By RaeAnn Slaybaugh
“A church isn’t a business. But, running one does require some business management techniques.”
So says Chuck Zech, director of the Center for Church Management and Business Ethics at Villanova University in Philadelphia. And he should know: The church management master’s degree program he heads up is part of an Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business-accredited (AACSB) business school.
“We approach finance courses with a focus on the congregation, not Wall Street,” Zech explains.
With pastors’ busy schedules in mind, all church management master’s degree courses are offered online. For non-master’s students, the university offers 12 different web seminars on 12 different business management functionalities, as well as two- and three-day targeted seminars. “Although these are primarily for pastors who don’t hold business management degrees, our participants often end up enrolling in the master’s program,” he says.
Regardless of the training selected, all church management courses at the university have one thing in common — their application. “We ask all participants to apply the principles they gain to their own ministries by way of research papers,” says Zech.
Another professional who knows firsthand how (and why) business management training for pastors has evolved is Julianne Cenac, associate vice president for professional and continuing education at Regent University in Virginia Beach, VA. Regent’s Pastoral Leadership Institute (PLI) is “a big hit, and highly requested,” according to Cenac. “Its core curriculum is focused on individual leadership. It also builds conflict resolutions skills and team-building aptitudes.”
In this program, a personal leadership assessment is conducted for each participant. Three or four additional sessions are then customized for that pastor, based on the results.
Better yet, all training can be done online, on campus, or both. “For example, the opening PLI session could be attended onsite, but other courses may be live-streamed,” Cenac explains.
The need is real
Cenac and Zech agree that pastors have shown increased interest in business management training in recent years, and for good reason.
“The pastors who make it a big part of their training — personally and for their teams — are seeing church growth as a result,” Cenac says. “Plus, they tend to be better organized and have better thought-out strategies.”
As an added incentive, business management training gives pastors the freedom to be vulnerable, which is a rare (and often welcome) opportunity. “When they opt in for skills development, pastors are really submitting themselves,” Cenac explains. “It’s a relief for many of them. In their roles, they’re so often called upon to ‘know everything.’”
For his part, Zech says the unstable economy has spotlighted a need for better business management practices among pastors. “When churches are flush with funds, they don’t think about it as much,” he says. “But, in the absence of those funds, they’re reading articles about embezzlement lawsuits.
“A recovering economy breeds a heightened awareness of the need for stewardship,” he adds.
The most in-demand skills
Zech says the most beneficial business management aptitudes a pastor can hone fall into two categories: financial and people skills. “They don’t need to be accountants, but they should know how to read a financial statement,” he advises. “They also need to develop their skills related to conflict resolution, collaboration and motivation.”
Cenac recommends pastors investigate intensive, advanced leadership courses that go beyond feel-good payoffs. “Intensive personal leadership development is the idea.”
She also recommends pastors seek training for technical aptitudes — especially in the areas of new media, marketing and social media. “It’s important to know how to link all those to strategic planning.”
A head for business
Lynn Munson has earned a reputation as an effective “business pastor.” Here, she talks about where the worlds of ministry and management intersect.
As a child, Pastor Lynn Munson of Yorba Linda United Methodist Church (Yorba Linda, CA) spent her summers and holidays in her grandmother’s placement agency. “She was one of the first female business owners in Chicago,” Munson recalls. “She was excellent in her field, and I wanted to be like her.”
And so she did: At 21, Munson took on a position as an office manager, working with engineers — just like her grandmother. In college, she took management and accounting courses, and considered majoring in business.
Meanwhile, she was extremely active in ministry leadership. In her 20’s, Munson was a Sunday school coordinator and women’s bible study group organizer. (“I have a way of ‘falling into’ leadership roles,” she laughs.)
At 26, a women’s bible study member asked Munson a pivotal question: Had she ever thought about being a pastor? Munson hadn’t — but a light bulb went off that day. She approached her pastor with some questions about what to do next and received a lukewarm reception. So, she went looking for a mentoring pastor. She found one in the United Methodist Church. “The theology and openness of the church fit my own,” Munson says.
The fit was so good, in fact, that the same pastor brought Munson on staff after she graduated with a master of divinity degree from the Claremont School of Theology.
In this role, she soon discovered a passion for ministering to 20-somethings. Munson launched her own ministry to this group within the church.
“In doing so, half my salary became grant-driven,” she explains. “That meant writing business plans in preparation for ministry launch — something I hadn’t done before.” Fortunately, she received the three-year grant she was after; but, she needed to meet benchmarks to keep it.
“All this made the business aspect of ministry more critical than in any other role I’d served,” she remembers. “It gave me an intensity about management.”
During your seminary training, how much business management training did you receive?
Lynn Munson: Almost none. There was only one class I can remember; it was on the topic of church finance and administration. It felt really disconnected from what we really do as pastors.
Where and how else did you hone your business management skills?
LM: I worked in the business world, but God gave me the building blocks for pastorship. By the time I took on a pastor role, the business elements looked and felt familiar.
Would you say there’s an increased need for senior pastors to hone their business management skills?
LM: Definitely. The climate has changed so much that you absolutely must have them. In churches, we compete for people’s time and resources. People are compelled to give to congregations that are confident, and that inspire confidence in their members. That’s how our business skills help: instilling confidence.
In your experience, what are some of the most valuable business management skills a senior pastor can develop?
LM: Keep your eye on financial management. You must know what’s going on with the money.
Also, I believe every pastor should write a business plan and have benchmarks and measurable goals in place — for themselves, for staff, and even for volunteers. When people get moved around in ministry, they’re ultimately happier. And, they do things they didn’t know they could.
Focus on affirmation and encouragement skills. And, consider additional training. Continuing education is always a good idea.
— Reporting by RaeAnn Slaybaugh
A proven track record
When Pastor Lynn Munson joined Yorba Linda United Methodist Church (Yorba Linda, CA) in 2010, she faced declining membership and budgetary shortfalls. Since then, she and her staff have:
Pledged to revive the affiliated preschool and renovate its aging facilities. This helped stem member loss and ramped up donations.
Reorganized the budget, with an eye toward cutting expenses. This included switching the staff health care plan from a Methodist church option to a Kaiser Permanente small business plan, saving $15,000 a year.Embraced a struggling church, while keeping her own strong. When a nearby church stopped paying its mortgage, Munson arranged to absorb its members without taking on the church’s debt. That church was dissolved and its building put on the market. Yorba Linda UMC’s membership grew by 300. Source: Orange County Register