Church, Inc.

By | October 10, 2009

There is a reason that The Office, Office Space, and Dilbert are so popular. A large percentage of people work in a corporate environment, but there are some real quirks and issues with it. People have many honest complaints, and they are expressed in the previously mentioned media. My view of corporate culture, and why I don’t like it, is this: while behind the scenes things may be a complete mess, horribly mismanaged with ridiculous policies, etc., the cardinal rule is that you have to act like everything is completely normal, and the most important thing is to keep up appearances. Put aside for now the fact that this may be deceptive and deceiving.

This expectation on a corporate level filters down to the individuals who work for a business. You must look “professional”, never be even a minute late, always are upbeat, never cynical, and never have any problems. It’s often as—if not more important—that you are these things more so than how well you perform your job! Oh yeah, and you are expected to care about the company as if your life depended on it, and it’s certainly got to be the first priority in your life, so that you work harder for it than anything. I may be exaggerating slightly, but I don’t think too much. So in many ways, it seems like you can’t be real or honest at work. Those who do are troublemakers, and usually don’t keep their job for very long.

Now everyone is their own person, has their owns likes and dislikes, dreams, ambitions, etc. People some times go through struggles of various kinds too. People want to “be themselves” and feel safe to be open. Now, think about the complaints that people often have about church: hypocritical, judgmental, fake, etc., images of a bunch of people who seem to be happy and have everything together. Some people see this and think they are totally in the wrong place—since their lives aren’t so perfect—while other people recognize the charade. In either case, what would a person on the outside want to have anything to do with it?

Have you noticed how similar this is to “corporate America”? It’s rather stunning I think. I heard the accusation that American churches are currently based too much on a corporate model. My understanding is that churches are actually legally incorporated; the elder board is the board of directors; then think about the big budgets, buildings, staffs, etc. Now if people are frustrated with the corporate environment, and if churches are in many ways mirroring the corporate culture, is it any surprise that people aren’t interested in church?

A typical “church” centers around a once a week service, where everyone comes in, sings a little, and then listens to a 20-30 minute lecture. In this context, there is typically not room for more than a 30-second or so interaction with anyone—just enough time to smile and say, “I’m fine!” This context isn’t conducive to being more “real”, open, and relational—the things that so many people are searching for. (This is one reason I support a smaller, “organic” church model.) There was once a church service I was in where the floor was actually opened to those in attendance to speak. A couple of people spoke up about real struggles and doubts they were having. I believe that they represented a significant percentage of a congregation in any service—people we complete miss ministering to because we don’t have time to let them share. After all it doesn’t fit into our program and doesn’t fit into our belief system… after all, as christians we’ve got it all figured out and don’t have any problems God can’t handle, right?

I’ve been thinking and wanting to blog about this topic for a while, and I recently also read another blog on the same subject. My understanding is that in the past (maybe 50 some years ago), when people saw a large company, they thought “they must be doing something right in order to have gotten so popular”, and so people respected those institutions. That being the case, it’s not surprising that this mindset influenced churches, and that they modeled themselves after successful corporations in many ways. However now days there is significantly more skepticism about large companies; people many wonder who they cheated or abused in order to get to the size they are.

In either case, church was never meant to be, and should never become a business. The church is supposed to be more like a family gathering to celebrate thanksgiving and share life together than it is to be like any kind of business. Do you think people would be more interested in church if it were more like hanging out with friends than going to work? How do you view and approach church?

photo credit: Southeast via photopin (license)

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  • Tracey Sheneman

    I like your post. It is well-written and direct.

    I suppose if one is seeking spectacle and maximum entertainment value from the church “experience”, a business model might make sense. These programs and Christmas pageants cost real money, you know? Megachurch is where people go to be “wowed” by the theater and drama of church, not necessarily to experience a living God in a human community.

    I like the “organic” church concept. Isn’t the church suppose to be the very body of the living Christ on earth? The business model of the church simply doesn’t square with New Testament ecclesiology. It’s more of a capitulation to 20th and 21st-century materialistic mores than anything from the Bible. “Organic” captures more faithfully the essence of the N.T. church: alive, real, relational.

    I think more churches are beginning to embrace the organic concept as a more authentic alternative to the centralized, business model. Church needs to be more participatory, as all members have something useful to contribute to the well-being of the body as a whole. The gifts of the Spirit are distributed throughout the body, yet many churches continue to follow the “sermon-song” method of practice that leaves members in a mostly passive role during a typical Sunday service. This is definitely not the type of church modeled in, say, 1 Corinthians.

    Keep writing and working for the good of the body of Christ.