July 5, 2012
Church Business Matters
To help congregants with work-related matters, church leaders will need to manage church business wisely.
Most ministers have managerial responsibilities, such as budgeting, hiring, supervising, and purchasing, though it seems many church members either do not understand this or harbor doubts about pastors’ competence in these roles. When our interviewees were asked why they had not sought pastoral counsel about work-related matters, quite a few shared misgivings about the church’s own management:
“How well does the church conduct its business affairs? Would any of their practices be relevant for the world?”
“The church is not a good example itself. Consequently, church officers burn out or become too attached to their responsibilities.”
“The church’s support comes from businesspeople, but we are not always confident the church manages that money responsibly.”
“I see all the same problems in the church working environment.”
Of course, the church is a business, and a sizable one at that. Taken as a whole, churches and other places of worship continue to receive the largest share of Americans’ charitable giving, more than education, human services, health, and other categories. Two-thirds of all adults, and 76 percent of Protestants, make such contributions. Annual per-capita giving by Protestants averaged $1,304 in 2004. Total annual giving to religious congregations in the U.S. exceeds $80 billion, a figure that translates to a like amount of spending and investment.
Dollar totals notwithstanding, it has never been popular to speak of the church as a business, for many prefer to see the priorities of the church as sacred and eternal, not secular and temporal.
Whether or not we are comfortable with acknowledging it, business management is an indispensable facet of ministry. Churches hire and pay staff, own and manage property, invest money, keep accounting records, file financial reports with government agencies, hire management and fund-raising consultants, comply with employment laws, own fleets of vehicles, purchase goods and services, and advertise their own services to the marketplace. Larger churches frequently hire business managers supervised by clergy. Some churches own broadcast facilities, recreational complexes, day schools, night shelters, and medical facilities. Others even run profit-making businesses, including commercial rental properties, retail stores, food-service establishments, and even gambling enterprises. One megachurch reportedly earned $17 million selling consulting services to other churches. More than a few churches and church leaders profit handsomely from book sales and musical recordings.
Managerial duties may weigh most heavily on pastors of smaller, less wealthy churches, where little staff support is available. These pastors also have the most at stake in fund-raising, as about one-third of the budget goes to the pastor’s salary in the typical mainline congregation. We should not be surprised, then, that church professionals face many of the same business challenges as other church members. “Clearly,” write Laura Nash and Scotty McLennan in Church on Sunday, Work on Monday, “the church is as vulnerable to the problems of money as any other organization. Some of the most discordant events reported in our congregational interviews were over allocation of church funds.” Some estimates indicate that financial disagreements cause more church splits than do theological differences.
[However,] several studies of accounting in church organizations have found a pattern of resistance to management practices that are well-accepted by other businesses and not-for-profits. Peter Booth attributes this to a church culture, or “ideology,” that de-emphasizes activities perceived as secular. He acknowledges that this tendency varies from church to church, but faults the influence of a “sacred-oriented” occupational group that is theologically trained but lacking in business acumen. It would not be reasonable to expect theological seminaries to produce clergy who are also skilled business and financial managers. However, more could be done to develop these competencies through continuing education and lifelong learning resources.
The church must demonstrate to the world that there is an alternative to injustice, indifference, and selfishness. It must strive to model this in all areas of its life and work, including its employment and financial practices. Does the church treat its employees as it would have others treat their employees? Does it manage its financial resources well? If it fails to practice what it preaches, it can expect to have little influence. We must demand the highest standards of integrity and competence in organizations that purport to represent the Christian faith to the world.
The church’s ultimate purpose is to proclaim the gospel. In Emil Brunner’s words, “Genuine faith, and love which arises from such faith, is the only creative and regenerating force in the sphere of economic ethics.”
Adapted from: John C. Knapp. How the Church Fails Businesspeople (And What Can Be Done about It). © Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 2011. pgs. 40-43, 119. Used by permission. All rights to this material are reserved. Material is not to be reproduced, scanned, copied, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without written permission from Eerdmans.
To learn how to manage church finances well, The Essential Guide to Church Finances covers how to strategize, organize, measure, communicate, protect and audit the financials of your ministry. For more information on employment issues in the church, visit the employment section of YourChurchResources.com.