McDonald’s church is no bad thing

In his article "Would you like salvation with that?' (Southern Cross February 2004), Mark Charleston from Ministry Training and Development argued that we can learn about "church growth and ministry" from the McDonald's pattern of growth.

The development of McDonald's in Australia, and indeed around the world, shows that as a product gains more and more positive exposure in a marketplace, so the perceived need for that product also grows.

Mark's point was that when it comes to the word of God, the availability of it is self-promoting. The more people who are trained to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus, and who go on to do that, then the more people who will probably hear it and, God willing, respond in repentance and faith.

The flip side was articulated by Tim Foster, rector of All Souls, Leichhardt, in his September 2005 Southern Cross article, "McDonald's church: will it appeal to the adults of tomorrow?'.

Tim also appealed to the McDonald's business model. This time as a warning to us.

He expressed the fear that "there is evidence that the Millennials are reacting to what they see as churches that have become "McDonaldised', offering the religious equivalent of bland fast food to the new generations of spiritual searchers".

Tim's point was that it is not safe to assume that our present, contemporary worship styles will suit younger people as long as we keep moving them toward less and less formality. It might just be that a new generation of churchgoers is actually more conservative in their churchmanship, posing a challenge to our current generation of church leaders.

It should go without saying that there is enormous danger in trying to learn from any corporation. After all, our purpose is not to turn a profit for shareholders and other stakeholders. Rather it is to bring glory to the God who has so graciously entered into our lives in the person of his son, our saviour, our Lord Jesus.

Having said that, I agree with both Mark Charleston and Tim Foster. There are comparisons that can be drawn and applied from the corporate world, albeit carefully.

Connect 09 and the McDonald's model

So are there lessons from the McDonald's model for our current mission strategies?

Certainly. Indeed, I believe the lessons are particularly relevant when it comes to how we might approach our Connect 09 initiative, both personally and cooperatively.

There are some key similarities organisationally between McDonald's and Sydney Diocese. Both have a centralised structure that manages matters such as property, financial oversight, insurance, recruiting and staff training. This is the franchise model.

The first lesson springs out of this similarity between a franchise organisation such as McDonald's and Sydney Diocese.

Our parishes, much as McDonald's restaurants are, are led by local franchisees (clergy) with a high degree of independence. Such an organisational structure has stood us both in good stead as it provides a very significant degree of creative freedom at the local level, supported by centralised structures that are able to leverage the combined strength of the total organisational base.

Compared to McDonald's, however, there is a lot more we might do to connect with our local communities.

Perhaps the most obvious lesson is around branding. While we would not want all of our church buildings to be identical, something even McDonald's no longer achieves, the distinctiveness of our church "shopfronts' is something we might make far more of.

If the public face of every parish and church property in our diocese was recognisably "us', we would have a much more visible presence in our communities. For example if our signs, stationery, websites, local media releases, posters, banners and business cards identified us as part of a greater whole, and if that were supported at diocesan level in the same way, then an initiative like Connect 09 would have a city and region-wide presence for relatively little effort.

However, we could do even more. Though any McDonald's store owner is a fiercely independent business person, McDonald's as a system simply does a much better job than us when it comes to operating cooperatively.

In our case, a diocesan-wide initiative such as Connect 09 operating at all levels - regional, deanery and local parish level - would harness the strength that is inherent in our organisation. But seldom is such strength realised due to our desire to do it ourselves. Even the sharing of ideas and tools and materials is something we do far less well than many in the corporate world.

Nevertheless, the most fundamental lesson from the corporate world is really a reminder: there is a critical need to understand our purpose and to understand what we are on about.

Our understanding of our purpose in any undertaking governs our actions, and ultimately outcomes. (Without wanting to ignore the providence of God of course!)

For example, if we believe our purpose as Christian individuals and churches is to enjoy life, to live morally and to maximise our personal potential, then the way we live, the way we handle the gospel of Jesus, and the way we church together will be shaped by that thinking. Our church meetings will be about what makes us feel good, our teaching will be based on perceived needs, and our approach to evangelism will be more akin to a marketing program than the proclamation of God's grace to a world that rejects him.

However, and contrary to the self-centred spirit of our age, our diocesan mission statement is gospel-shaped. It is worth being reminded that we have agreed to strive,

To glorify God by proclaiming our saviour the Lord Jesus Christ in prayerful dependence on the Holy Spirit, so that everyone will hear his call to repent, trust and serve Christ in love, and be established in the fellowship of his disciples while they await his return.

