When you see me in this business, be sure that I’m not a customer. I’m also not an employee. Instead, I’m one of the proprietors, a stockholder. My business is my church, and I am a layperson.
Please know that there’s nothing wrong with employees. My business wants to attract, nurture, and retain the best possible employees. Similarly, we appreciate customers, although we are a bit strange in hoping to transform them quickly into fellow stockholders. Interestingly, when we enlarge the pool of outstanding shares of stock, the value of the existing shares is not reduced. The church, it seems, is a pyramid scheme that actually works–at least in theory.
We could go on looking at employees and customers in the church, but I’d like to spend a bit of time thinking about the ways that the layperson “stockholder” can foul up the whole investment process.
Day Traders: Some people try to make a living by buying a hundred shares here and two hundred there, snagging an uptick of a quarter point or so. A subset of those people actually succeed in earning such a living. But those people are not investors. They are traders. The traders might make a profit, but they make very little difference in the success of the concern. Whether they hop between stocks or congregations, their problem is that they’re just not sufficiently invested .
Panic Sellers: Last weekend, a Boeing jet crashed in Ethiopia. As might be expected, Boeing shares took a beating on Monday. In fact, it has been a rough season for Boeing overall. Shares are down roughly 15% over the last two weeks. But then we step back and see that the stock is up nearly 25% since Christmas and is very close in price to where it was six months back. Over time, good churches, like good companies, tend to come back from bleak days. We shouldn’t bail out in a tough season.
Unelected Board Members: A stockholder or a church member has every right to question the decisions of the leadership, to ask difficult questions, and to argue for a different course of action. Some people, however, don’t understand that they can’t have a say in every decision that comes along. When they don’t get their way, they stir up problems that ultimately hurt the business.
Proxy Givers: At the other extreme are the stockholders who utterly abdicate their responsibilities to others. “Let the board do it!” “Let the employees do it!” they say. These people take no responsibility for their ownership stake, but they still expect positive results. Actually, this sort of approach might not be so terrible for investing, but it is a serious problem within a church.
So if all of these approaches cause problems, what should we do as stockholders of our churches? I’d argue that we take the approach of Warren Buffet. Buffet finds the “value investment,” buys it, and then hangs on to it for a very long time.
What if all Christians did a bit of due diligence and found a solid, “value” local church? What if we all stuck with that church in good times or in bad, unless it ceased to be a fundamentally sound body? What if we all supported the leadership in word and action? What if we all took seriously our ownership stake and did what we could to build up the body?
No, a church is not a corporation, and we are not literal stockholders. But if the layperson were to consider this analogy, perhaps our churches could be a bit more vigorous. The dividends, by the way, are outstanding.