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If entrepreneurs ran the Church

With UK Church attendance in steady decline, is it time for Christian leaders to take advice from people with a track record of running successful organisations? Peter Kerridge asks three Christian business people hard questions about the future of the faith

Those who argue the UK Church is in decline don’t need to look far in order to find worrying statistics. The proportion of the population attending Sunday services is only one-third of that in the early 1960s. Ninety-five per cent of people will not be found in church this Sunday.

Even dissenting voices who protest there are plenty of growing churches in the UK must admit such congregations are exceptions to the rule and the overall trend is downward.

We live in an increasingly secular society. In one survey, 51 per cent did not recognise that Christmas has anything to do with the Church. We’re also facing a crisis of discipleship – only five per cent of churchgoers have any devotional life outside of a Sunday service. Change is clearly needed.

William Booth, John Wesley, Dwight Moody, St Cuthbert and others were powerfully used by God in times past to initiate change in the Church. Discontented with the status quo, they adopted a pioneering spirit. You might even say they were entrepreneurs.

Clearly churches are not businesses and there are important distinctions. But there are similarities too. Many clergy, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, have considerable industry experience. A business background can help church leaders make good decisions when it comes to HR, finance and marketing.

Businesses up and down the country will regularly look at themselves and ask if they’re fit for purpose. They will implement new strategies and take risks. But if a major retailer such as Tesco issued a statement saying that 95 per cent of the UK population will never visit their stores, their share price would crash.

Given the current state of play, does the Church need to recover a sense of urgency? How would today’s Christian entrepreneurs solve problems which Christians are facing? Could their gift of leadership be utilised to help today’s congregations not just survive, but thrive?

As I travelled the country interviewing top Christians who work in various sectors, I soon discovered there are major lessons to be learned. There are also huge opportunities, especially in this digital age. In the following extracts from those I spoke to there was a surprising amount of agreement between the Christian entrepreneurs, which can be read in full in the book If Entrepreneurs Ran the Church (SPCK).

Joanna Bicknell

Joanna was Business Development Director at Dorling Kindersley (DK). In 2004 she set up Make Believe Ideas Ltd, producing affordable books for young children. It is the UK’s fastestgrowing children’s non-fiction publishing company and already has a turnover of around £25,000,000

What do you make of the UK Church’s presentation of the gospel?

We don’t present the gospel well. We don’t present this incredible truth in a credible or professional way. We lack enormous amounts of credibility in terms of how the Church is viewed.

If I am presenting a range of products to Walmart, I have one shot at getting that product in. So I have to be prepared. I need the very best person to go and present. I’m not going to send a junior accounts person in my business to make a critical presentation. In Church, because we’re all Christian and because we want to be nice to people, we let well-meaning people do the wrong jobs and therefore we do God a disservice by not presenting his incredibleness in the best possible way.

We all without exception have gifts. What I have learned in running a business is that very few people actually know what their true gifts are. We need to get together and work out what our strengths and weaknesses are. We need to be able to be honest. That takes enormous discipline and strength from the leader of the church to be able to deliver, though, and to pull out the core positives without rejecting or hurting people.

Hospitals have moved from being led by doctors to having administrators running them, with doctors and nurses as the frontline staff. Would you order the Church in a way that’s similar to that?

Yes. You can have a clergyman who can preach well, can pastor well, can evangelise well and who is socially very able. But that’s very rare. Jesus himself would struggle to apply for some of the adverts you see for clergy positions!

The role of the clergy is primarily that of spiritual direction and hearing from God. Clergy may not be pastorally strong. I’ve got no problem with that. There are many other people in our church with great gifts who can do the pastoral work, or the evangelism side. What I want first and foremost from my leader is someone who is listening to God and is able to give the wider leadership team overall direction.

You’ve now been appointed head of the UK Church. You’ve got 50,000 buildings, 30,000 staff, and the whole of the UK to cover. What will you do?

Number one, we need to be present in our communities. The Church potentially has a problem here: we talk in our funny languages with our funny terminologies; the vast majority of the population doesn’t know what those things mean. What does ‘salvation’ mean?

We also expect people who have no concept of church or God to conform to coming to a building at 10.30. I think if we’re to have any hope of being liked for God, we have to be doing things in our communities.

Lord Bob Edmiston

Baron Edmiston became a billionaire through his companies IM Group and IM Properties. The Sunday Times Rich List 2017 estimated his fortuneto be £1.02bn. In 1988, he founded Christian Vision, a large international evangelical charity. Edmiston is the sponsor of three secondary schools within the English academy programme, and is chair of governors for all three academies.

