to Chris­tianity. Christ and His Father in heaven had already made plans for the plan of salvation, and how Christ should die on the cross to redeem all mankind. This plan was made in detail down to the minute, when Christ died on the cross at the time of the Passover lamb being sacrificed at the altar. He was the Lamb. White points out regarding Christ, “that He accepted God´s plans for Him, and day by day the Father unfolded His plans.”[17]  Without a set of plans, God could not have a picture of the outcome of the plan of salvation.

Even the most successful organizations have business plans.  For example, “IBM, General Electric, Xerox, and Mazda all share at least common fac­tors, success, competent strategic management, and a viable organizational policy.”[18] These were all achieved through a strategical business plan. In fact, if a visit is made to the bank for a loan to start up a small business, the first requirement from the entrepreneur is a business plan. “No bank will loan funds without a detailed business plan that shows what the company is going to do, its projected expenses and earnings, and its plans for repaying the loan.”[19]

Why a Business Plan?

What are the reasons for having a business plan and what should the plan include?  Hodgetts and Kuratko clarify that “a business plan is a road map for the would-be entrepre­neur . . . [which] forces the individual to think about the conditions he or she will face.”[20] If we make a long journey by car, we take a road map out, figure out how many miles it will take to travel there and back, and then work out how much it will cost. We also take into consider­ation the present weather conditions, traffic conditions, and hotel stops along the journey. We are working out a plan for the operation to succeed. “The entire business planning process forces the entrepreneur to analyze all aspects of the venture and prepare an effective strategy to deal with uncertainties that may arise.”[21] For example, when we are driving and we hit a traffic jam near a city like Chicago, then we have to work out an alternative route which could save us some time. Today the GPS does the work for you.

In addition, “the business plan quantifies goals and objectives, which provide measurable benchmarks for comparing forecasts with actual results.”[22] In other words, it helps us to identify and narrow our goals and objectives, so that they are realistic and manageable. These goals and objectives can then be compared with our results, for example in the prototype of companies in the church. When making the plan, “the planner considers every possible issue, scenario, and function of the organization in question.”[23] For the prototype to work, one has to go into details and ask questions like what if this or that happens? And work out a solution to each problem. The plan “enables the enterprise to avoid common pitfalls that cause less organized efforts to fail.”[24]  Much of the planning process will be based on assumptions because the prototype is an idea, and not a franchised finished model. Consequently, we must assume and “identify the essential events that must occur and actions that must be taken, and set forth a clear timetable for accomplishing them.”[25] In taking into consideration all these points of information, a business plan is selected that suits the prototype-company church situation. Our business plan should include the main strategies of a primary aim, strategic objectives, management strategy, organizational strategy, a people strategy, and a marketing strategy.[26]

Achievements of Writing a Business Plan

The achievements of writing a business plan for a new paradigm of a local church and the prototype for a company can be many.  Brooks and Stevens state that it is “a powerful tool for planning the long term operations of a firm, and for propelling a company out of its current situation, and into another phase of its growth.”[27] This is done by analyzing, for example, the local church services.  Luther advises that “you plan by market, not by the structure of your business . . . because you sell your products, or services, not your business.”[28] This also involves finding out what the local church can offer people in their community. The members are not offering their church building with all its programs to the community because many are not interested in them, but people are seeking for services of help to the community.  Lasher goes deeper into this area by even questioning the organization´s existence: Strategic planning involves broad, conceptual thinking about the nature of the business, what it does, and who it serves. . . .  Strategic planning begins by questioning the company´s very existence.  Why is the firm doing what it does? Would it be better off doing something else?  What customer need does it serve?[29]

These are some very serious questions and should be considered carefully when applying them to a local church. If the present methods of evangelism and church programs are not effective, then alternative ideas have to be explored and followed up, as in the case of our new paradigm. Does the present system of local churches in Denmark serve the community?  The answer would be, in a very limited way if any.  So how can the present system be improved?  This could be achieved by changing the structure of the local church from large congregations to small companies who, in turn, build up small churches consisting of not more that twelve active members supported by their families.

