Since Lynn Munson's job led her to Yorba Linda, California in 2010, she has reined in her organization's finances, returned it to profit, made key staffing changes and presided over a merger.
But she doesn't work for any company.
Munson is pastor of Yorba Linda United Methodist Church, which had been losing money and members before she arrived.
With managerial training and a penchant for business, Munson preaches the virtues of running religious organizations like businesses. In the process, she has developed a reputation as a financial fixer for troubled churches.
"I go into churches that are struggling and turn them around," said the 49-year-old Munson. "I've always had a flair for doing something new and innovative and difficult."
The number of religious organizations in financial turmoil spiked during the recent downturn as unemployment rose and giving fell. By hewing to tried-and-true business principles such as careful expense control and strict personnel management, some churches are finding a path to salvation.
A robust industry of specialists now focuses on assisting struggling churches, said Sam Rainer, president of church consulting firm Rainer Research.
While he cautioned against running religious organizations in a way that prioritizes financial performance over spirituality, he said many churches could benefit by adopting a more business-like approach.
"Is a church a business? No," he said. "But there is much to learn from the business world in the area of finance. For example, you don't want personnel costs too high, you don't want to get (over-leveraged)."
Not every congregation has to turn to an outside consultant, however. Church leaders hand-picked one of their own -- Munson, who had spent years working with local churches, including some facing considerable problems -- to get Yorba Linda United Methodist Church's house in order.
In less than three years, she has boosted income by 64 percent, opening up funds to renovate the administrative offices and overhaul its affiliated preschool. In the process, she has helped grow the congregation threefold.
On a recent Sunday, more than 200 worshippers packed the pews to hear Munson's sermon on power and control. Some late arrivers lingered near the doorway while they scanned the room for open seats -- a virtually unheard-of situation just a few years ago.
"It's growing pretty dramatically," said Ann Test, a retired principal in Yorba Linda who has been coming to the church since 1975. "It began going downhill (about 10 years ago) and then Lynn came."
A business mind
Munson's affinity for business was evident at an early age. As a grade-schooler, the Chicago native would spend holidays and summers at her grandmother's employment agency, answering phones and helping out around the office.
"I would listen to her, how she made decisions; I would listen to how she talked to people," Munson said. "She's my hero."
Later, Munson learned the nitty-gritty of running an office when she held management positions at a number of companies, including two engineering firms. In college, she took management and accounting courses, and considered majoring in business before turning to religion.
She obtained a master of divinity degree from the Claremont School of Theology and worked at a number of churches in Orange County, at one point founding a multi-campus ministry for area college students. In 2004, she joined Orangethorpe United Methodist Church in Fullerton, which had several different congregations. Members were quarreling over the distribution of funds and Munson helped negotiate a compromise, which she believes opened church leaders' eyes to her managerial skills.
In 2010, she was asked to join Yorba Linda United Methodist Church, which was grappling with a range of problems, including declining membership and budgetary shortfalls. That year, the church brought in just $260,000, about $100,000 short of its budgeted expenses.