Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The new unspoken model of church: church as business

On a recent visit to St Paul's theological Centre in London, I completed a recent lecture on Models of Church using Avery Dulles' models of church as a starting place. In the session we explored the seven different forms of church reflecting different emphases of the significance of Jesus, and looked for examples of local churches that reflected these differing models. These are traditionally 'God as King - Church as political society', 'God as Trinity - Church as mysticial communion', 'God as Sacramental - Church as Sacrament', 'God as Servant - Church as servant', 'God as Proclaimer - Church as Herald' and finally 'God as teacher - Church as discipler'. These are pretty well known, and I cover the Church as mystical communion model & sacrament as the emerging church in my book.

But what I did not say, and something that has increasingly troubled me, is the unspoken model that seems to have seeped in with little questioning due to the financial pressures of the modern world - is the model of 'Church as business'.

What has increasingly astounded me, is that there is so little written about this model, which has been absorbed by many churches, particularly those that are large. Clearly this model is not based on the significance of Christ, but purely on business cultural import.

For me, there is something deeply dangerous about churches going this way without thinking through the consequences. Firstly, because it can distort a high view of the 'Body of Christ' as an alternative community reflecting the Kingdom of God, that seeks to include those who are excluded - with a vision of human community at its best. As soon as church becomes a business this has to change to become something of a process model. From my experience of a church like this, your PCC quickly becomes a Board meeting, your congregants become share holders, and the church becomes divided into departments sustaining business activity. In such a church - where is the place of the poor? for those of little economic or work value? for those with out middle class business skills? For me this is far more of a challenge to the church than the issues it seems more vocal about such as issues concerning sexuality and gender. So why is the church so silent on this issue? Where is it being counter-cultural regarding models of church?

In some ways I can trace the development of alternative worship and the emerging church as a reaction to churches that increasingly became task orientated and dehumanised - as the focus became orientated around the business vision of the organisation. And yes, it shifted from being a fluid community to an organisation. I would argue that many of the successful Charismatic evangelical churches in London are built on a model of 'Church as Business', and demonstrate the weaknesses of this as a model. The question needs to be raised - how are these churches being IN but not OF business culture if they are to be contextualised forms of authentic church. I think many of us who have been part of these forms of church, have experienced the downside of these forms of church. Where Vicars operate as powerful managing directors with significant financial and political power. The danger of such forms to distort the function of the 'body of Christ' is substantial.

Don't get me wrong, I am not against business innovation or the need for creative entrepreneurialism where it is considered and used wisely. However, I am concerned that many do not seem to be aware or have considered the consequences of taking on very capitalist and business models of the church. For me, the greatest downsides - has to be that such churches are not really enabled to take on mission activities that are counter to business values, particularly those that might be counter cultural. They again target the powerful, the rich and successful and avoid the poor, the disdvantaged.... And again have a very Christendom focused approach to Church and mission.

This could be an interesting area for research


Holger said...

Well said, brother.

As to whether anyone has written about it... Malcolm would know, I guess. But you could always write something yourself!

Ian said...

Good to hear from you Holger. I am trying to write up a book on Trinity & Ecclesiology, so got my hands full at the moment!! Just had a quick look at your blog - looks like a good start. Any chance of a link to me little blog.... I will add yours in.


Michael Radcliffe said...

That's interesting.

I noticed that all the Dulles church models have some sort of theological raison d'ĂȘtre, usually based around theological ideas of trinity/christology. Whereas the business model ignores God altogether and takes its cue from other things.

Worrying times indeed.

Sam said...

well argued i feel it is particularly relevant having read Shane Claiborne's book on ordinary radicals and how as the church building expands (or church business expands?) it generally loses it community focussed orientation. I dont think the church was meant to be rich or have one person other than god directing it. nice one

Andii said...

I'm with Ian in terms of the concerns expressed about church as business and I was thinking that Michael was right that it is the model which is not theologically well-based in scripture or tradition. However, thinking a bit further, I'm not so sure.

You could look at the parable of the talents and see God as investor ... ? And the image of us as God's fellow-workers in 1Cor3 also leads in that kind of direction.

Metaphors always foreground some things and background others. So let's be careful about rubbishing the church as business model (if that's what it is). It does have some rootedness in biblical material (if you listen to and read the stuff that these churches most affected by it actually use, there is biblical stuff used to justify it). The question is probably whether it is used to justify doing things well and administering effectively and stewarding resources wisely or whether it is used to further entrench narrow sectional interests, to encourage self-justification by wealth or 'customer' numbers, and indeed to promote in effect the passivisation of the people of God by turning them into consumers of religious product.

The point is that all the models have upsides and downsides; the question is how those play with he cultural kairos-time: does the cultural milieu favour picking out more of the positives or more of the negatives. Arguably, the church as institution plays badly into our current cultural situation. However, some of its aspects are unavoidable if there is to be a form of church that can take advantage of the possibilities offered by charity status, for example.

Ian, you're right though, that making the model explicit so in the naming of it the critique of it can be enabled is important.

Andii said...

Should have said I've picked this up on my blog at http://nouslife.blogspot.com/2007/12/models-of-church-another-model.html

Len Hjalmarson said...