The Church has billions of pounds of resources, a leadership structure and an amazing message. So you would think, standing on the outside, that it could be an amazing success story.

In fact it has been an amazing success over the centuries. Huge areas of the globe were Christian for a large part of history. In terms of numbers of adherents, China is the biggest Christian country in the world. It’s just that from the perspective of the UK, some people say we are in a post-Christian era. Others say we are actually in a pre-Christian era, because ‘post-Christian’ implies a real knowledge of God in the community and a rejection of God, but we are actually at a stage where a lot of people in the street have no scriptural knowledge whatsoever. So we are starting almost from the ground floor again.

Why has the Church survived?

There are no businesses that I know of that are more than 300 years old. Yet the Church is 2,000 years old! I have to say that, in a curious kind of way, God has managed to achieve what no business could possibly achieve.

In the case of the Church you don’t see the CEO. You can talk to him and sometimes he talks back to you, but very often he delegates the responsibility to us, and at least some of us are misinterpreting what his instructions are. Hence we have countless different denominations, because each one has put its own slant or interpretation on what it thinks God has been telling it.

What are the problems for the Church that would keep you awake at night?

One of the things I worry about is personal ambition. It’s easy to serve God out of a sense of duty or ambition, but to serve him out of love is really the nub of it all. God wants relationship with us; we are to be his bride – and you don’t want a bride who is lukewarm.

We need to go back to the master builder and ask him where we should be laying the bricks. If we all focused on achieving the kingdom of God rather than building our own personal empires, that would be a really big step in the right direction.

One of the principles in business is to maximise your resources. Can you see any waste in the Church today?

I see duplication of effort, with denominations and individual churches not working together; and the ‘not-invented-here’ syndrome, as very often the information or the thing we are trying to produce is already being produced somewhere else.

There are various accounts of the steps to accepting Jesus: I think there are the Four Steps that one organisation has produced, and another one might produce Five Steps; yet another one might produce Three Steps. Why don’t we just find the best method and all use it?

We are duplicating effort and sometimes we end up fighting each other. I can think of circumstances where one mission group was fighting another mission group; so the devil is doing a great job in dividing us all up. It’s good when “brethren… dwell together in unity” [Psalm 133:1, KJV]. That’s where God commands the blessing.

Ray George

Started a stationery company called PFE, designing and manufacturing folders and inserters that were sold throughout the world, with a £5,000 loan. When he sold it, the company employed 500 people and had a turnover of £30m. He now owns and runs DMS, a major stationery business operating internationally.

How would you change the UK Church?

Maintaining groups of small churches which are ineffective and not growing, but simply keeping going, really is not where the future lies.

I don’t agree with clergy having five churches to look after; how on earth can they do that? It’s impossible. And those churches won’t grow, they’re still going to die. So if you’ve got five churches, perhaps we should pick the strongest one, shut the other four and minister to that one.

I would close down a number of churches and have one central church which meets the needs of a particular area. Somehow Christian leaders have got to come together and agree how to develop each area for mission and outreach.

Would you do anything about training to get the church leaders of the future ready for an emerging Church?

So many are hooked in tradition and cannot move from that. I think it’s a new type of person that’s going to come through. I do think theological training is important. But the person has to have vision, which is different from tradition. If we stay with tradition we will die.

You’ve taken a business from nothing to a huge multi-million pound organisation by growing your customer base. Are there any lessons that you could draw on?

I think our buildings have got to be warm and friendly. Sometimes they’re cold and unattractive. Sometimes we need to think about taking our pews out, if we can’t afford a new building. We have to make the inside of the church warm, friendly, with coffee areas, places for young people to come and just be themselves. It’s got to have that warmth and feeling of being lived in. People relate to that. So many people don’t like even going into a church: they fear it.

Are there some silver bullets that you can see that the Church could be using to fast-track some growth?

I feel it’s important that you have an open door and communicate with your team.

Whenever there is a problem, I’m very happy to be involved if it cannot be sorted out with HR, because in a team you work together. And once you build a strong team, you can become world leaders. In the Church it’s important that the leadership operates as a team. They must work together, pray together, eat together and share a joint purpose. And when that happens and everybody is in the right area of their gifting, it will work. A good leader does not need personal power. A leader should be gifted in placing people in their right jobs and encouraging them in that.

For more information about If Entrepreneurs Ran the Church (SPCK), visit premier.org.uk/Shop/The-Leadership-Book



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