The business of religion

DAY 20 REFLECTION: The business of religion

Many Christian leaders seem to tread carefully around the biblical story of Jesus and the moneychangers in John 2. In this story, as they sell cattle, sheep, and doves, and exchange money, Jesus clears the temple. He creates a whip and tells the sellers to stop turning his Father’s temple into a market. Today, in the United States alone, the Christian industry generates $124 billion per year.(46) According to Brotherhood Mutual (2017), the largest insurer of churches in the USA, 42% of church contributions went to salaries, 18% to buildings, and 17% was lost to fraud. Only 2% went to international missions and relief programs.(47)

Every church is a business, and in the case of Christianity, churches are often poorly run businesses. But there are no inherent reasons that churches and the broader Christian ecosystem couldn’t be more effective and efficient as organizations. Imagine if churches were consciously structured to operate in world class ways to help people inside and outside their sanctuaries. 

Christian organizations, like every other business, need to pay employees, run programs, build facilities, and buy lightbulbs. To do this, churches need revenue, which mostly comes from tithes and offerings. Like any other business, churches need leaders, staff, infrastructure, and marketing to operate.

Many faith-based organizations do great work and have strong organizational capabilities. But there are reasons to be concerned beyond the Brotherhood Mutual statistics. Supernaturally supercharged and prosperity gospel factions can be particularly problematic. In business, if an organization takes money from someone after promising goods or services that they then do not provide, this is a criminal act. But this kind of accountability doesn’t exist within religious organizations. If people are told they can be healed through a faith offering, and then they don’t get healed, leaders keep the money anyway. Oh well, God must have had other plans. If they are told that their church gifts will be multiplied and they are not, well, God will probably make it up to them later.

Christian charlatans commit terrible organizational abuses, and their abuses reflect poorly on Christianity overall. Using their corrupt business models, high-profile Christian leaders live lavish personal lives funded by their flocks. As the sick continue to suffer and the poor continue to struggle, charlatans buy jets and mansions and never stop asking for more. As Jesus said, “By their fruit you will recognize them.”(48)

Imagine if Christian churches chose to become operationally excellent and reactivate their infrastructures in the spirit of faith without actions being dead. Imagine if Christian churches reinvented themselves around Jesus’ love, connection, and service to the sick and hungry. What if every church could become a world class organizer of social capital to help people spiritually and physically and be known within every community by these fruits?

46. Anna Miller, “Religious Organizations in the US—From the pulpit: Renewed incomes are expected to boost donations, but attendance will likely continue declining,” US Industry (NAICS) Report 81311, August 2020. IBISWorld.
47. Brotherhood Mutual provides a number of financial resources to Christian Ministries. Although the 2017 report mentioned is not currently online, current reports can be found at
48. Matt. 7:20, NIV