In this second part of the ‘Creed or Greed’ series, Nicholas Mayhew-Smith presents a literature review and conclusions examining what the church can learn from the business world.
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Does the church have anything to learn from the business world? ‘No’ might be the resounding answer from a good number of priests, ministers and church administrators.
Those who have chosen to serve God rather than the customer have often made personal sacrifices by foregoing a secular career, and will almost certainly expect their church to do the same. The distinction between Sunday and Monday runs deep, and blurring the two is likely to meet considerable resistance in religious circles.
On the other hand, the church as a whole is not exempt from the pressures of modern life, social change and economic realities. In terms of its management, some church structures and assumptions are quite literally medieval in their origins, and have been found wanting in recent years, as high-profile scandals continue to demonstrate. Churches need to adapt and modernise their management policies and practices, a fact that is demonstrated by growing academic and practical interest in this field and exemplified by the establishment of the Susanna Wesley Foundation at Roehampton University in 2014.
Yet no matter how high the risks of inertia are, these need to be set against the risks of inappropriate change. Adopting successful management models and change management strategies from commercial organisations might seem the logical answer, but a cleric’s instinctive fear of contamination by such association might in fact be well grounded. Any sort of crossover into the world of commerce is fraught with its own difficulties and reputational risks. Merely investing pension funds caused the Church of England great trouble in 2013 when the Financial Times revealed that it had unwittingly provided start-up capital for payday lending firm Wonga.com, a business which the Archbishop of Canterbury had previously castigated as unethical.
This is not to say that the worlds of faith and business can never meet, but it does in part explain a reluctance on the part of the church to become overly distracted by innovations and opportunities in the business world.
Perhaps a more palatable way for the church to learn from the world of commerce is to focus on businesses which have themselves been founded on principles of faith. There are numerous vehicles in which such ventures have appeared, including the co-operative movement, paternalistic or evangelical entrepreneurs, Quaker-based businesses, church-owned businesses and more recently social enterprise, the latter being either a modern phenomenon or a reinvention of the others. The charity sector could be considered yet another vehicle for faith-based enterprise, although it is omitted in this review because the focus of charities has to be non-commercial by law.