Comparing disciple-making churches to corporate & non-profit organizations

Years ago I was asked a simple question, “Can the church run as a business?”  Perhaps the question is “should it?” or “can it and successfully maintain its God given purpose?”
There are many who suggest that it is possible.  I don’t believe it is.  Here’s why…
The church is a spiritual reality and business is a natural reality.
Before corporations ever existed – the church existed as a spiritual reality.  The church functions best when the spiritual dynamic leads.  Business structure is an objective method of organizing what’s in the natural.  I believe in good business and good structure but I recognize that the church is a spiritual reality that often colours outside natural lines.  If you operate a church in the natural it will die.  If you allow the spiritual reality to direct the natural organization it will live.  Here is one simple example to illustrate this point.
If you were to take the average church building, our use of its real estate does not make sense.  Objectively no business owner would invest 50% of the sq ft of its business on a large auditorium that is used 3-8 hours a week or less than 23% of the time.  Yet we believe in gathering together in spaces because of God’s word.  We believe in hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit and following His lead.
The church never started as corporate entity…
We often forget that up until the age of the industrial revolution and organizational management theory the church operated in a very different way.  The early church recognized the apostles as the ultimate authority in matters of church life.  There was no logo, no bank account, no accounting department, and no competition between gatherings of Christians.  After the reformation, theology split the church.  Today, methodology and consumerism has divided the church.
Now that we have structure….
In the west, churches are set up as not for profit charitable organizations – with the understanding that churches carry with them a different set of values and goals.  I have broken down a few key areas to illustrate the differences within the corporate structure.   The abbreviations B=business, NP=not-for-profit corporation and C=Church.
Purpose / mission / vision
B-To make a financial profit.
NP-To positively contribute to society / greater good.
C-To advance kingdom of God in the earth
Jesus declared a difference…Matthew 6:24
Structure varies
B-Shareholders Board, Executive, Managers, Teams
NP-Board, Executive
C-Board, Elders, Pastors, Staff, etc
In the kingdom of God success is measured in faithfulness and fruitfulness.  In business success is measured in terms of profitability.  In non-profits success is measured in the ability to do good.
B-Financial metrics
NP-Program metrics
C-People metrics saved, people discipled.
Organizational decision making
B-Organizational management
NP-Organizational management charitable nuances
C-Spiritual leadership + organizational leadership
In the kingdom of God, the intangible uncertainty of Holy Spirit contribution is hard to measure.  In business everything comes down to objectivity.
B-None (CEOs wife) / not required
NP-Needed / important
C-Necessary / lifeblood
B-Products and services
NP-Corporate, gov, limited individual funding
C-Attenders, members, volunteers, staff, outside advocates
Hiring practices
B-HR best practices
NP-HR best practices less talent
B-Talent first based on real results that can be measured monitarily
NP-Talent first based on programs
C- Biblical priorities + anointing/skill/responsibility/education/experience
In a church, joining as a pastor or administrator on staff isn’t simply about completing a job or a function.  It is an emotional investment that is the joining of an entire family to a larger family.  Can you hire a pastor whose spouse attends somewhere else?
B-Based on profitability
NP-Based on metrics for funding
C-Based on discipleship and evangelism priorities
Organizational Nuances
C-Members are volunteers are funders
C-Staff are funders and volunteers.  Staff spouse by-in is critical.
C-Volunteers run the organization…staff facilitiate it.
C-Spiritual epistemology more a priority than natural objectivity/subjectivity.
In business people are classified as an asset, liability, partner, or target.  People  are valued for how they relate to the organization. Businesses are focused on their target market in product, delivery, customer service, etc.  In the kingdom of God, people are of highest value for who they are not what they can do or bring.  


In the Bible, churches were never setup as corporations and were never registered with the government.  Only up until recently has this become a reality.  A church is not a business and never will be one.  That being said, in the world in which we live, governments have required non profit organizations that collect funds and use bank accounts to register and to operate in a similar way that other charities do.  We must be careful in such circumstances not to apply the same organizational models to our churches but be aware of the nuances that a church carries.  We must allow the organization to serve the organism and not the opposite.