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We live in a fast-food nation, where the service is efficient, the products are peer-tested, and size is king. And this consumer-driven approach is seeping into the church.
Across the country, churches are creating entertaining, pop culture-savvy services that feel more market-driven than ministry. On the menu? A proven blend of dynamic music, high-tech dazzle, and topical ...
We live in a fast-food nation, where the service is efficient, the products are peer-tested, and size is king. And this consumer-driven approach is seeping into the church.
Across the country, churches are creating entertaining, pop culture-savvy services that feel more market-driven than ministry. On the menu? A proven blend of dynamic music, high-tech dazzle, and topical teachings. And just like any successful product, churches are launching campuses that build on their brand.
But is the franchised church of today leading to the disenfranchised believers of tomorrow? Though thousands flock to these services, how many lives are truly being changed? Have we traded real truth for relevancy?
Franchising McChurch takes an honest look at the rise of consumer-minded ministries. Authors Thomas White and John Yeats tackle a spiritual shift that is raising provocative issues such as:
Candid and compelling, Franchising McChurch calls us back to the heart of Christ's church, and shares the Biblical design for delivering meaningful, life-changing ministry in a fast-food world.
Over One Billion Served: Effective vs. Efficient Churches
I (John Mark) rubbed my eyes and did a double take. There on the billboard off of I-35 was an advertisement I couldn't believe. Emblazoned on the white background, an advertisement for 30minuteworship.com promoted a service with "you in mind." I didn't know if I should marvel at the remarkable efficiency of the church to squeeze another service into its Sunday morning routine or the fact that this congregation believes a thirty-minute Jesus fix is enough. I guess if you can get a pizza in thirty minutes or less, why not church?
The allure of a thirty-minute church seems attractive to Christians frustrated with the rut of the traditional service. Still believing that church attendance is important for their Christian life, why not consume it fast-food-style? Everyone is short on time, so why shouldn't Christians be able to consume the little bit of church they need to get them through the next week? At least it would be an efficient use of their time.
The Challenge of Efficiency
The guys working the grills flipped the burgers faster than I had ever seen. The motion was seamless—insert spatula under meat, flip the wrist to toss the burger in the air, and then press the patty as soon as it hits the grill. As demand rose, they would take one of the hot bur-gers and place it on a bun, allowing the next person on the assembly line to add the appropriate toppings the customer ordered. Wrapped in what seemed like milliseconds, the order was placed on the heating tray until the cashier could place it in the bag along with the fries. Fast. Custom. Efficient.
George Ritzer's concept of McDonaldization began here. And for good reason. Efficiency is the process of McDonaldization most of us are able to experience and quantify. In fact, consumers demand efficiency. We are unlikely to return to our local Starbucks if the baristas take forever to make a grande caramel macchiato. We expect service to be fast, efficient, and consistent. When the checkout lines at my local WalMart were consistently understaffed, leading to long lines, my family willingly paid slightly higher prices at the local Target. With four young preschoolers, we wanted to be in and out right away.
Businesses are also concerned with making things as efficient as possible. It helps their bottom line. When I worked in the fast-food industry, the goal was to wait on the customers and have the food in their hands in under one minute. Our manager timed performances at least once a week and adjusted schedules, breaks, and workflow based upon what would produce the maximum benefit for the consumer (hot food served quickly usually meant a repeat customer) and for the store (more clients served in a more efficient manner equaled greater sales-per-hour margins).
People also experience this on the Web. When I purchase a product on Amazon.com or Apple.com, I have my account set up for one-click purchasing. I put items in my shopping cart, and when I am finished shopping, I click one button to buy it all. Since I set up an account with Amazon.com in advance, the company stores my information in a secure database. It reuses that data every time I click the purchase button. One click and I'm done. No worries about parking at the mall, walking to stores, or standing in line. The Internet is quick and efficient and usually cheaper.
Efficiency experienced in this manner is positive for both the consumer and the business. Efficient systems work. Our Western economies are built on it. By utilizing principles of efficiency, we maximize our profitability and increase revenues for shareholders. In business, you want happy shareholders.
Efficiency in the Church
Can the church be efficient? Should it even matter? Does the church have a clientele to impress? Do we have shareholders we want to make happy?
The short answer is—it depends. There is a sense that churches need to recognize that efficient systems can aid a congregation. You have probably visited congregations that could have used an efficiency expert to make things work more smoothly. Frequently, the use of educational space or even the order of services could be changed to maximize time and resources.
Even more so, businesspeople who serve on boards and committees will want to see efficiency in operations of the church. Were visits logically grouped to cut down on excess mileage? Is the church purchasing the right technology to accomplish its task without spending too much? Are staff members multitasking so the church gains the biggest benefit from the services they render? Are reporting structures in place to give accountability for how the pastor spends his time?
