Posts Tagged ‘church planting’

marketplaceOur daughter is currently enrolled in a Masters degree program in Organizational Development, where she is learning how organizations tend to function, both successfully and unsuccessfully.

Her primary “business” experiences have been with Church–as both a member, the daughter of church leaders, and now the wife of a church minister—and Let’s Start Talking, a non-profit, faith-based organization that she has grown up with, volunteered for, and been employed by.  Because of this, her interest in this degree program is primarily in developing as a person so as to be able to help both churches and ministries like LST.

Sherrylee and I love that she is doing this because she is constantly sending us books and articles from her reading list that she feels might be important to us and/or to LST.  Recently, she sent us a paper by Michael E. Cafferky, presented in 2005 at a Christian Business Faculty Association conference, entitled “The Porter Five-forces Industry Analysis Framework For Religious Nonprofits: A conceptual analysis,”  a paper which introduced me to several new ideas.

Very briefly, I would like to share with you my thoughts from reading both the paper and other articles to which it led me.

In 1979, Michael E. Porter of Harvard Business School introduced a framework of five forces which he believed would describe the attractiveness/profitability of a market. At first, it was assumed that churches and non-profits seemed to work outside of a competitive framework, so for many years his model was assumed inappropriate for a religious marketplace.

Professor Cafferky’s paper, however, challenges this assumption and looks for intersections and congruities. I believe, at the least, the exercise of using Porter’s Five Forces Analysis could stimulate churches and religious non-profits to examine the dynamics of their own environment in a more productive way.

Let’s look at these Five Forces and try to raise specific questions about the current religious marketplace:

1.    Threat of New Competition:  Profitable markets that yield high returns will attract new firms. This results in many new entrants, which eventually will decrease profitability for all firms in the industry. We recently did a search around our new office facility and found 74 churches listed within a five-mile radius.  Church planting is currently seen as the primary means of evangelism in the industrialized world, especially within the United States. The proliferation of house churches, often the strategy for new church planters, should be noted in the context of “new entrants.”  In contrast to all of these churches and all of these “new entrants” is the fact that around 4000+ churches close their doors permanently each year and the number of people who self-identify as Christians in the U.S. is declining.  Here is my first question: Is the proliferation of new church plants simply covering up the fact that the religious marketplace is much less “profitable”? To use the language of business: are we closing old stores and opening new stores, but that strategy in and of itself is not adequate to keep our business profitable?

2.    Threat of substitute products or services – how easy is it for the buyer to switch to a different product? The easier to switch, then the more likely to switch and make your organization less profitable. The ease depends on differences in cost, in quality, in availability of substitute products, and perceived differentiation among other things.  It seems to me that especially the evangelical churches have been rushing towards similarity!  Worship, jargon, buildings, services and community-building has gradually become one cloth. Doctrinal differences are held in low esteem and will likely disappear in the coming generation of young preachers in churches of Christ.  Post moderns come with very little propensity toward brand loyalty anyway, so switching within the American church context is extremely easy!  As the United States becomes more secular, the cultural pull toward syncretism will make even non-Christian alternatives more similar, therefore, more magnetic. My question: In an attempt to be relevant and more accessible, are Christians becoming less distinctive, therefore, more susceptible to our “customers” switching to alternatives?

3.    Intensity of competitive rivalry


(to be continued . . .)


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I am more. I have . . . been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. 27I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?  (2 Corinthians 11:23-29)

I am less—much less. Yes, once our car was hit by a bus in Germany, but I only had a sore neck from it. I’m pretty sure I was followed by a KGB-type guy in Russia once—at least he showed up in three different places when I was in one of the former “hidden” cities of Russia. I got food poisoning once at a nice restaurant in China, which led to my first and only experience with acupuncture at a local doctor’s office. I have slept on many couches that were too small, in Japan we even slept on floor palettes—but, of course, almost everyone does there—oh, and there was a small earthquake—but no damage.

I have flown on some pretty scary planes, one with instructions for emergency landings which said, “Throw rope out of window and climb out carefully!” We once rode a Romanian train that was so dark and the windows were so dirty that we actually arrived in Sibiu about 2am and none of us knew that we were there. When we did get off the train, it was so dark that we could not tell which direction to walk on the platform to exit the train station.

Well, enough of this silliness! I’m always moved by Paul’s suffering as a missionary for Christ. But as we were reading this in our LST staff devotional on Friday, the thought that struck me as even more amazing than the physical sufferings he endured was in the sentence: “Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches (v. 28).

Paul is saying, “Sure, I face the possibility of death—violent death—almost every day, but what really bothers me is the stress I have, the stress I feel over the spiritual survival of the churches I have served and the people whom I have taught.”

I do know the sadness of watching a church I have helped to plant struggle and die. I do know the pain of sitting with your children in the faith and listen to them justify their immorality by altering their view of God. But I hear in Paul’s final words in this list of sufferings an intensity of daily concern that far surpasses his fear of floggings, shipwrecks, and bandits.

Paul has the heart of a real parent who would rather die themselves than see their children lost. Paul has the heart of Christ who weeps over Jerusalem.

Who am I weeping over? Daily?

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