One of the most frustrating parts of working with local churches is finding congregations that are all in. What do I mean? There are a lot of proven methods to revitalize a church, reach new people, and engage in life-changing ministry. However, many of the churches I talk to aren’t really committed to that.
So, let’s talk about restaurants.
My 13-year-old enjoys watching television programs starring Gordon Ramsay. His favorite is Kitchen Nightmares. The show ended back in 2014, but through the magic of Hulu, we seem to have every episode. I am not an expert on the show, but the basic premise is something like this:
Gordon Ramsay is dispatched to a restaurant that is on the verge of collapse. Usually, they are establishments that had some glory days. However, they have hit a season where the customers were gone, the money is drying up, and morale is at an all-time low.
Ramsey’s mission is to go into the place, find the root of the problem and turn it around. Astoundingly, this all unfolds in front of our eyes in under an hour.
It’s not just about the food.
When I first started watching the show, I did so begrudgingly. My son had to coax me into it. I am just not that interested in restaurants. But it only took me one episode to get hooked because I realized that the show isn’t really about restaurants, it’s about people.
In every episode I have watched (and we have watched quite a few), there is a turning point on which the storyline turns. This turning point is a decision that needs to be made by the owner. The actual decision differs from episode to episode, but it comes down to this: Is the owner all in? Are they willing to do what is necessary for their business to be successful?
On one episode we recently watched, the owner needed to fire a cook who lacked the skills, determination, and energy to step up and improve the food quality. In another, we saw an owner who really relished being in the kitchen but needed to move to a more active role in managing the entire team.
Death before change?
In both situations, the proprietor was initially resistant to this change. In the first example, the restaurateur was a long-time friend of the cook. In the second example, she really was much more comfortable cooking than managing. In both cases, Ramsey saw these changes as non-negotiable. In other words, the future success of the restaurant hinged on these decisions.
Even with an understanding that failure to act would mean the end of the restaurant, the respective owners actively resisted the change. Even with the threat of losing years of hard work and hundreds of thousands of dollars, even though it was likely the entire staff would be jobless, the owner resisted.
Of course, being an entertainment show, the restaurant owner always ends up making the right decision and determines they are all in. Gordon Ramsey ends the show by helping with a dramatic relaunch of a soon to be successful establishment.
How about your church?
But how about your church? Are you all in? Are you ready to make some difficult decisions to enable your church to be successful and reach new people? Some of the questions of commitment level may be:
- Are we ready to make changes to our worship style to make space for new and different people even if we are pleased about the way it is now?
- Are we willing to spend less time caring for one another and more time reaching out to build relationships with people we don’t know yet?
- Are we up for the idea of our sanctuary and classrooms being filled with people who “aren’t like us?”
- Are we open to the idea of ending some programs that no longer reach new people and freeing up time, space, and energy to commit to new initiatives that are outward focused?
- Are we ready to invest in new technology that allows us to be found in a new digital world even if we don’t like it or understand it?
- Are we willing to communicate with people who may be more comfortable with text messaging and social media than phone calls and printed bulletins, even if that seems foreign to us?
A more complex decision
This can be much more complicated because it feels less like an individual commitment to make. There is no way we can work this out in one sixty-minute episode. There is no one owner here to make an executive decision. There is an entire congregation that needs to get on board.
However, in the end, it does come down to one person or a small group of leaders to make the initial decision. It takes leaders willing to forego excuses like, “Our people will never agree to that,” or “That would make everyone unhappy.” It requires leadership that is willing to face pushback and do the challenging work of dealing with objections with empathy, teaching and convincing people about the importance of changes, and moving forward despite criticism.
If I found myself working with a church through a turnaround, that would have to be my first question. “Are you all in?” Otherwise, there would be no point, as Ramsey understands, in changing the menu, renovating the dining room, or putting up a new sign. Because if the food is still second-rate, no one will visit a second time.