A few years ago, I read an article in a Catholic magazine written about a former CEO’s take on the issues facing the Church, particularly declining attendance and public perception. As someone from the business world, his solution, naturally, was to become more business-savvy: If my business were losing as many ‘customers’ as the Church is, I would want to know why: let’s do exit interviews so that we can evaluate the product and fix the problem (my paraphrase). In essence, treat the Church more like a business selling a struggling product.
Naturally, there is an immediate repulsion to this idea among many Catholics. The Church is not just some corporation out for money, willing to change who it is to make a buck. The Church is a divine institution guided by unchanging principles, concerned with building God’s kingdom and saving souls, not monetary gain.
This is true. But as I’ve thought about it over the past four years, I find myself wondering way too often, “Would this fly in the real world? Why do we let it happen in the Church then?” While some churches do some things very well, every church could learn a few things from the business world.
Recruitment, training and evaluation of personnel
A good business doesn’t just come together all-of-the-sudden with the best employees and maintain success over many years by accident. The best businesses are always looking to the future and recruiting new talent. They scout, seek out, and attract new employees every year, going to great lengths to find the right person for the job and convince them to work there. How well do we do this as Church, the business-savvy person asks. Do we nurture talent from our parishes, encourage the right people to get involved, and draw the best outsiders for the job with enticing offers, by which I mean competitive compensation? Are we seeking out the people for the job or are we okay with whoever shows up?
Once a business has found the right person, they need train them to do the job effectively. Even a Harvard grad with a 4.0 GPA will need on-the-job training. Businesses don’t just throw someone out there and expect them to do an incredible job; they make sure the new hire is ready. Why? Because they could lose them a lot of money if they don’t know what they’re doing! The Church may not be as concerned with losing money, but it most certainly can lose parishioners and turn people completely away from the Church with poor liturgical or pastoral skills. That should be reason enough to make sure everyone acting on behalf of the Church is properly trained to do so. Priests attend five or six years of school to be prepared (whether or not they are is another point), but how much training do the music ministers get? The lectors, acolytes, or eucharistic ministers? Are religious educators knowledgable and pedagogically sound about the subject they’re teaching? It’s great to be well-intentioned and want to help the Church, but I don’t think it is outlandish to expect that all ministers be adequately trained in the ideal purpose of their duty and the overall mission of the Church.
Finally, no institution in the “real world” survives without constant evaluation and expectation of improvement. Are you meeting your numbers, getting along with your coworkers, and continuing the mission of the business? If so, great. If not, corrections need to be made by setting goals and obtaining more training. In the business world, if one does more to harm the company than help it, they are let go and replaced. It may sound harsh, but money is at stake here. Do we as Church act with that sort of urgency? Maybe our tolerance and mercy is greater given our work, and it should be, but it just seems odd to me that most priests are not evaluated on their pastoral care or preaching ability, and that there exist so many insufferable or intolerable preachers, lectors, cantors, and musicians with no normative way to address it. If we care about what we’re in the business to do, “save souls,” why wouldn’t we make sure that the best and brightest are out there doing the job well?
This brings up a difficult point for the Church: what do we do with volunteers and employees that are simply inadequate, say, the little old lady that has been playing the piano for thirty years but isn’t very good anymore and kills the life of the mass? In the business world where there is little loyalty, she would be replaced with a younger, more productive piano player. I am not suggesting that we necessarily do the same, but I am suggesting that we balance loyalty and inclusivity with talent and performance, and find ways for people’s talents to best give glory to God. Not everyone has the talent they think they have!
Satisfaction with “business as usual”
In the business world, a company that doesn’t grow dies. It’s just the way business works. There are too many other things that a person could be doing with their money. To be successful, a company can never become satisfied with their current market share, product line, or marketing strategy, to the point of complacency.
