Over the years I’ve held a variety of positions, both in the business world and in the church world. Even today, I have my feet firmly planted in both. As a member of the leadership team at Church Community Builder, I wear the hat of a businessman, making decisions, looking at trends, and providing leadership of my team. On the other hand, because our business is focused on helping churches make a lasting impact, I am always thinking of how to do ministry better and interacting with church leaders. For some, these two worlds couldn’t be more different. Business operates on one set of rules and churches another. I know this, because often when I point to the connections between the two, someone pushes back on the concept. But I think there are some important lessons that churches can learn from the business community. Here are just a few.
Lesson #1: Data Over Instinct
Both businesses and ministries have to make important decisions. Is the time right to launch a new campus? What ministries need improvement so that people are not slipping through the cracks?
No church leader or entrepreneur I’ve met makes a bad decision on purpose. We do what we think is right, but sometimes our instincts are not enough. In 1981, the Kodak Company began to see a shift in their market. There was some emerging technology, but after some thought, they made the decision that the thread wasn’t imminent and could be ignored for the time being. That technology was digital photography. By the time they responded, the writing was on the wall.
When you use a combination of data, intuition, and the Spirit, your decisions have a much higher success rate. But oftentimes churches don’t even have access to the data needed to inform decisions in the first place. What are you measuring, and how is it helping your ministry remain healthy and grow?
Lesson #2: Connection Before Conversion
When was the last time you made a significant purchasing decision — bought a house, purchased a car, made a large investment? Was your salesperson more focused on converting the sale than building a relationship? No one likes that! I believe that people who are shopping usually want to buy, but never want to be sold to. Yet there are churches operating under the same approach as the pushy salesperson. We can be so excited to see a new person walk through the door that we overwhelm them. Focusing on relationship first, before pushing them toward the new members class or open volunteer positions list, helps a visitor know that the value they add to your community is their presence, not their service. Of course we want them to get involved, but we have to resist the urge to start there.
Some successful companies understand this very well. The quick sale can kill a business. For instance, a person who walks into the local coffee shop will spend roughly $4–5 on that visit. Not much in the moment … but over their life, that customer will spend closer to $14,000 buying coffee somewhere. Starbucks gets this. They want your experience to have a specific, standard feel and quality every time. They don’t want your $4, they want your $14,000. How does your connection and engagement process foster relationship building? How easy is it to be known in your community as a guest?
Lesson #3: Mission Trumps Market
There is something in our nature that makes us look around at others and compare. None of us is proud of it, but we have all been guilty of it from time to time. Businesses and even churches are susceptible too. As a church leader, it is easy to see the growth or success of a church in your community and wonder, “How can we be more like them?” While we should learn from each other, often this is a dangerous pitfall that can make you lose sight of your own strengths.
This need to evaluate ourselves against others can be deadly to a business as well. One of my favorite software tools almost fell prey to this affliction. 37 Singles began as a web design firm, but quickly found their true strength in Basecamp, the tool they made to make their work more efficient. Based on its success, they started splitting their focus, developing 11 other products … and lowering the quality all around. Then, in the winter of 2014 they made a significant (and wise) shift. They returned to being a singular product company, even changing the whole company’s name to Basecamp — and that discipline to stay true to their focus has served them well.
Too often, we look around and compare, and shift our focus because of what we see — losing our original narrative in the process. Your community doesn’t need another church just like one down the road. What is your unique calling? Can someone read your mission statement and get a clear picture of what makes you different? How often do you do a full review of ministry areas and how they’re focused on helping the church as a whole reach its vision?
The business world and the church world may seem separate, but the truth is there are a lot of principles that apply to both. While we strive to make our ministries the best they can be, it’s important that we be open to learning from both worlds.