The national gathering of NEXT Church is here in Chicago next week and PCUSA leaders from all over will be in town to talk about the new ways God is calling us to be The Church. My hope is that the results will be more impactful than mere talk.
I had a bad attitude about NEXT Church when it started because it felt uncomfortably corporate. In other words, there were those of us who had been talking and writing about shifts in 21st C. church for a while but we were serving small steeple congregations without a lot of prestige in the greater denomination. At least in the beginning of NEXT Church, the organizers were from the largest congregations in the denomination who began to agree that some adaptation was needed in the way we are The Church together. Personally speaking, it felt like church transformation wasn’t taken seriously until the big churches started to take it seriously.
So next week, we meet in one of the largest Presbyterian church buildings in the U.S.A. with folks from small, medium-sized, and large (corporate-sized) congregations, along with seminarians, new church planters, and specialized ministers.
At the risk of stirring up the 99%, I’d like to speak a supportive word about The Corporate Church. “Corporate” is an interesting word:
- Mainline Christians often include corporate prayers spoken in unison in our liturgies.
- The PCUSA is a rich denomination – financially – because many of the corporate business leaders have been Presbyterian historically.
And yet “corporate” is a dirty word for many of us. Some second career clergy friends were once “corporate” before hearing God’s call to professional ministry, and we who didn’t take that path look upon them with both respect and admiration. We respect that they’ve given up six figure salaries for clergy wages and we admire their prowess in financial management skills – something we English majors lack.
I recently heard a business school professor – who is also a follower of Jesus – speak about being a Christian in the corporate world, and because of her position, I don’t want to reveal her name or school, so I’ll call her DCL (Devout Corporate Leader.) She believes in markets. She believes that creating wealth also creates jobs and opportunities for the poor. She also believes that we can create businesses that serve people well. Numbers are her friend.
The 21st Century Church – as I’ve been known to say – must be less about numbers (attendance and cash) than about relationships (spiritual growth and community impact.) But numbers can be our friends too if they are more about impact than ego.
DCL believes that the goal of management training is to create low ego/high impact leaders. Do we want Big Numbers so that we can brag about the size of our congregation. (1000s of members = “I am a big deal“) or do we want Big Numbers because it means that more people are experiencing transformation in the name of Jesus? (1000s of members = “We are profoundly changing the community to be more on earth as it is in heaven.”)
It’s really okay to “be corporate” if we are low ego/high impact leaders. In fact this is one of the huge shifts we need to be making. Big Steeple Churches that are all about the pastors’ and members’ egos are a quick decade away from closing if they do not become about making disciples and transforming the community for good. And small congregations can make a tremendous missional impact if we stop feeling shameful about being smaller in numbers than we were in 1962. Who cares if we have 50 or 500 in worship, if we are reaching broken people and bringing hope?
Corporate doesn’t have to mean cold and commercial. For the church it can mean unified and communal. Together we can do more. But it can’t be about ego.
Image of the corporate headquarters of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in Louisville, KY.