What the Church Can Learn from Corporate America

Many of my friends who work in corporate America laugh at the snail's pace at which the Church moves.  As one man I know said at a recent meeting, "if this group were a hospital staff, there would be dead bodies all over the place!"

The group was stunned.  They didn't want to hear his criticism of the meeting but he was right- there was no urgency in the group.  Sadly, I've seen this time and time again and I'm guessing you have too.

The world of the Church is often caught in a balancing act of two things: the mission and the means to accomplish it.  The former is compelling.  It's what gets us out of bed in the morning.  The latter is necessary but can seem unexciting.  We can be tempted to think that we are above things like budgets, planning and sustainability.

For churches that ignore planning, organization and budgets under the guise of being "led by the Spirit", the end is often in sight.  The doors will close sooner rather than later.

To be fair, Nancy Lublin, CEO of www.dosomething.org has written Zilch: The Power of Zero in Business as a way of bridging the chasm between the for-profit world and that of "the other guys".  As it turns out, corporate America can benefit from the benefits of an approach which isn't solely based on the bottom line.

Still, the Church as a learning organization, can learn from those in the private sector.  Many of the fastest growing churches are blending MBA's on their staffs with seminary graduates.

So how can the Church learn from corporate America?  Here are some suggestions:

  • Urgency.  A buddy of mine told me about the difference between working for the New York City Police Department and his new corporate job.  He summed it up this way, "At my new job, we talk every two days about whether we are making enough money."  When you are recalibrating every 48 hours, small measures can be taken to right the ship and maintain an urgency of mission.  In the Church, "results" can be hard to measure but if we're serious about extending the Kingdom of God into all corners of the earth, urgency is not something we can ignore.

  • Shipping product.  I know of a religious order that has been revising a foundation document for over five years.  Imagine Apple telling customers that the iPad just isn't ready... year after year after year!  Many church committees could make a decision in two hours instead of two months if armed with the right data and a desire to get things done.

  • Killing bad projects.  Remember the Palm Foleo?  I don't either because Palm (prior to being acquired by HP) killed the project before it saw the light of day.  They knew enough to stop something going to market before being embarrassed six months later.  Too many churches are running the same retreats and programs that ran ten years ago, ignoring dwindling numbers and poor results.  Sometimes the wise thing to do is to cancel and refocus energies towards something new.

  • Professionalism.  One of my great pains is to see the Church shoot itself in the foot time and time again due to a lack of professionalism.  If most parishioners (i.e. "customers") are working individuals, the Church should be attentive to their time, the demands on their schedule and the best ways to communicate with them.  Professionalism is often an area for improvement in many churches.

I know that this post is somewhat critical of the Church. As someone who works within the Church, I share my concerns out of care and conviction that the Church makes the world a better place.  And it can do an even better job by learning from those in the private sector. Corporate America has its ugly side to be sure and as Lublin points out, can learn a whole lot from those of us in the non-profit world.  Says Lublin in a recent Fast Company article, "Charities lend more value than just their good names. Cause is our core competency. It's what we do."

Many readers of The Daily Saint are those who either go to a church or work within the Church- I'd be curious to get your reaction to the post.

How do you think the Church can learn from corporate America?

*photo by JeffreyBeall