The old business guru Peter Drucker said that whenever he was called to consult with a company he would ask the leadership two questions: “What’s your business?” and “How’s business?”
He said that he asked the first question because sometimes leadership forgets the purpose of their business. They get sidetracked and lose focus. So he starts by trying to clarify the company objectives.
Peters and Waterman shared a similar concern in their fine work, In search of Excellence. They called it, “Sticking to the knitting.” The writers point out that back in the 70’s and 80’s conglomeration became the rage and many good companies saw their fortunes crumble through poor acquisitions. The problem was, they got into business that they didn’t understand. Westinghouse went into aircraft engines, RCA tried computers, and Exxon tried their hand at telecommunications.
Peter’s and Waterman quoted an article from Business Week concerning the problems of Ling-Temco-Vault. Most today have never heard of LTV. I remembered that company because my dad had stock in LTV and every morning at breakfast he would check the stocks in the Wall Street Journal, and boast about his latest windfall with LTV. LTV was a great company in the 1960’s.
So what happened? Ling-Temco-Vault started as an electronics and aviation company. Then it went into the steel business. Then it bought a meatpacking consortium that included sporting goods. By the time the conglomerate had finished expanding it comprised 33 companies employing 29,000 and producing 15,000 different products.
Peters and Waterman wrote:
“Jimmy Ling was down in Washington appearing before an anti-trust committee describing why conglomerates were not in restraint of trade. He put up a chart that said, “How many people in LTV (then Ling-Temco-Vault) know the steel business?” He had just bought Jones and Laughlin. The answer? A big red zero was the next chart in his presentation. I bet today Jimmy Ling wishes the answer to that hadn’t been zero, because when Jones and Laughlin went down, Ling lost control of LTV”
In July of 1986 this company that was worth $3.6 billion in 1969 ($23.3 billion in today’s dollars), was in bankruptcy. The final asset, “LTV Steel,” liquidated in a second bankruptcy in 2000.
What happened? In simple language, they took their eye off the ball. They forgot why they were in business.
If you plan to stay in business then you’d better know what business you are in.
Church isn’t a business but like those international conglomerates we too can forget why we exist.
Years ago I read the story of some guys traveling through the southern United States. It was lunchtime and they were hungry so they started looking for a restaurant. They stumbled across a greasy spoon with an odd name, “The Church of God Grill.” Curious, they phoned in an order and asked for an explanation. The cashier told them that it was originally a church but finances were tight so they started selling burgers and things to help make up the difference. The burger business took off, but the church kept on declining. Eventually they dropped the church all together and today it’s just a grill.
What’s your business?
No, we aren’t a business, but I still think we need to ask this question. Why are you here? What purpose do you serve?
Sometimes churches forget who they are and gradually morph into something God never intended. I’ve seen churches start acting like a country club. The focus turns inward, and while they may not say it, they certainly live by the unwritten credo, “Membership has its privileges.” Some churches turn into shrines. The key mantra is, “Don’t mess anything up.” Churches can become academies of learning. “Forget about the lost, we’re here to study the Bible.” Some churches become strange self-help centers. Some are like giant pep rallies. Some churches feel like political conventions.
It seems as if there are countless ways for churches to take their eye off the ball.
So what’s your business? If the Lord were to walk into your church and ask that question what would you say? It’s really not a hard question because Jesus defined our purpose in Matthew 28:19-20:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit ,teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
The church exists to tell the world about the beautiful grace of Jesus. When you think about it, church is one of the only institutions in the world that exists for the benefit of its non-members.