"Christianity started out in Palestine as a fellowship. Then it moved to Greece and became a philosophy, then it went to Rome and became an institution, and then it went to Europe and became a government. Finally it came to America where we made it an enterprise."
Richard Halverson, while he was US Senate Chaplain

"I say we have a church in North America that is more secular than the culture.
"Just when the church adopted a business model, the culture went looking for God. Just when the church embraced strategic planning (linear and Newtonian), the universe shifted to preparedness (loopy and quantum). Just when the church began building recreation centers, [or theaters], the culture began a search for the sacred." Reg McNeal, The Present Future

PeterR said...

There's so much I agree with about what you write, Ian. I'm especially struck by your comments about the business model leading the Church into unthinking valuation of church-goers by their economic status - holding the faith with respect of persons, indeed.

On the other hand, we shouldn't confuse interpreting the church through a business lens with valuing the church as a business. Lessons about accountability, about effective use of resources, about considering what really matters ... As long as we don't deduce from the business model that money is what matters, there are things we should keep learning from those who apply it - learn with critique, but still learn.

There are also enough business models to make me dizzy, so one challenge is for the church to pick a suitable business model to learn from. Successful businesses attend to small things but see the big picture, value people whether staff or customers, and so on. Not perhaps the business model I associate with business-based churches?

Finally, though, what distinguishes the church from any business is that we depend on God as starting point, goal, and path between. That must make a difference between a church, however inadequate, and a business, however profitable. At least, I hope so ...

Andii said...

Thanks for that Peter, pretty much echoing what I was trying to express. It's probably worth noting, as I did that there is some scriptural justification for having something of a business model. That doesn't need to imply full-scale endorsement of enterprise culture any more than going with church as herald endorses using trumpets in evangelism.

That said, Peter, you're right that the downsides of the business model mentioned by Ian tend to be things that are not good business practice: treating people instrumentally and subserviently to mere profit; a predatory approach to stakeholders etc. but then it is arguable that some good business practice has roots in Christian values. Perhaps there is some strange feedback loop here.

As I say back at my own blog on this; my own background is capitalist-critical, so I find it strange to be something of a contrarian on this. But having led a large-ish church at one point, I think that I became aware of the value added to what we were doing by people who helped us to adopt good business practice in various areas. Also the fact that if a church becomes a legally recognised entity (eg for charity status), there need to be certain things in place to ensure financial transparency, good stewardship etc which can be helped by business models.

Rob said...

There is nothing wrong with being business-like about what we do; that is ensuring that we are good stewards of God's resources and managing those resources well. As someone who is involved in management I am noticing that many churches are adopting a management style that was popular in the 80's: a lead-from-the-top CEO model. Interestingly in the 90's management took a turn towards teams and now in the "naughties" there is a greater emphasis on decision-making and direction coming from the factory floor. If we want to adopt a business model in the church I vote for the latter style. We don't need pastors building castles of greed, image and power. We need servant leaders who will walk in the shoes of the people they serve and lead alongside those who need to be led.

Andii said...

Rob, I think you may be onto something there. Though I draw attention to what I wrote comment-wise earlier: that some of the newer stuff about enterprise leadership seems to have Christian roots and even to have been written by people who have fairly strong commitments to Christian values. What I'm less sure about is the chronology of their writings and how they have been adopted, so I am wondering whether my hunch/suspicion is right enough. You care to comment?

Rob said...

Some churches in Australia and New Zealand are currently following the direction of US churchman,Paul Borden (www.growinghealthychurches.org). Borden, however, has borrowed a lot from the Carver model (www.carvergovernance.com). In itself the Carver model is excellent for not for profit organisations for which it was intended, but I believe it potentially conflicts with Scriptural teaching on leadership. We can draw on all sorts of models of leadership and governance, but our touchstone should always be God's Word.

PeterR said...

I think Ron makes an important point; the concept of stewardship may be a useful one as we think about church and business. We are stewards on behalf of the Lord, not on our own behalf. This leads me to reflect on the currency in which a church model might be thought of as trading.

In theory, CEOs act on behalf of shareholders (not, sadly, of all stakeholders). In practice, they often act as the head of a management team whose interests come first - executive rewards in large enterprises demonstrate that pretty clearly. In churches run on the 80s-style business model, those rewards may not be material (though they were in some well-known US cases) but they may rather be in power and prestige - the status goods that come with leadership in that model. If a goal of our church is glory to God, this suggests two things to me: that delivering glory is for te church in some ways analogous to making money for a business; and that stewardship that diverts that central product to the CEO or management team rather than to the Lord is poor stewardship indeed.

Again, this in not deeply scriptural - though perhaps something of the parable of the talents leaks in. I hope, though, that it gives us a chance to use the business lens to observe our internal workings helpfully. We might audit the way our relationships and priorities allocate glory, in the same way as an enterprise audits the way its processes allocate money.

It does, though, invite me to ask myself, as 2007 draws to a close and I look forward to 2008, whether I produce much glory for my Lord (not that there's always been a great deal of glory for anyone else, either ... ). Service, worship, mission, community, are all meant to generate glory to God; that might be a New Year test of resolution for me.