Friday, November 23, 2007

Churches that own for-profit businesses

A must-read article in the NY Times: Megachurches Add Local Economy to Their Mission.

I haven't found the knee-jerk reaction among Christian bloggers to this article yet.

I have a couple thoughts:
Business, like the rest of creation, cries out to be redeemed. Redeeming business (using them for God’s glory) should be the mission of Christian businesspeople.
These churches have used their economies of scale to buy businesses, transform them, provide jobs for local believers, and evangelize their communities through those businesses. They’re able to use some of the revenue to support church functions. The paradigm shift is that the businesses are owned by the church body rather than individual believers.

The article points out that churches pay taxes on these for-profit businesses. That gets complicated.

Doug Rieder, the church business administrator, said WC Properties files a federal tax return and pays property taxes on the commercial space at the mall.

But Mr. Rieder acknowledged the difficulty of allocating space, staff time and expenses to the appropriate tax category. “We’re very intertwined — it gets tough day to day,” he said adding, “I have to constantly ask myself whether I am accurately allocating our costs.”

If you're interested in redeeming businesses for the glory of God, check out the Business As Mission Network,

I thought about this for Moldova... churches here are amazing at raising would-be capital (money) and they use it mainly to build buildings. What if a church here bought a McDonalds and used some of the revenue to fund the church, and allowed Christians to evangelize there regularly? (just as an example)

The company I work for is Christian-operated. The board is made up of Christian business leaders and local pastors, including the head of one denomination here. The CEO of the company's response to the NY Times article, however is:

"Somehow I think that the Bibilical model is for Church members to be involved in business in order to generate revenue and support the Church and the ministry."

IE: not the other way around, as in the article. This sums up the mission of his company.

I've recently read a book (that I hope to soon get as many people as possible to read and discuss) in which a Christian economist argued that the "Biblical model," isn't very easily applicable to our times as there was no notion of capitalism until just a few hundred years ago.

Another opinion:

"I think that the Church will slowly move away from what it was intended for by the Lord if it will continue this way. My personal subjective opinion is that Church has to preach the word, take care of spiritual needs of people, take care of orphans and widows, bring people to the Lord and partner with other entities to achieve the Biblical mission. I don't think that the Church as Christ's bride is suppose to get involve in business or politics itself, but it's members individually can do it."

Raise your hand (ie: comment!) if you agree with the above opinion. I know you're out there.

Some of the activities listed in the Times article deal with real estate and the running of retirement homes. This is seen as the Church ministering by taking care of the elderly, and supporting the Church community. Do we separate those profitable activities from, say, running a McDonalds or a bookstore?

We desperately need a discussion among Christian businessmen, Christian workers, pastors, missionaries, and economists about these issues. There's a lot of money, opportunity, and potential problems/pitfalls at stake.


That Baptist Ain't Right said...

I think that churches need to be concerned with their primary task of being a church than with running a business. I envision too many competing interests. It can get ugly quick.

justin said...

I agree with you Tapp, but I think there is a fine line between the consumerism and the gospel. I think in the article there was too much of a melding between the two.

I think right now the church is run too much like a corporation and that has caused many gospel issues.

JTapp said...

I'm not sure I see "consumerism" exactly.

Certainly, large churches are run as corporations. As such, many hire MBAs to run their operations. Those MBAs are trained and talented in making finances grow and seeing investment opportunities. I think they're just doing so since they have the resources, and it's more fulfilling than simply keeping the lights on and paying the staff.

Should an individual church encourage individuals, or groups of individuals to engage in a business venture-- like real estate, nursing home, buying a shopping mall, etc.-- for the greater good of the Body? If so, what's the different if the individual church does it itself, with the resources from those individuals, rather than outsourcing the task to others?

Should the church even be looking at those types of business ventures? Why are they doing that more now, rather than 100 years ago?
I think the answer to that second question goes back to the MBA answer above, as well as the corporate-like mindsets.

Guidestone (the SBC's financial division) handles the pension plans, 401k, etc. Shouldn't we celebrate the denomination's wise use of finances as Guidestone is generating wealth for believers and helping them retire peaceably? Is Guidestone's actions any different than a megachurch that practically has denomination-like resources at its disposal?