Christianity Today has an article about the latest thing in religion:
Eddie Johnson, the lead pastor of Cumberland Church, espouses the franchising concept when it comes to the relationship between his church in Nashville, Tennessee, and North Point Community Church in metro Atlanta. On his blog, he states, “Just like a Chick-fil-A, my church is a ‘franchise,’ and I proudly serve as the local owner/operator.”
According to Johnson, his job is to “establish a local, autonomous church that has the same beliefs, values, mission, and strategy as North Point.” He completed a three-month internship at North Point and continues to receive training and support. He claims to rarely deviate from the “training manual.”
“Just like that Chick-fil-A owner/operator,” he says, “I’m here in Nashville to open up our franchise and run it right. I believe in my company and what they are trying to ‘sell.'”
Makes sense to me: churches provide a service just like many businesses: community, a stage show, fire insurance. So why not try the techniques used by other businesses, and see what works?
One thing that franchises offer is consistency: I know that if I get a McDonalds hamburger and a cup of Starbucks coffee in St. Paul, MN, they’ll taste just the same as the ones down the street from me. No surprises. I know just what to expect. I suspect that people generally want churches to have the comfort of the familiar. So having a uniform setup throughout the various churches makes sense.
Judging by the comments at Christianity Today, people aren’t thrilled with this. But it may be that main problem lies in the fact that these churches are so blatant about what they’re doing:
I have no problem with church plants–that’s really what we’re talking about here, right? But when consumer language is brought into the picture I begin to worry. Can we treat the gospel as a product? Should we market Jesus like we market cheeseburgers? How is the consumer model practiced in the lives of the church members? Are the rushing into church, consuming the music and sermon like french fries, or are they engaging in authentic community that compels them to serve the world around them?
—Brent D. Maher
Well, no: Jesus shouldn’t be marketed like cheeseburgers. Cheeseburgers demonstrably exist, and if you got a fish fillet instead of the cheeseburger you ordered, you can prove this to the manager and get a refund. But there’s no reason the church-going experience can’t be marketed just like the Starbucks, McDonalds, or Bellagio experience.
And if the customer wants local flavor, that can be done as well: witness Specialty Restaurants‘ aviation-themed restaurants, named after local Air Force units, and with similar, though slightly different menus.
In the end, of course, the churches that can put butts on pews will flourish, and those that can’t, won’t (though a lot of them would rather burn in hell than call it natural selection). Only time will tell whether franchising works or not.