Connect 09 serves this stated purpose. As our Archbishop put it,
Contact leads to connection, connection to relationship, relationship to friendship and friendship to Jesus.

And herein lies another profound reminder for us.

Retailers such as McDonald's have always realised the fundamental truth that it is the people not inside one of their restaurants who are most critical to their ongoing business. That is why their first priority is to gain the notice of those who are not their customers, and to draw them into the McDonald's experience. The key to successfully growing any business is connecting with those people who are not yet customers.

The heart of Connect 09

At the heart of making Connect 09 successful must be action driven by the realisation that most of the people to whom we would proclaim Jesus simply do not enter our church buildings " ever.
This requires a radical rethink on our parts. We rightly realise that we can never match the kind of enormous marketing effort that organisations such as McDonald's employ to drive their sales. However, I suspect that in that realisation there is also, more often than not, a tacit ignoring of what the marketing programs actually represent: an enormous focus on the outsider.

I suspect that in saying we cannot match the marketing resources of corporate giants, we consider ourselves justified in therefore not making a proportional effort to reach those beyond our doors.
If the New Testament pattern of mission is shaped by going, as indeed it is, then those outside the doors of our churches must unquestionably be a major focus of that mission as we continue in the footsteps of the apostles, taking the gospel of Jesus "to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8).

So, how might we begin to connect?

1. Prayer

Archbishop Jensen urges us to begin by praying. I could not agree more, and not just because he is my boss!

Here are a few suggestions that might help us to raise the prayer temperature in our churches.

Our small group members are urged to hold one another accountable for establishing and maintaining a gospel-focussed relationship with at least one person who does not know Jesus. They pray for one another, and for their unsaved friends. They share together the joys, and the frustrations.

Most importantly, people go from thinking that they know no-one who is not a Christian to realising that most of the people in their day-to-day lives, from their work colleagues or uni or school mates, to the people they sit beside as they watch their sons play cricket and daughters play netball, to the shop assistants they chat with in Bunnings, are all people with whom they might share Jesus.

We have discovered that we don't need millions of marketing dollars to get into people's lives; we are already there if only we would see it.

In addition, we periodically provide cards to our congregation on which we ask them to write the name of an unsaved friend for whom they will commit to pray. About the size of a business card, they fit easily into a wallet or purse, or inside the cover of a Bible where, God willing, they are a constant reminder to pray for the person named. (Mine are inside the cover of my prayer diary.)

In addition, around those key times of the year, such as Christmas and Easter, and when upcoming events such as Men's Convention or Women's Convention are on the horizon, again we urge people to pray for those whom they might invite.

We suggest a simple formula for prayer. Ask God for an opportunity and boldness to speak up for Jesus, ask him for boldness to invite our friends, and then ask him that they might say "yes' and come, and that in hearing the gospel, they might say "yes' to Jesus. Similarly, our parish prayer diary has prayer for unsaved people as a major theme.

2. Training

However, God asks more of his people than prayer.

God's primary provision to unsaved people is the gospel of Jesus on the lips of his people. As a result we also have ongoing training in how to share the gospel of Jesus.

One of McDonald's great strengths is its simple staff induction and training models. They are designed with the independent franchisee owner in mind. It is in this area that local church leadership will look for assistance in implementing easily repeatable training programs that can be tailored to their local needs.

For churches this does not mean merely academic training. Nor does it simply mean giving Christian people a copy of "Two Ways to Live' and asking them to memorise the boxes. Rather we must try to help people understand how they can be proactive in sharing Jesus in the midst of everyday conversations.

Over the past two years this has been the single most popular training program we have run. Some have come two and three times. And the more we learn of the area in which we live, the more sharply we can focus on the likely opportunities people will discover in those everyday conversations, and especially with those for whom we are already praying.

3. Action

While it's easy for Christian leaders to dismiss business advice for what it is, worldly wisdom, there is one final lesson from the corporate world worth bearing in mind: no corporation survives long by ignoring reality. No business (or church) will grow by turning opportunities into discussion fodder for innumerable boards, task forces or committees. Like them we must not simply talk, we must act.

I pray with Paul "that our God may count us worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfil every good purpose of ours and every act prompted by our faith' (2 Thessalonians 1:11).

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