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5 Surprising Lessons Church Leaders Can Learn from Business Leaders

What have you learned recently from business leaders?

Pose that question to many church leaders, and they might say ‘nothing’. And the reasons tend to fall into two categories:

For some it’s a matter of principle: some church leaders think church leaders shouldn’t learn from business leaders. The church should have nothing to do with the world.

For some it’s simply practical; they just haven’t taken the time to learn from business leaders lately.

I’m writing this post to address both reasons.

Here’s the situation almost all of us face as church leaders.  The majority of people who come to your church will walk out the door Sunday to go back into the business world Monday.  

As a church leader in Western culture, you are surrounded by people engaged in business. And you can learn some great lessons from them; even some surprising ones that can change your ministry for the better.

If you ignore that reality, I think both you and the business community lose.

What If Some Businesses Are More Christian Than Some Churches?

Before you push back on the idea that church leaders can learn from business leaders, a few considerations.

Recently, at the Orange Conference, I had the opportunity to interview two incredibly bright business leaders, Joel Manby, President and CEO of Herschend Family Entertainment, and David Salyers, Vice President of Marketing at Chick-Fil-A. The subject is what non-profits can learn from for-profits. You can read the live blog of our interview here.

When interviewing Joel and David, it occurred to me that the way they run their businesses might actually be more Christian than the way some of us church leaders run our churches.

Joel has integrated 7 principles from 1 Corinthians 13 into his organization to introduce a different leadership paradigm based on scripture. If you want to dig a little deeper, don’t miss this 4 minute interview he does with Fox and Friends describing how his organization treats people. It’s both moving and convicting.

David shared how Chick-Fil-A works hard to create value for people rather than extract value from people. They also see customers as people, not just profits. This video shows the attitude Chick-Fil-A is trying to integrate into every restaurant.

For sure, not every business integrates Christian principles into leadership. In fact, most don’t. But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from business leaders, empathize with them or work together to integrate what we believe with what we do.

 

It Goes Both Ways

It’s not just that churches should learn from business leaders; business leaders can also learn from church leaders.

David Salyers said “It’s not fair to my competitors that I get to go to North Point Community Church and learn principles from Andy Stanley to use in my business.” If you’re a biblical leader, business leaders will learn from you.

So for sure, the learning goes both ways.

But because the bias in church world (in my view) tilts away from church leaders learning from businesses, I thought I’d start the dialogue with 5 things I learned about how to run a church from interviewing Joel and David.

 

5 Insights Church Leaders Can Learn from Business Leaders

Here are 5 insights I gleaned from my interview with Joel and David:

 

1. Never confuse frugality with morality.

There’s a difference between being a good steward and being cheap.

I love what David Salyers said (both he and Joel sits on numerous non-profit boards including church boards)

“In a non-profit world it’s all about being frugal…Don’t confuse frugality with morality. Do we want our epithet on our gravestone to read “We kept charity budgets low?”

It’s a great question. Shouldn’t the church be the best funded mission on the planet? Shouldn’t we invest the best of what we have into reaching the world Jesus loves?

Sure, that’s not an excuse to be reckless, selfish or irresponsible, but most churches are far from that.

 

2. Start with the size of the vision, not the size of the budget.

Too many God-given dreams die in budget meetings.

We hack away and look at what is rather than what could be.

Please hear me, I have been in countless church budget meetings where we have cut and sliced. It’s necessary and every business does this too.

But if you are waiting for the money to show up to magically fund your vision, you will wait forever.

Vision always precedes resources.  Start with a compelling vision and resources will (usually) follow.

God is honored when we do things with excellence.  What if we started in church world with the size of the dream, not the size of the budget? As David Salyers said, “the church has the most important message in the world. Why would we get cheap with that message?”

 

 

3. Quickly eliminate things that aren’t effective.

Businesses can’t afford to keep things on the books that aren’t effective. If a program isn’t working, they kill it quickly.

Naturally in church, we need to lead with grace. But sometimes in the name of grace we sacrifice all truth.

Joel Manby pointed out that churches rarely act with speed when things fail. Chances are there are programs, ministries and approaches in your church that stopped working years ago. Even decades ago….

Why do you keep justifying their existence?

 

4. Create value for people; don’t extract it from people.

Too many churches use people as a means to an end. Granted, many businesses do as well.

But that should never be the way Christians operate at church or in business.

Joel and David made a strong case that when you create value for people by how you treat them with love, the entire organization wins…and so do team members.

Stop extracting value from people; start creating value for them.

 

5. Make your ‘ask’ personally and specifically.

Too often church leaders make a general announcement about a ministry, a need or an opportunity hoping ‘someone’ will respond.  And as we’ve talked about before here, someone is code for no one.

