Monday, October 27, 2008

Churchapreneurs: a profile

As we introduced this series on churchapreneurs, we began with an overview, defining our terms and introducing the concept. So if you are just tuning in to the series, you can go back to the first post and get a better handle on what I am attacking here. However, before we move forward it will be helpful to remind ourselves what a churchapreneur is and what he is up to. A churchapreneur is a pastor of a Christian church who views his church as a product to be marketed and sold to customers. His business plan is a divinely given vision which marks out his market niche, which in turn, provides a strategy and set of tactics to reach potential customers. Of course, all this finds anecdotal confirmation in the poster that hangs outside of Bill Hybels office which says, "What is our business? Who is our customer? What does the customer consider value?”

With that background in view, let's turn to the profile of the churchapreneur.

The key component of the churchapreneur, which enables him to pull the whole gig off, is talent. Make no mistake about it, churchapreneurs are talented. They have charisma, are usually handsome, possess above average speaking abilities, have excellent interpersonal skills and a keen ability to understand what drives people. Basically, they are the kind of guys you would find working at your local car lot. Like good salesmen, they know how to push people's buttons in order to "close" the deal. Now, I don't mean to disrespect car salesmen, that is an honorable profession, and I have no complaint with them. After all, they are just trying to put bread on the table, like any one else. The problem I have is with the church being treated like a new car and these salesmen (pastors) plying their trade in the church as they would at the local car lot.

Of course, to some, this sounds cynical and perhaps overly harsh. I can only wish however, that this were simply an unfounded, harsh caricature, the reality is, it rings all too true. A case in point is "the cool church" in Tuscon, Arizona. The home page for this church prominently displays a picture of the head pastor, David McAllister. He is blond, he is buff, he is cool, and he is the lead salesmen at the church. Click on the links to the four satellite churches, which be broadcasts his sermons to at their various meeting times, and you will again see his picture and the pictures of the other salesmen of these satellites.

It is clear from spending a few moments on the web site that his business plan (divinely given vision) instructed him to hitch "hip" to Jesus, because as you attempt to search out what this church is about, you quickly find that its about being "cool"(no Sherlock Homes here, its in the title). The current web site, which is still under construction, contains numerous references to "cool," but the old site was even more fixed on hip. For instance, it actually had the following question posted on it, "“Why the cool church?" and then listed these reasons among several others: 1) we think God is “way cool”. Because God is so often poorly represented by religious groups, He can seem otherwise – but that, and 2) God's principles that we have in the Bible are cool.

Now, you say, OK, that is way over the top, but surely that must be an isolated example of a fringe group that no one pays any attention to and which cannot be representative of broader evangelicalism. Well, "the cool church" is not a fringe group, it is actually one of the largest and fastest growing churches in North America. Further, this kind of gimmickry is anything but fringe, its mainstream. In order to test this observation simply click on the following websites of a few of the fastest growing churches in America:

Elevation Church
Champions Centre

Everywhere you turn in the church world in America you find examples of this crassly materialistic, consumer oriented, lowest common denominator approach to church. Yes, the personalities are different, the market applications vary, but if you look, and not even all that closely, what you find is a common ideology that binds them together: SALES! They are all about building big, flashy, hip businesses through target messaging and cutting edge sales tactics.

To top it all off -- these salesmen leave nothing to chance in wooing their prey to the bait. A recent article published in the NY Times entitled "The Mystery Worshiper" exposed what is a cutting edge tool in the church growth tool kit, mystery worshipers. http://http// That is right, highly talented ministry consultants, many of whom are former pastors, who are paid to lie about themselves and pretend they are sincere first time visitors to a church, who in turn evaluate their worship experience and then submit it to the consulting agency so the information can be relayed back to the church which retained them. If that is not a business model of ministry, I don't know what is. Churchapreneurs, if they are nothing else, are savvy businessmen who have a single minded focus: growing the business. They will do whatever is necessary to increase sales volume, even if it takes professional liars (mystery worshipers) to help them craft a better sales pitch in order to keep on closing deals.

What is a churchapreneur? A churchapreneur is a pastor of a local church who treats his church as a commodity to be sold to customers. How can you spot a churchapreneur? Well, he looks like the sales staff at your local car lot, he has charisma, above average speaking abilities, excellent interpersonal skills, and he can't wait to close the next deal.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Churchapreneurs: an overview

In this article, I want to introduce a series, that I have been thinking about posting for a while, entitled, "churchapreneurs." I have googled many times and have not yet come up with a similar set of articles posted by anyone bearing this name. What I have come across is an article on a "Churchpreneur" program sponsored by a pastor in the Bay Area in California, which prepares Christians to go out into the culture and start small businesses that are Christian in nature. With that disclaimer, I am going to jump in feet first.

So, what do I mean by a "churchapreneur?" Let's begin with a definition: a churchapreneur is a minister of a Christian church who views his church as a product to be marketed and sold as if it were a commodity. His church is a business, and he is the CEO. As a good businessman, he knows he needs a thriving customer base in order to grow his business, err church, so he can build a building with a more pleasing aesthetic appearance, have a better, "beefed up" sound system, and offer more products (think programs which target felt needs), which in turn attracts more customers. The "churchapreneur" then, creatively and aggressively markets his church and what it has to offer to "customers" who have various felt needs ranging from marriage problems, to parenting help, to socializing, to weight loss. Since preaching and teaching the unadorned, unvarnished truth of scripture is not the reason why his church exists, then he doesn't concern himself with accurate interpretation of scripture or with getting the message right, he only pastes scripture and pious slogans on the products (programs) he offers and sprinkles his weekly promotional pitch with dashes of uninterpeted scripture for the sake of appearances and to provide a mild and temporary spiritual satisfaction to the customers.

The other piece of the "churchapreneur" puzzle is vision. Every "churchapreneur" worth his salt has a vision from God, who told him to start the specific "ministry" he is now engaged in. Vision is key to the "churchapreneur", as the success of the business, which can be measured in terms of the number of people, size of the building, and community reach, is directly proportional to his obedience to the God-given vision he has received. Run down the list of any big-time "churchapreneur" today in America and you will find that its this divinely given vision which is at the foundation of their ministry success. Why is the vision so essential to their business success? Simple, the vision gives the "churchapreneur" the particular market niche he must target. For Chuck Smith, it was Hippies. For Rick Warren, it was "Saddleback Sam." For Joel Osteen, it was people who hungered for the message of "hope and change." For the "guy church movement" its disgruntled white men. But the vision is not just important because it defines the market niche, its important also, because it points to the strategy for reaching that target group as well. Hence, we have the buzz words of the evangelical world today such as, "missional," "emerging," "contemporary worship," and so on, which are the catnip used to attract the target audience. Therein lies the genius of the "churchapreneur." He not only sees the market niche he has been given the vision to pursue, he also has the business savvy to come up with the proper strategies and tactics to reach them. Genius is not mere vision, its application, because that's the engine of success!

So just to recap, a churchapreneur is a pastor of a church who treats his church as if it were a business that has products to sell to consumers who have felt needs. He is guided in his business plan by a divine vision which discloses both the target audience and means for reaching them. If you think this is an all too cynical assessment of contemporary North American churchmen, then I close by pointing you to a poster hanging just outside Bill Hybel's church office, who in case you were unaware of it, is the guru who stands atop the pyramid of evangelical churchapreneurs for the last 35 years in America, which says:

“What is our business? Who is our customer? What does the customer consider value?”