Churches as Businesses

An interesting article from the Economist looks at successful churches, and how they operate like businesses.

VISIT Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois, an upscale exurb of Chicago, and you are confronted with a puzzle. Where in God's name is the church? Willow Creek has every amenity you can imagine, from food courts to basketball courts, from cafes to video screens, not to mention enough parking spaces for around 4,000 cars. But look for steeples and stained glass, let alone crosses and altars, and you look in vain. Surely this is a slice of corporate America rather than religious America?

The corporate theme is not just a matter of appearances. Willow Creek has a mission statement ("to turn irreligious people into fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ") and a management team, a seven-step strategy and a set of ten core values. The church employs two MBAs-one from Harvard and one from Stanford-and boasts a consulting arm. It has even been given the ultimate business accolade: it is the subject of a Harvard Business School case-study.

In my opinion, religion is like anything else – competition leads to industry improvement. When I was in Denmark, churches aren't as concerned with attendance because their money comes from the state. They don't compete for dollars like American churches. In this country, churches have to compete to be successful, and they do that by giving people what they want.

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Peter Drucker said that businesses don't exist to reform their customers. I wonder if Willow Creek might change his mind about that.