When I asked Joel how to engage business leaders like himself in the work of the local church, he responded without hesitation that the best way to ask personally and specifically.

There’s a world of difference between telling a leader ‘you need help’ and telling him or her you seem gifts in them that would be extremely beneficial to your ministry. High capacity leaders almost never respond to general calls. They often respond to specific, personal requests.

I offer these as examples of what you can learn when you sit down and talk (and even pray) together.

What are you learning from business leaders these days? Please leave a comment.

11 Comments

  1. Nicholas on July 27, 2017 at 1:37 am

    Please pray that the loan application process for our housing estate project in Nairobi for West Point Properties Development Ltd company will be successful.

    Waiting upon the Lord,

    Nicholas Ng’ang’a
    Nakuru,Kenya

  2. […] in your congregation for ways to better minister to our cities? Carey Nieuwhof put it so well in this post outlining the five things church leaders can learn from business leaders – “The majority of […]

  3. Joe Brosious on May 11, 2014 at 10:06 pm

    Just heard a restaurant chain owner talk about how they created a culture in their restaurants for all of their employees to figure out how they can say yes to their customers. He was frustrated after a trip into a bagel store to pick up a few items for a morning meeting, he bought a couple of dozen bagels and some cream cheeses, and their in the case was a tomato that he wanted to by. But the employee behind the counter said they couldn’t sell whole tomatoes, they were just for slices on sandwiches. It was a very thoughtful look at the importance of empowering people.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 12, 2014 at 6:29 am

      Fascinating.  Thanks. Saying yes to customers is a great idea. —
      Sent from Mailbox

  4. Mark on May 8, 2014 at 7:58 am

    Smart business people hire people who have specific skill sets. Why do some churches use elders to do things like take bids on insurance policies and take care of the property. You might have financiers in the congregation or engineers to do those things who specialize in that. I have never seen the request go out for people to contribute in their respective fields. I always thought it was just because they did not want us to contribute anything but cash.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 8, 2014 at 8:09 am

      Great point. At Connexus try to lean into as many gifts as we can find. I love the fact that you are the kind of person who offers them. That’s amazing.

      *Carey Nieuwhof, Lead Pastor *
      *Connexus Church*
      *546 Bryne Drive, Unit E Barrie Ontario L4N 9P6* *connexuscommunity.com * *careynieuwhof.com *
      *facebook & twitter cnieuwhof*
      *instagram careynieuwhof*

      *Sent from my personal email account. **If adding others, please use cnieuwhof@gmail.com to include me in the conversation. Thank you!*

  5. Joe Lalonde on May 7, 2014 at 6:02 am

    I’ve gone back and forth on this idea for years Carey. But I think you’re right. Church leaders can, and must, learn from the business leaders as well.

    As I was reading #2, something struck me. We can almost do both, start with the size of the vision and the size of the budget. We need to cast a big vision. It doesn’t always meet the size of the budget though. So, when that happens, we need to break the vision down into bite size morsels that do match the size of the budget. Doing so allows us to slowly build back the grand vision.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 7, 2014 at 7:47 am

      Joe that’s a really good point and I think that’s in practice what we do often. Thank you!

      I’d still love to see dreams fully funded. So would you. But the bite size approach is a great bridge.

      *Carey Nieuwhof, Lead Pastor *
      *Connexus Church*
      *546 Bryne Drive, Unit E Barrie Ontario L4N 9P6* *connexuscommunity.com * *careynieuwhof.com *
      *facebook & twitter cnieuwhof*
      *instagram careynieuwhof*

      *Sent from my personal email account. **If adding others, please use cnieuwhof@gmail.com to include me in the conversation. Thank you!*

  6. Lawrence W. Wilson on May 6, 2014 at 6:49 am

    I spent a few years in the business world, and I can tell you #3 is should say IMMEDIATELY. Ineffective things lose money, and nobody puts up with it for long. In the church, we’re only wasting (free volunteer) time, so it seems less urgent. Also, my admittedly limited experience is that the standard for truth-telling was remarkably high. Questionable or even overly vague statements never held up and were seldom used.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 6, 2014 at 6:53 am

      Such a great point Lawrence. Thank you! So true…I think sometimes we just overspiritualize things that simply aren’t working.

      *Carey Nieuwhof, Lead Pastor *
      *Connexus Church*
      *546 Bryne Drive, Unit E Barrie Ontario L4N 9P6* *connexuscommunity.com * *careynieuwhof.com *
      *facebook & twitter cnieuwhof*
      *instagram careynieuwhof*

      *Sent from my personal email account. **If adding others, please use cnieuwhof@gmail.com to include me in the conversation. Thank you!*

  7. […] Carey Nieuwhof What have you learned recently from business leaders? Pose that question to many church leaders, […]

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