There are some areas where efficiency can benefit a congregation (easy-to-find nurseries, restrooms, information, etc.), but ministry as a whole is not necessarily efficient. When James, the pastor of a small church in the Detroit area, was informed by his church board that he needed to keep a daily log of his activities, he wanted to pull out his hair. Every day, he started a new worksheet tracking his phone calls, visits, and time spent with people. Nathan, the chairman of the church elder board and a prominent businessman, railed against James' inefficiency. It was either too much time spent on sermon preparation, too much time reading, or too much time spent with individuals in the congregation.
"You could do so much more if you limited your time to ten minutes per person," Nathan suggested. Nathan could not understand the world of ministry. He saw the church in terms of the business he ran on a daily basis. Sermon preparation can take significant hours of a pastor's time, not to mention prayer. Of course, ministry focuses on people. Certain aspects of ministry will never be efficient if we are to have meaningful relationships with those inside or outside of our congregation.
One of the issues we face in regard to efficiency in the church has to do with the nature of the church itself. Beyond buildings, beyond the trappings of religious practices lies a reality that is often not stressed enough—people are the church. When Jesus talked about the establishment of the church, He was not discussing the property a congregation might possess (Matt. 16:18). The apostle Paul, writing to the Colossian church, reminded them that Christ is the head of the body (Col. 1:18). Maintaining a living organism is messy business and, quite frequently, defies efficiency.
Effective vs. Efficient
If the church is designed to be God focused with reaching people as the end goal, perhaps we should draw a contrast between what is effective and what is efficient. Effective organizations work in the manner in which they were designed. They consistently produce results that reflect the aims, goals, and mission of the organization. In the process, effective organizations attain the greatest amount of production because their structures and organization work toward the stated goals of the whole.
Efficient organizations also work toward attaining results. Their production of results will reflect the aims, goals, and mission of the organization. The difference is that where the effective organization emphasizes how the organization works together as a whole to achieve the stated goals, the efficient organization strives for rapid attainment of the goals, sometimes at the expense of the totality of the organization. Even people within the organization may be sacrificed in order to attain the stated goals more rapidly or efficiently.
As you can tell, a fine line exists between effective and efficient. In the case of our churches, we are called to be effective. When congregations tip the scales in favor of something efficient, they begin to lose track of the goals and aims of building the kingdom. On the flip side, churches working together according to their stated design become very effective. Let's look at how this plays out on a practical level.
Where Effective Churches Win
Effective churches manage their resources—budgets, schedules, personnel—to accomplish the work of God in their communities without making efficiency the ruling principle of the congregation.
The relationship equation here is simply that of stewardship. How do we take care of the things entrusted to us in order to impact a lost and dying world? There are at least three areas where this matters in the life of churches.
How we spend our money relates more about who we are than just about anything else in our personal lives. The correlation remains when we talk about our churches.
Perform a simple analysis of how a church spends its resources. Churches spending heavily on staff have made that a priority. In staff-heavy churches, you usually find a couple of scenarios: (1) The church is overstaffed—perhaps the congregation hasn't been growing or is even losing ground, and the church holds on to staff positions that are no longer needed; (2) the church is staff dominated—the congregation relies more on paid leadership to accomplish its goals than on the people in the church itself. Churches must support their staff financially so the pastors do not have to worry about providing for their families. A church that does not take care of its leaders demonstrates a lack of faith and is a bad testimony to the community.
Some churches spend most of their resources on buildings. Whether the buildings are old and demand maintenance or the church is busting at the seams and needs a new building to accommodate growth, congregations must balance their needs and resources to avoid becoming overly committed to buildings. As stated above, the church is not a building. New church plants are discovering the reality that many cities and towns are not allowing churches to zone land because of the loss of revenue. They become creative, utilizing schools, YMCAs, or renting other spaces in order to have a place to meet as a congregation.
Churches must decide what to do during a period of growth. Do they start multiple services or a new building program? Do they plant? Go multicampus? The movement that seems most common currently is the multicampus setup, which maximizes the church's efficiency. While the initial technological investment may be high, overall, it balances itself out when calculating the ability to reach new people and the opportunity the satellite campus has to draw upon the resources of the main campus. Satellite campuses share staff members, budgets, office costs, marketing costs, and accounting costs. It is one of the most efficient models currently operating in church-growth circles. We will return to it later in the book.
Balanced churches maximize their effectiveness to keep the focus on the main purposes of the church. Missions and evangelism paired with discipleship are the characteristics that mark effective churches. Some stress only the missions and evangelism and miss the discipleship aspect, but most pastors would tell you that the growth of their congregation is directly proportional to the amount of resources and energy expended in reaching a lost and dying world. Again, looking at the budget of the congregation, what is the percentage of giving dedicated to reaching the lost? Budgets may look different in each church, but how much does your congregation demonstrate its commitment to the Great Commission?
Effective churches keep the main purposes of the church in focus when setting budget priorities.
Sunday morning is the main time the church across the world meets together to worship. If a church invests time in just one service, it must be the Sunday congregational gathering. Most guests visiting a church come on Sunday morning, and we should be prepared. Careful thought must also be given to the order and flow of the music, other elements, and most importantly to the preaching.