The local SDA church ought to be in the business of winning souls to Christ through small companies of believers.  Through our new paradigm, the members could serve the community and help those who are in need.  For this paradigm to work, we first have to have “an understanding of the mission of the church itself, and then have an effective basic organization for the conducting of the business of the church.”[30]  Therefore, every member has to be involved, as in the case of the first church Christ instituted.  How is this done with the present church system?  It is through a business plan. “A business plan allows aspects of it to be communicated to other managers and employees in an understandable way so that they can participate more effectively.”[31]

Moreover, a well-prepared plan will allow you to come and explain it with confidence to the local SDA church board, whose “chief concern is the spiritual nature of the church and the work of planning and fostering evangelism in all its phases.”[32] Consequently, the plan will also give the person presenting the plan a feeling of control of his or her destiny, in contrast to feeling at the mercy of events.”[33] It can be argued that our unplanned events for the local church are accepted by God, but White emphasizes that “we must get away from our smallness and make larger plans.”[34]

It can be argued that decreasing the size of our large congregations is not making larger plans; however, one has to start small even if large plans are made.  For example, IBM, McDonald´s, and Disney were all small businesses at one time, and now they are all large companies.  Finally, Delaney says, “the worst mistake anyone can make is to have no plan.”[35] This applies to all business managers and ministers in the SDA Church. Ministers need to make plans for the future of the local church, or they will end up like many thousands of small businesses that fail each year. Subsequently, this “business development program is the step-by-step process through which you convert your existing business (or the one you´re about to create) into a perfectly organized model for thousands more just like it.”[36] Hence, when we make plans for the future of a local SDA church, we may see small companies multiply in the district, duplicating the model that is created.


In comparing our local church in the Western World to a small business venture, we can see that we have many similarities to businesses that are not improving or have gone bankrupt. Therefore, one needs a business plan for the local SDA church to see where we are going in a few years from now. If the local church does not have a business plan, they do not know where they are going or what their future will look like in 10 years time. Hence, there is no outlook for local church growth or outreach to the community. They eventually will go bankrupt just like a business.



[1] Harold F. Linamen, Business Handbook for Churches (Anderson, IN: Warner Press, 1957), 3.

[2] William G. Johnsson, “Financing a World Church,” Adventist Review, 10 Mar. 1983, 3-6.

[3] The Random House Dictionary of the English Language (1966), s.v. “Business.”

[4] Bent Haloviak, “Archives and Statistics Department,” Adventist Review, 20-27 July 2000, 26-33.

[5] Linamen, 9.

[6] Ibid., 9.

[7] David Gumpart, “Managers Journal,” Wall Street Journal, Sept. 25, 1982, quoted in William A. Delaney, Why Small Businesses Fail, Don´t Make the Same Mistake Once (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1984), 3.

[8] Ibid., 4.

[9] Richard M. Hodgetts and Donald F. Kuratko, Effective Small Business Management (Orlando, FL: Dryden Press, Harcourt Brace College Pub., 1995), 15, 16.

[10] John Gill, Factors Affecting the Survival and Growth of the Smaller Company (Aldershot, Hants: Gower Pub. Co., 1985), 4.

[11] Gerber, The E-Myth, 10.

[12] Ibid., 24.

[13] Gill, 8.

[14] Jeffrey Arnold, Starting Small Groups (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1997), 41.

[15] William Lasher, The Perfect Business Plan (New York: Doubleday, 1994), 3.

[16] Ibid.

[17] White, Desire of Ages, 208.

[18] James M. Higgins, Strategy (New York: Dryden Press, CBS College

Publishing, 1985), 1.

[19] Hodgetts and Kuratko, 159.

[20] Ibid., 159.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid., 160.

[23] Arnold, 41.

[24] Hodgetts and Kuratko, 161.

[25] Susan M. Jacksack, Business Plans that Work (Chicago: CCH, 1998), 9.

[26] Michael E. Gerber, The E-Myth Manager, (New York: Harper Collins Publishers Inc., 1998), 101.

[27] Julie K. Brooks and Barry A. Stevens, How to Write a Successful Business Plan (New York: Amacom American Management Association, 1987), 14.

[28] William M. Luther, How to Develop a Business Plan in 15 Days (New York: Ama.com American Management Association, 1987), 17.

[29] Lasher, 9.

[30] Linamen, 9.

[31] David A. Curtis, Strategic Planning for Small Businesses (Lexington, MA: D.C. Health, 1984), 2.

[32] Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 1995), 79.

[33] Curtis, 1.

[34] Ellen G. White, Evangelism, (Washington DC: Review and Herald, 1946), 46.

[35] Delaney, 14.

[36] Gerber, The E-Myth, 82.

Next Post

Previous Post

© 2024 B I B L E – ONLY

Theme by Anders Norén