August 1, 2017

Can the Church Learn from McDonald’s?

Last time I briefly mentioned how Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg thinks his community shares many of the same goals and attributes of the Church. The response I saw in the media, and among my friends and colleagues on social media, was that Facebook sees itself as a new kind of “church.”

But this - the idea that a corporation could replace (or at least replicate) “church” is nothing new.

This past week my wife and I watched the movie “The Founder,” which tells the gripping story of Ray Kroc, the McDonald brothers, and the McDonald’s Corporation. One part, relatively early on, caught my attention. In selling his vision of expanding McDonald’s franchises around the country (a vision the brothers didn’t share), Mr. Kroc shared a story about his travels around the country.

Every town he visits has two things in common. A church, and a courthouse. A cross and a flag. Those are symbols of community, he says. And the Golden Arches can be that symbol for a new generation.

In a great bit of monologue, Mr. Kroc shares his vision of the Golden Arches: “[The arches] signify family...they signify community. Places where people come together to break bread. I am telling you...McDonald’s can be the new American church, feeding bodies and feeding souls. And it ain’t just open on Sundays.”

Just a few years ago, McDonald’s was struggling. it was failing to connect to young people, and is losing customers to so-called "fast-casual" competitors like Chipotle and Panera. Those struggles sound eerily similar to what the Church is facing (except our competition doesn’t usually come in the form of burritos).

Then, last week, I came across this analysis of McDonald’s turn-around. The company, an American icon ingrained in many people’s minds from childhood (both positively and negatively), has made some significant changes. It made some slight changes to the iconic Quarter Pounder, it slimmed down it’s bloated menu offerings (see what I did there…), it began testing other new menu items in select locations, and it increased its use of technology for ordering and delivering food.

McDonald’s modernized it’s classic offering, reduced under-performing offerings, experimented with localized offerings, and embraced technology.

Those are four strategies I think the Church could take to heart.

A great institution, that sought to shape communities across the country, began to experience significant problems. Instead of just pushing forward because “that’s they way we’ve always done it,” McDonald’s took serious steps to improve its food, its stores, and its image.

What changes are we, as Church leaders, willing to make?