Another parable. Well, not so much a parable as an analogy. You see, it just drives me nuts when people say, “You can’t run a church like a business!” Yes, there are important differences. But, no, we generally err by being too un-business-like in our churches, which is why so many churches get embezzled from (no internal controls)!
And the whole notion seems to say that we don’t have to run businesses like a church — as though there are two entirely different worlds with two entirely different ethical systems. Well … that can’t be right, can it?
And if you keep up with management theories, you should know that churches are increasingly reading business management texts because businesses are increasingly adopting practices that churches should have always been using — but haven’t. But I digress. You see, it turns out that Christian values are actually a pretty good way to run a business!
But I need to get on with the analogy. Think about McDonalds. 50 or so years ago, there was just one. They had a great idea — limited menu, halfway decent food, low prices, window service only. Billions and billions have been served. Wouldn’t it be great if our mission efforts were as successful?
What did they do?
* They knew what they were selling and why it appealed to people. We, however, sometimes want to sell 5 acts of worship rather than Jesus. Or we try to sell relationships. Or good emotional health. We always get in trouble, I think, when we get away from the gospel.
* They started in big cities. It was decades before they located in towns of less than 20,000. Who else did this? Oh, yeah, Paul. Why big cities? Well, that’s where the people are! And where travelers travel to and from. And schools. And neighborhoods where it’s easy to get together to meet in homes.
* They didn’t stop at big cities, of course. They just went there first. Pretty soon they experimented with stores in smaller towns. The saw what worked and didn’t, and they went to smaller towns with a small-town strategy.
* And they went to other countries. But a Madrid or Moscow McDonalds isn’t the same as a Mobile McDonalds. They experimented, talked to people, and modified their plan to suit local tastes. They didn’t try to Americanize European and Asian consumers. Rather, they gave them what they needed — halfway decent food at low prices, built on a limited menu, but customized to the local culture.
* They changed as they needed to. Sometimes the changes were colossal flops, but most worked amazingly well — drive through service, playgrounds, indoor playgrounds, tables and chairs indoors, salads … But then, there was the green milkshake and the lowfat burger and plenty of other forgettable experiments. But you don’t remember many of their flops, because McDonalds knows when to pull the plug on failure.
* They built Hamburger University, where they trained people intensively in making halfway decent cheap food.
* They made the system simple enough that people no one else would hire could make it work. Many stores even hired mentally retarded or otherwise disabled people. They didn’t so much “dumb down” hamburger making as they stuck with the simplicity that they started with.
* And they kept the bathrooms clean (more or less). A dirty bathroom runs off far more people than cheap, halfway decent food can attract.
Now, to me, this sounds a lot like church, except — in some ways — better. We in church hate to experiment because we think everything from the building design to shaped notes are part of the plan of salvation. Or they just might be. We are afraid for our souls of getting something wrong! And a refusal to experiment ultimately leads to failure. Ask Burger Chef and Judy’s.
We just can’t bring ourselves to think strategically. Rather, we want to do what makes us feel good rather than what actually helps the other person the most. To avoid the conundrum, we’re bad not to evaluate what we do, or else we might have to make a hard choice. Hence, once a program is in the budget, it’ll be there for generations, even if it’s an utter failure.
Therefore, we really struggle to experiment, because experiments require trying something new –usually without a consensus — and admitting failure when it doesn’t work 0r, even harder, upsetting people who invested time and energy in the program and think that it’ll work if we give just one more year.
And setting priorities seems just so, you know, unholy. If someone has a good idea, we just can’t make ourselves ask, is there a better idea? Rather than trying for the best, we try not to hurt feelings. Or not to change. Or not to make anybody mad.
McDonalds knows that their mission is not just to make money, but to make money by selling halfway decent, cheap food. Steaks are great ideas, but they’re great ideas for someone else. Starting in big towns left lots of people without cheap burgers, but starting in smaller towns would have even more Big Mac-less.
Now, I hope the analogies are obvious, because I’m not feeling up to explaining them. There are important differences between mission work and McDonalds — but not as many as you’d expect if you draw the comparisons correctly.
Here’s the real difference: Mission work is infinitely more important — as is concern for the poor. We should therefore be all the more businesslike — in the right ways, of course.