Selling Vacuum Cleaners, Part 1

The church has a problem. It’s not what you may think. No, I’m not talking about tumbling attendance rates, financial shortfalls, music wars or the staggering number of our adult children walking away from Christ. The real problem, according to many, is that these pastors are just so darn disorganized.

 “What we need,” say some, “is to look at the church like a business. Of course the church isn’t a business,” they’ll mutter under their breath, “but pastors could learn a thing or two from business people.” And it’s true. Business professionals are trained to develop systems that run efficiently and effectively. What church couldn’t benefit from a little more efficiency and effectiveness? Enter the era of the businessman-pastor.

I’ve visited a number of churches that seem to prefer business skills above preaching skills, spiritual disciplines and even theological training. Here’s the problem. Business people have two primary concerns: (1) develop a customer base; and (2) keep the customer base happy. Now developing a customer base should fit in nicely with the church’s mission. After all, if a church is doing its job (making disciples), then the church should grow (increased customer base).  But is the reverse also true? Does church growth mean the church is doing its job?

I could line my cabinets with the church advertisements I receive in the mail. What I find disturbing is the marketing strategy, “Every other church is boring, money-grubbing and unfriendly so come to ours. We’re different. We’re better.” That’s business for you-destroy the competition. Hmmm. Are we helping our cause?

Trouble is, the strategy works. Those dissatisfied with their current churches come seeking greener pastures. Our customer base increases with much greater speed than when we focus our energy on making disciples out of pagans. As one pastor said, “To ask a businessman to strategize in the area of evangelism is like asking him, ‘how do you sell vacuum cleaners to people with dirt floors?’.”

His answer is usually, “You don’t.” His goal is to find people with rugs. When translated to the Christian subculture, “churched” people have rugs, making them a softer market to sell our church.

As the customer base grows, it’s important to keep the customers happy. The businessman pastor must focus his efforts on internal ministries, services and of course the aesthetic preferences of his parishioners. He leads a church of religious consumers.

Most Christians would agree religious consumerism is not the goal. And yet, here we are. Religious consumers are as common as Costco members. Is the solution to keep business people out of ministry decisions? I hope not. As a business woman, I’d like to think I can contribute to my church. So how do business people support the church’s mission? THAT is the subject of my next post.

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