McDonald’s in every church gathering?

Archie Poulos

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