It occurred to me during a recent church meeting how much we think in pictures, and how much our pictures are affected by the dominant pictures of the culture around us.
You can use any number of different images when you think of an organization – like a church. You could think of an army, a farm, an ant colony, a plant, a herd. You could picture a solar system, a single celled animal, a symbiote or a machine. The image you use will affect your expectations about the organization, how you structure it, and the decisions you make about and within that organization.
During our recent conversation about the future of our church people continuously and unfailingly returned to ideas that related back to their image of our church as a business. This is the predominant organizational model of our culture, and it seems that it is difficult to picture an organization of any kind functioning any other way. This became especially apparent as we discussed what we should be on about in the coming year. The Church Chair wrote the items on the flip chart and as I looked at them I found that they all fell into basic categories that we normally apply to business, even if they did not use the strict terminology. People essentially were saying that we need to advertise, build our brand, target specific marketing niches, do market research, and clearly communicate the features and benefits our church offers. This pointed out to me how thinking in terms of business is natural to us, like breathing. It is simply the way we expect an organization to work
The problem is that a church is fundamentally different from a business, both in purpose and structure. Therefore the metrics used to judge the success of a business are not the same as those used to judge the success of a church. Yet because in this country we live, eat and breath commerce, it has gotten into our blood. Instead we should be talking about faithfulness, ministry, suffering, joy, sacrifice, kingdom, community, love.
These are more difficult to represent with numbers, and so they seem less real to those of us (all of us) who are so accustomed to balance sheets, controlled studies, statistical analysis, and management by spreadsheet.