Throughout different times, the church has been influenced by various sources. One major influence on the American church in the last hundred years has been business. It makes a lot of sense that business has been such a major influence on the church because throughout history culture has always had a major influence on the church. Business has been a fundamental part of the American spirit and our capitalist system throughout our country’s history, so it is only natural and normal that the business world seems into the identity of the church. The church will never be able to avoid its surrounding culture, so I don’t think this is a bad thing at all. There are lots of great things about every culture, and specifically about business that have been embraced by the church. It is easy to say that we are different from culture and that we are set apart, but our culture is a large part of who we all are. If we are aware of the good things about our culture, we can identify the ways that the church has grown and developed in very positive ways in the last 100 years in the United States. Evidence of this influence includes the church offices, Human Resource departments (SPRC), similar staff positions to offices, advertising techniques, etc. These are great resources
Along with all of the benefits that the church has experienced because of American culture, and specifically the business world, there are also things that creep into our church culture that aren’t as helpful, sometimes even harmful. If we can promote the Kingdom of God with business techniques and principles, let’s do it. However, elements that we find inside of the business world can distract us from the Kingdom of God. There are obvious things like greed and the primary concern for the bottom line, which are obviously contrary to the Gospel, but there are two less obvious elements that have impacted the church and how people in American culture react and respond to the church. I just want to bring up a couple thoughts, with this in mind, that may help us begin to understand the increasing negative reaction that the general public seems to be having towards the institutional church. 1. We have created and encouraged a consumer mindset in the church. Many people ask, “What’s in it for me?” when they walk into a church. This is a reality and churches want to provide as many services as possible so that people will want to come to their church to consume these services. Churches have had a tendency to attempt to attract people to their church and have lost sight of God’s mission for the church. Again, this kind of thing has happened throughout history and is not something that any of us have to beat ourselves up about. This is a normal progression of the church and we need to be aware of our situation so that we can explore ways to get back on track.
2. The more the church looks like a business, the less trust people have in it. Trust is one of the most important commodities that the church has, and actions in the business world destroy the trust that people have for the church. When we think of Enron, or AIG or many other companies that we have had bad experiences with, it doesn’t give us very good feelings. Think about all the times you have complained or heard someone complain about a company that treated us badly or ripped us off. The more the church looks like a business, the more people associate those feelings with the church as well as with business. Things in our culture are changing and many businesses are even changing their philosophies in an attempt to be successful. We should be aware of these trends and see not just what people feel, but why they feel it. Those of us inside the church know that it is very different from a business, but the people outside the church don’t see the difference.
I am very impressed at the way that many people including the staff at St. John’s does ministry with the mission of God in mind. Everyone get caught up in the consumer mindset at times, but I am working to change the way that people feel about the church and going to where they are in order to do it. Each month I will have some stories, thoughts and observations to share. Until next month…