As the Church, particularly the Catholic Church, we run a little monopoly, and so this situation doesn’t entirely apply to us, at least not as severely. Because we offer the sacraments, we know that there will always be a core group of followers that will never leave no matter what. And we can play to that least common denominator, approaching our work with either arrogance, “Where else are you going to go?” or apathy, “What we do is good enough.” But is that what we want? Neither of these would fly in the business world… so why do they fly in our churches?
Because of this, our churches can lack professionalism, have little-to-no desire to innovate, and rarely take risks to step outside of the norm. What do I mean by this? Take a look at the average parish website. Some websites are excellent; most are terrible. It may have the mass times and the pastor’s name, but it’s clunky, uninviting, and looks like a 5th grade computer class project with clip art and poorly chosen fonts. In this media age, businesses have incredible websites that make people want to come back and social media campaigns that actively attract new customers. So many churches fail to engage people online, either through a lackluster website or a non-existent social media presence, choosing to remain with the usual, or non-existent, methods of reaching out.
And this sort of attitude can permeate every aspect of parish life. Look at the bulletin on a given Sunday. Are the events creative and engaging or are they boring and routine? One does not need to reinvent the wheel, change Church teaching or the liturgy, or be a multi-million dollar organization to engage people in a new way. I look to things like the Mass Mobs in Buffalo, where a group picks a parish and gets as many people to flood to that church to all worship together, rotating around the city. It makes the “same old thing” exciting and worth joining. I think of one of our parishes that started a program called “St. Anthony University”: students and professionals at the parish offered weekly courses, e.g. Wisdom literature, Church Teaching, Spirituality, etc., and if parishioners fulfilled enough credits in a semester, they earned a “degree” and were treated with a free weekend trip away. I think of the Capuchin Cafe that students at CUA started: powerful prayer, inspiring worship music, and great preaching in the church, followed by food, drinks, and live music in the parish hall (this attracts more than 100 students on a Saturday night!)
And these ideas aren’t even that creative! Think if we sat down and planned things like they do at Apple and Google, pushing the envelope far beyond “business as usual” so that the Church was not only grounded and wise, but also imaginative and relevant?
Pray and evangelize as if our lives depended on it
We as Church have an incredible product. We have 2000 years of faithfulness, a rich tradition of liturgy and prayer, oh, and Jesus. The problem for me is not what we’ve got. The problem, in some cases, is that we don’t take what we got seriously enough. If we approached a business endeavor with as little passion or urgency as so many parishes do in our Church, we would be out of business in a month.
It’s not about whether we should a) hold on to our traditions or b) ditch them to become “cool”; it’s about identifying what it is that we can offer the world, guidance and fellowship on our journey to salvation, and creatively and effectively managing our resources in such a way that more people actually accept it. Good businesses don’t make the customer conform to the product; they get to know their customers so that they can highlight just how their product will satisfy the customer. For us as Church, this doesn’t mean gimmicky tactics or whitewashing our tradition. It means knowing how to effectively and efficiently evangelize the great gift that we have to offer. Imagine what our Church and world would be like if we showed the same passion and sense of urgency as the people who make our computers and cell phones do, if we worked as hard and thought as creatively to make the Church as effective as it could be “selling” our product.
When it comes right down to it, imagine if we put the same amount of resources into making the Church better as we do buying those computers and cell phones. I refuse to accept that money is the problem here, that if we really wanted great musicians, educators, web designers, and pastoral associates, and we really wanted them to be trained as well as they could be, that we couldn’t make that happen somehow. What we lack sometimes in the Church is not money, it’s vision.
I fully acknowledge the fact that this post has been longer and more Jerry-Maguire-manifesto than my other posts, but it’s a message I really stand by and will devote my entire life to carrying out. Truly, I am just warming up. What I hope for in sharing this with you, if you’ve made it this far, is to touch on any dissatisfaction or longing you may have with your church experience that you might be compelled to do something about it. We need more people with passion, drive, creativity and courage, qualities that make someone successful in the business world, to step up and take on leadership in the life of the Church. There is no reason that these qualities shouldn’t be “business as usual” in every one of our churches.