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The Difference Between Church and Business Leadership

If we’re going to continue to grow the Church (with a capital C), we must be willing to learn what we can from our fellow church leaders and beyond. So today, we’re going to step outside the environment where we spend most of our time.

I’d bet that you’re reading this blog because you want to learn. And that goes a long way. 

In fact, the desire to learn is a founding function of a growth mindset. A person with a growth mindset sees setbacks as challenges, expects to struggle along the way to success, and—above all—knows well that they don’t know everything.

If we’re going to continue to grow the Church (with a capital C), we must be willing to learn what we can from our fellow church leaders and beyond. So today, we’re going to step outside the environment where we spend most of our time.

In this blog post, we’re taking a deep dive into the business world. We’ll look at the practices of CEOs, entrepreneurs, and managers. And discuss the ways we can put those practices to work in our churches and to our benefit. 

Why might church leaders want to learn from business leaders?

After all, you might be thinking: I’m supposed to be in the world, but not of the world. I’ve got my own rule book—the Bible! What more could I need? 

And we hear you. 

Pastor Carey Nieuwhof, of Connexus Church, does too. He offers great insight on this, saying: 

“As a church leader in Western Culture, you are surrounded by people engaged in business. And you can learn some great lessons from them; even some surprising ones that can change your ministry for the better.” 

He’s right. While you and your staff serve the church, most of your congregation likely works in the business world. Many of them are following God’s principles as well, if not better, than the church. 

Why miss out on what they have to offer?

When it comes to seeking advice from the business world, Scott Magdalein, the founder of TrainedUp, points to James 1:5, which reminds us that God gives wisdom to anyone who asks for it—not just church leaders.

Notice a pattern?

We’re not suggesting you take advice from just any business leader—or any church leader for that matter. There are plenty of cautionary tales out there to avoid. So what do we suggest?

Look to learn from people who are doing well in their chosen field, who love the Lord, and have found ways to make the most of their time and resources while still caring for people. 

When a person passes that test, all systems are a go.

What are the similarities and differences between the way churches and businesses operate?

So now we’re all on the same page about why it’s a good idea for us to learn from the business world. We also understand the types of people and businesses we might want to follow. 

Still, it’s a good idea to pause for a moment and recognize that churches and businesses are not created equally. We serve different purposes and reach our aims in different ways, including: 

  • The bottom line of a business is to turn a profit. 
  • The bottom line of a church varies depending on who you ask. Some say the goal is to please God, others cite principles, others evangelism, or discipleship. You know the answer that’s never given? Money.

The point is that we’re pursuing vastly different goals. Still, businesses and churches alike must interact with people. And they do so in the following ways: 

  • Businesses and churches must first appeal to a person in order to draw them in. 
  • Businesses and churches must hold the attention of a person in order to get their point across. 
  • Businesses and churches must have a compelling argument in order to persuade a decision on behalf of a person.
  • Businesses and churches must treat a person well in order to keep them coming back.

People are people

Here you can see how the way your congregation works isn’t so different from the startup down the road or your favorite local restaurant. People are people are people. In a business, we call them customers. In a church, we refer to them as the congregation. 

But, really, they’re just people. And when a church or business decides to treat those people with the love of Christ, remarkable things happen.

Still—and this is where our key difference comes into play—businesses must turn a profit. And in order to do so, they’re often keenly aware of the market environment.

A smart entrepreneur knows how to handle their money well, take advantage of technological opportunities, work smarter instead of harder, and stay true to their mission. All things we as church leaders sometimes miss in our great effort to love people. But we don’t have to.

Four Things Church Leaders Can Learn from Business Leaders

1. Manage your money wisely

In a few of the tips below, we’ll talk about allocating money for things like technology and outsourcing. We’ll also talk about cutting costs for ministries (or people) that aren’t working. 

For now, know this: Businesses don’t mess around when it comes to the budget

Good CEOs prioritize spending where it counts. You better believe they don’t pay out a dime just because they feel obligated to—and neither should you. 

Furthermore, let’s take another note from Carey Nieuwhof and what he’s learned from business leaders about the church’s approach to money

  • Being cheap doesn’t earn you a bigger crown in Heaven. 
  • Lead with your vision, not your budget. 

Businesses don’t apologize for spending and they don’t apologize for dreaming. You’ve got to manage your money well, yes. But don’t forget you’ve got God on your side and He can—and will—fund what He’s called you to do.

2. Embrace technology and all it offers

If you’re entering this new decade with us, it’s time to acknowledge the facts: social media and the internet aren’t going away anytime soon. We can get with the program—like the best business leaders—or we can expect to no longer be relevant.

Reach Right Studios gathers stats each year to help guide churches. And recently, a few major technology finds rose to the top: 

In fact, of all the things business leaders do well that we could learn the most from in today’s technological landscape, it’s how to mine data for information and use it to guide our decision making. 

Church Tech Today calls this “data over instinct,” citing businesses who sank or soared based on which way they leaned. 

3. Work smarter, not harder 

Order doesn’t make you cold, and efficiency can still leave room for God’s guiding. 

Contrary to what you might believe, getting a handle on the nitty-gritty details of your operations means you’ll have more time to focus on the things you really care about. 

Beyond having a structure to your day (a la Michael Hyatt), and bringing order to your office (thank you, Marie Kondo), you may benefit from two additional ideas for working smarter, not harder:

  • Outsource anything that doesn’t have to be done by you. Delegate responsibility to your staff, ministry volunteers, or freelancers in your community. 
  • Ditch ministries and jobs that aren’t serving your church. 

Easier said than done, we know. After all, people get caught up in the mix when we decide to make cuts. Still, if your ultimate goal is to please God and bring people closer to Him, you serve people best by reserving resources and manpower for only the most worthwhile endeavors. 

4. Stay true to your mission

Businesses that win do one thing really well: They look forward

You might be tempted to compare yourself to the church down the street, the pastor at the other campus, or the football game your members wish they were watching instead of you. (We kid.) 

As best you can, work to draw your eyes away from the competition and back to the work set before you. Keep the vision of your church ever-present in your mind. Or hey, print it out and put it up on the wall for your whole staff to see! 

Keep looking forward and you’ll get where you want to go. 

What businesses and business leaders do you learn from? 

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