Churches as businesses

Great article in the Economist that speaks about the influence of business thinking merging with how people do church. The subtitle boldly states, “America’s most successful churches are modelling themselves on businesses“. The Economist writer, also coins a new term; the pastorpreneur. Overall the article provides a tone of indictment on the practices and soul-lessness of these churches…

VISIT Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois, an upscale exurb of Chicago, and you are confronted with a puzzle. Where in God’s name is the church? Willow Creek has every amenity you can imagine, from food courts to basketball courts, from cafes to video screens, not to mention enough parking spaces for around 4,000 cars. But look for steeples and stained glass, let alone crosses and altars, and you look in vain. Surely this is a slice of corporate America rather than religious America?

The corporate theme is not just a matter of appearances. Willow Creek has a mission statement (“to turn irreligious people into fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ”) and a management team, a seven-step strategy and a set of ten core values. The church employs two MBAs—one from Harvard and one from Stanford—and boasts a consulting arm. It has even been given the ultimate business accolade: it is the subject of a Harvard Business School case-study.

Full article: Churches as businesses – Jesus, CEO

Question: Where is the line, how are churches going too far? Do you think Jesus would turn over the tables on these things?

  • D. Goodmanson

    December 23, 2005, 6:19 pm

    The Economist identifies some criticism in the article:

    There is no shortage of criticisms of these fast-growing churches. One is that they represent the Disneyfication of religion. Forget about the agony and ecstasy of faith. Willow Creek and its sort are said to serve up nothing more challenging than Christianity Lite— a bland and sanitised creed that is about as dramatic as the average shopping mall.

    Another criticism is that these churches are not really in the religion business but in the self-help trade. Mr Osteen and his equivalents preach reassuring sermons to “victors not victims”, who can learn to be “rich, healthy and trouble free”. God, after all, “wants you to achieve your personal best”. The result is a wash: rather than making America more Christian, the mega-churches have simply succeeded in making Christianity more American.

    Moreover, it is a wash that is extraordinary good for the pastorpreneurs themselves, who prosper by preaching the gospel of prosperity. The wonderfully named Creflo Dollar, chief pastor of World Changers Church International in Georgia, drives a Rolls-Royce and travels in a Gulfstream jet. Joyce Meyer, who promises that God rewards people with his blessings, counts among her own blessings a $2m home and a $10m jet.

  • bill streger

    December 24, 2005, 8:39 am

    Drew, this is good to think about. One of the things I’ve loved so much about Acts 29 is that our network takes seriously the call to engage the culture and contextualize the Gospel, but at the same time it keeps the Gospel in the forefront driving all we do. I love that most A29 guys preach solid, expository sermons verse by verse through books of the Bible. I love that Jesus is the hero.

    I think the line we cross is when our “customer” is no longer honoring God and asking first “what would please him?” and we begin asking “what would please unchurched people?”. Now, it’s Christmas Eve, so I’ve got to leave my $3m home and get into my $15m hellicopter to take me to finish up some Christmas shopping.

  • D. Goodmanson

    December 24, 2005, 1:27 pm

    Great thoughts Bill. I agree. If our focus is anything less than God, it’s idolatry.