Some things are powerful enough to raise the dead – or at least the sick from a bed. This Out of Ur post had that effect on me – McChurch: I’m Lovin’ It.
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."
And later in the Out of Ur post,
"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.’"
You’ve got to be kidding me, right? Apparently not. He equates "his church" to a Chick-fil-A franchise, and believes "in my company and what they are trying to ‘sell’". The language is in-frackin’-credible.
Out of Ur asks the question,
Is this the future of the Western church- franchised congregations of megabrands in every city with pastors serving as the local owner/operator? Many of us have seen this coming, but it’s rather shocking to see the model and language of the franchised church so enthusiastically embrassed* as it is by Eddie Johnson.
*embrassed is a typo – but perhaps its closeness to embarrassed is appropriate.
Let me go all prophetic for a moment. This isn’t the wave of the future. This is the pathetic foreshadowing of the death of the mega-consumer-church and its franchised video venues. I go back to this quote from "Sarah, a Gen-X church visitor" that I used in my year-old series on Marketing the Church (see the side bar).
We know you have tried to get us to church. That’s part of the problem. Many of your appeals have been carefully calculated for success and that turns our collective stomach. (From Earl Creps book, Off-Road Disciplines.)
As fast food franchises struggle to even maintain market share today – desperately searching for ways to bring the boomer-led crowds back – those boomer values are morphing into the values of the emerging generation. As my friend and marketing genius, Roy Williams (also quoted in the same Marketing the Church post) said four years ago,
…today’s teens are rejecting Pretense. Born into a world of hype, their internal BS-meters are highly sensitive and blisteringly accurate. Words like "amazing," "astounding," and "spectacular" are translated as "blah," "blah," and "blah." Consequently, tried and true selling methods that worked as recently as a year ago are working far less well today. Trust me, I know.
My friend, John La Grou quoted UnChristian as part of his response on a recent discussion @ Phil Cooke’s blog partially around Cooke’s upcoming book, Branding Faith and Mara Einstein’s book Brands of Faith. (Is there a trend here?)
David Kinneman, in his new book UnChristian, says of the Millennial generation, “they can smell B.S. from several miles away, they are easily offended by unwanted marketers. They identify more with an experience and relationship than a message.”
John, on his own blog went on to say this,
I’m more persuaded that the whole modern religious package is looking more and more like a big commercial enterprise – so unlike simple, organic NT models. The interview depressed me. Someone once said, “we work in corporate America all week long, why go worship there too?”
In her interview, Mara refers to Jesus as a “product” – I find that kinda creepy. I ‘m not denying that much of modern Christendom is successfully “branded” to “sell” more of its “product” – I’m just not sure this is kind of language or ethos we should be using to reflect a transcendent God. It seems backwards. God is reflected and transmitted in both nature and transformed lives, not in slogans.
Modern business and marketing tools were invented by capitalists to gain wealth and power. One wag has defined marketing as the “subtle art of manipulation and deception in selling crap to nerds.” How does the church distance itself from these man-made vehicles?
The commercialization and institutionalization of NT faith and community may be one reason why young people (18-29) are leaving the Western church in far greater numbers today than at any other time in history. We have centralized, corporatized, formalized, stratified, academized, and mega-fied something that was intended to remain organic, holistic, egalitarian, participative, distributed, fluid, and deeply communal. The ways of business and commerce seem to further the former at the expense the latter, which is why I’m concerned.
Later, Mara joined the conversation, and said this:
"you can’t give people the faith if you can’t ‘get their butts in the pews.’ This generation is… used to being talked to in the language of marketing and so marketing seems to be the way for faiths to reach this group."
The idea of church marketing as “getting butts in pews” highlights my concern. It furthers the top-down notion of church as an “institution” managed by “experts” and consumed by, well, consumers. Certainly we’re missing the bigger picture – that perhaps “church” was never intended to embrace models of politics and commerce. We live in a world utterly saturated with marketing, branding, and other forms of mass capitalism. No surprise that these same tools have (sadly) become a normative part of faith culture.
Eddie Johnson may well end up with satisfied consumers at his Cumberland-fil-A Church. Whether they will actually experience orthodox Christianity is an entirely different story.
UPDATE: Original source for Out of Ur’s blog post. I cringed @ the use of BHAG in that post. When will someone explain to these leaders that Jim Collins is neither an apostle nor prophet to the church – unless, of course you view church through the lens of business.