The "Business" Model of the Small Church--Tony Pappas


One pastor in my fellowship said recently, "If 1958 ever comes around again, my congregation is ready!"

I was walking on the beach with a friend on a sunny day last March. Apropos of nothing in particular, he asked me why the railroads, once the predominate form of transportation, had fallen on decades of life support. My best Rogerian, "Why?" elicited this: Because they thought they were in the railroad business; when they actually were in the transportation business.


It got me to thinking. What business do our congregations THINK they are in? (or more precisely, what business do our congregations ACT as though they were in?) and What business ARE they actually called to be in?


Some act as if they were in the preservation business. The music preservation business. The building preservation business. The family memories preservation business. The history preservation business. The nostalgia preservation business. All good stuff except for one basic problem.....


Some act as if they were in the theology business. You've seen the signs: "Bible Believing." "Fundamentalist." "We preach the Word of God"."We unashamedly preach the Word of God." We unashamedly preach the inspired Word of God." "We unashamedly preach the inspired, inerrant Word of God--and not just in the original languages, either."  "We preach the inspired, inerrant Word of God just the way Jesus spoke it and King James wrote it down!" Still one basic problem....


Some act as if they were in the personal satisfaction business. "Every Sunday I get fed" [or more typically, "I'm leaving. The pastor doesn't feed me."] "The music moves me." "It is so good to go to church every Sunday and remember how right or mature I am." "At work nobody listens to me, but at church I can throw my weight around." "It feels so good to reconnect with my friends each Sunday morning." "I go to church to praise the Almighty, Eternal, Transcendent, Majestic God, as long as it is with the organ and not guitars [or vice versa]." Not all bad, but still one basic problem...


The basic problem is that none of these "businesses" does what the church is called to do.


All right, you cynic, what business are we called to be in? "If anyone be in Christ, he or she is a new creation..." I believe that we are called to be in the human transformation business. [And on every level, but let's start with persons and congregations.] 


I heard that, "Yeah, so?" I heard that, "That's so obvious; don't bore me with it." My response is,"Well, if it is so obvious, why aren't we organized to do it?"


Where do persons change? In small, safe, face to face communities of substance.


How do persons change? By being confronted simultaneously with love and challenge.


Which persons change? Not those "who don't need a physician," but those who do, who are sick and desperate, whose lives are a mess, who dirty up our buildings and mess up our schedules...


When do people change? Gradually over time in the above environments.


Why do people change? Because  Divine love and energy creates the possibility.


I once heard a pastor complain that only two new families came to a seminar he offered for the community. Maybe those two were who God wanted touched. Maybe those two were desperate enough to go to a church to seek for help. Maybe those two could have received it, if we were in the right business.