McDonald’s in every church gathering?

McDonald’s in every church gathering? image

It seems most people have a love-hate relationship with fast food chains. I wonder whether we can learn from them when it comes to congregational life, especially as we think about our liturgy and the new Common Prayer book?

Why we love and hate food franchises

So many people ay they do not like the product that they consume from the fast food chain franchise, but the numbers show that we keep going back there. Whenever our family has a drive to endure in going to or returning from a distant holiday destination, we always stop at a fast food chain at meal times despite complaining about the menu.

Why do we do that?

I think the reason we do this is because we know that no matter what the location, no matter who manages the restaurant, and no matter who is on duty, no matter what time you call in you know what you will be getting. Every time you order a meal it will be consistently the same. Every time you pull into a restaurant you know that parking will be available, the cleanliness of the venue, you know how long it will take to get your meal, and you know how to go about ordering.

So while we might complain about what we are actually consuming, we love that we  are getting a known product of consistent quality that will meet our expectations, without surpassing them.

And we also love these franchises because they are everywhere. You don’t have to travel very far before encountering one. Why is that?  Because they are easy to set up. Michael Gerber (author of The E Myth Revisited) calls this the ‘turn key revolution’. He describes it as "providing the franchisee with an entire system of doing business”. It’s quality and functioning is independent of the ability and quality of the owner, organiser, manager or staff. Except for the initial outlay, you can have yet another one pop up and immediately deliver your product as it is expected.

All this creates a ‘halo effect’, whereby the product and the consistency of its delivery causes someone who has never before entered a particular restaurant, keen to purchase from it.

Why we love and hate church gatherings?

When it comes to our experience of church meetings we love the way the meetings are OUR meetings. They are tailored to our situation by people who know me.

But we often complain of uncertainty of quality from week to week and from leader to leader. We complain of the perfunctory nature of prayer and engagement with the Bible. We complain that we don’t have an idea of what is happening next, and the awkwardness of transitioning from one thing to the next.

And the perception of our meetings and services by those who are not regulars? The name ‘Anglican’ is known but the content of what we believe and what to expect should they attend is unclear.

Some thoughts

The new resource from Sydney Diocese called Common Prayer is meant to give a theologically thought through shape to meetings, which provides some consistency as well as permitting variation. This goal is important. We want to retain theology, quality and consistency while also desiring to personalize and indigenize our gatherings. It would be good to hear how others are doing this.

I also wonder whether we should be more deliberately thoughtful in the training of our leaders. Perhaps we should go through with them what a liturgy must look like, and why, and when that is understood, they can then make appropriate modifications.

The word ‘Common’ is disliked. As 21st century people we prefer ‘novel’. But prayers that are well known and used help to remind us and cement our theology. In not knowing The Lord’s Prayer we lose much. So too, with many of our historical prayers. They are anchored in theology, soaked in Scripture and express in deep and personal ways what we are trying to say. Being reminded of this and using them can express what we want to say, remind us of what we know and through multiple use come to mind to assist us in our times of necessity outside our church meetings.



Image: ebruli, Flickr

Archie Poulos is Head of Ministry at Moore Theological College and Director of the Centre for Ministry Development.

Comments (3)

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  • Mark Baines
    May 12, 13 - 2:10pm
    Hi Archie,
    I really like your thinking here, especially in regard to training our leadership teams to find some consistency and manage the expectations of our congregations well.
    Have you thought of the potential downside to turning our churches into 'franchises' of the 'Anglican' brand, that it may lead to less discernment among our pew-sitters?
    I've used 'McDonald's Church' for years as a way of describing a particularly RC approach to moving between churches, since in RC churches you know the liturgy and the sacraments are always going to be more or less the same as the church you were used to. This approach led a good friend of mine, who grew up in as an RC and came to faith in a SydAng church well into his adulthood, to the situation where when he moved to Queensland he began attending a liberal Anglo-Catholic church and was unable to distinguish between the teaching of his Sydney Church and the often shaky teaching of his current church.
    Do we risk teaching our people, by providing a consistent form that they are familiar, even comfortable with, to NOT discern between churches that will grow them in godliness and ones that have only the same outward appearance of that?
  • Joshua Bovis
    May 13, 13 - 11:16am
    Something I have picked up over the years is the tendency to 'train' others. I think this can lead to over-coaching, and when it comes to the case in point - liturgy. If clergy have a genuine love for liturgy and the Prayer Book. I think their enthusiasm, authenticity and modelling will be a more powerful encouragement than training others.

    Good heading, but I thought you were going to talk about consumerism and how sadly it seems for many Christians this mindset is apparent when it comes to church- we treat church like a product and the liturgy is what is on the menu and we choose according to our felt needs at the time. I digress,

    Having served in a liberal catholic diocese for several years I found that the Prayer book and the liturgy to be extremely encouraging. I am not saying that it would be easy for your friend, but I think the prayer book (be it CP, BCP, APBA, AAPB) is helpful when it comes to discernment, being reminded of the deep and wonderful truths of The Faith. It is so full of Scripture, it is very clear on our sinfulness and God's mighty grace in the Lord Jesus Christ, the atonement, his victorious resurrection and glorious ascension. I shall stop now as I am getting too excited!
  • Philip Griffin
    May 13, 13 - 11:41am
    We have a long way to go in developing many templates for our Sunday assemblies. Common Prayer is but one tool in what Synod asked the liturgical panel to do. That said, understanding how to structure our meetings and how even where we place something within our meetings can alter its meaning (as a comparison of 1549 and 1552 prayer books teach us) needs to be better understood.
    Thanks for your thoughts Archie