When planning services, an effective church takes advantage of time. Awkward transitions, musical elements lacking excellence, or even announcements that ramble on without purpose convey a sense that a person's time is not important. Church staff and volunteers must work together to demonstrate the best the church has to offer to God.
It seems odd to many younger adults, but former generations demonstrated how much they cared about what happened on a Sunday morning with their clothing. Families would attend church in their "Sunday best" to demonstrate their honor to the Lord and their respect for His holiness. While the issue of formal dress may have gone out the window, the question of how we spend our Sunday morning or other meeting times is crucial. Are we careful to be mindful of the time, but still open to the movement of God? It is a delicate balancing act, but one that must be conducted each and every week.
Last week I (John Mark) visited an established church near the heart of a major metropolitan area. Talking with the pastor, I listened as he shared his concerns about the congregation God called him to shepherd. He praised the people of the little church who were making great strides in reaching out to their community. They transformed their Sunday morning rituals in order to reach out to a changing and ethnically diverse community around the church.
"The main challenge," he quipped, "is that the Spirit shows up every week and promptly leaves at noon." He started praying with the leadership of his church that the congregation would grow to the point where it was comfortable with the realities that when the Spirit of God moves, it is often not on our timetable. This means that with all our planning, we must be ready to accommodate those in whom God is moving.
In the little town of Jena, Louisiana, God broke through during a service at Midway Baptist Church. The congregation had scheduled an old-fashioned revival meeting that would meet every night from Sunday to Wednesday. On the last night of the revival, people began to repent of sin. As they repented, they began to deal with deep issues in their church. The interim pastor, Bill Robertson, believed that they needed to add another night to the revival since God moved so powerfully.
Seven weeks later, Bill brought the ongoing revival to a close. In a town famous for racial riots that broke out in the fall of 2007, no one anticipated God's grace to fall on the small country church and then spill over to the surrounding community. With more than one thousand people in attendance on the final evening, Bill and several of the pastors of other churches in the area looked over the sea of faces from every ethnic group in the community. The revival in Jena led to racial reconciliation, personal salvations, and repentance on the part of the churches. God showed up. The churches responded. "God has brought about this revival," Bill said. "As a result, people are being saved, lives are being changed forever, and a true peace has come about, bringing unity to this area like we've never seen."
Seven weeks of nightly meetings? Can't be done anymore, right? Effective churches surrender to God's timetable rather than forcing God to conform to theirs.
Most of the pastors, preachers, and teachers of congregations serve with honor in the roles God called them to fill. Effective churches ensure that the gifting of the staff members correlates to their ministry roles. Most churches would prefer a teaching pastor who teaches with passion and effectiveness or a worship pastor who is not just a great musician but effectively leads the congregation in worship each week.
At one church I (John Mark) visited, the worship pastor was not onstage. I found him in the sound booth. He believed that if he discipled musicians to lead in worship, he served the kingdom in the most effective manner. Recognizing his gifting as a discipler, the church encouraged his unique interpretation of the music ministry.
Effective churches catch the vision for this. If your youth pastor lost his passion for youth two years ago, the programs in place will only sustain the numbers for a limited time. Either the youth pastor needs to move on or the church needs to find a new role within the boundaries of the congregation that might reignite a sense of ministry passion in his or her life. In order to accomplish this, church staff must maintain close relationships with the lay leaders of the congregation—personnel committees, elder boards, pastoral leadership teams, etc.—so what God is doing in the individual staff member's life can be communicated effectively to the congregation as a whole.
When it comes to the issue of personnel, effective churches catch the vision for churchwide ministry. The phrase "every member a minister" reflects this. It is not the case that every member functions in the specialized call of pastor or even leader, but the New Testament picture of the church reveals heavy involvement from every member. Even the early church carried this forward. Membership in the body of believers carried a covenantal concept that ensured the active participation of the believer as part of the discipleship equation.
In some respects, Thom Rainer captured the heart of this concept in his book Simple Church. For Rainer, the hallmark of a true disciple of Jesus Christ is service to the body of Christ. Thus, the formula might work out that the number of mature believers in your ministry equals the number of volunteers. While there are some failures to this concept (think of the usher who simply passes the offering plate and counts the money on Sunday and uses this as an excuse to avoid the spiritual growth that happens in a small-group Bible study), some of the churches most effective at reaching the lost are those that function as mature congregations filled with volunteers with a desire to serve in any area of the church where there is need.
Effective churches emphasize the ministry roles of the entire congregation. The ability of the church to present itself effectively to the outside world directly relates to the concept of service—from the congregation to the pastor. When we work together as a body of believers with Christ as the head, we can effectively follow the leading of the Great Shepherd without chasing after the things of the world.
Excerpted from FRANCHISING McCHURCH by THOMAS WHITE, JOHN M. YEATS. Copyright © 2009 Thomas White and John M. Yeats. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
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Posted February 13, 2009
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