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A probing question companies ask themselves in planning is, “What business are we in?”  You might think it would be obvious that a newspaper, for instance, is in the print news business.  But, not so, according to a popular journalism blogger.

Steve Yelvington says that newspapers are in the business of helping other companies sell their products.  In other words, if it weren’t for advertisers (companies) placing ads in newspapers in order to sell more products, the newspaper wouldn’t have the financial support to stay in business — which is exactly what’s happening to newspapers.

Yelvington’s point is that newspapers either forgot or never understood that they were primarily in the business of helping others sell their products, and that’s why they’re in trouble.

Ask that question of churches, “What business is a church in?” and you’ll get several diffferent answers, as follows:

Churches are in the worship business. But, isn’t that getting the cart before the horse? Why do people worship? Who or what do people worship?  And even if you narrow it to the worship of God, then whose god and how should he/she be worshipped?

Churches are in the teaching business. If we could just get people to learn about God, Jesus, Christianity, doctrine, and so forth, we’d be successful.  Most discipleship programs are built on knowledge transfer.  Christian education is wonderful, but knowledge, even about God, is not the business we are in.

Churches are in the helping business. This has several variations, such as serving, caring, loving, and ministering.  But if that’s our business how are we different from the local charity, foodbank, or clothing drive?  Churches may help, but that’s not our core business.

Churches are in the salvation business. This also has several nuances such as eternity, soul, conversion, and transformation.  Of course, the big problem here is that the vast majority of people who live around the world are not looking for salvation, and don’t see the need to be saved from either hell, the devil, sin, separation from God or eternal punishment.  Nor do many see the need to be saved to heaven, eternity, unity with God, and so on.  So, if we’re in the salvation business, we’re in big trouble.

What’s the answer to the question “What business are churches in?”  Here it is:

I think churches are in the meaning business — the meaning of life, the meaning of my existence, the meaning of family, the meaning of love, the meaning of suffering, the meaning of  a thousand other experiences that can only be explained by God.

How do we stick to our business?  By focusing on the answers to the big and small questions of life like, Why am I here? Who is God? What am I supposed to do?  How can my life have significance (meaning) in a world where so much is meaningless?

Those are the questions we should be answering each week, each Sunday, in every worship service, in every small group, and with every person.

Churches are in the meaning business — because if we aren’t nobody is.  That really is the point of religion, isn’t it?  To help people find meaning in all of the confusing, conflicting, crazy stuff of life.  Of course, those of us who are followers of Christ have found meaning in Jesus.  For us, Jesus is the key that unlocks the mystery of meaning.  But our experience of Christ began with some kind of search for meaning.

What do you think?  Agree, disagree, or have another answer?  I think this is a really important question and we need to know the answer.  What business is church in?  What do you think?