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There Has Got To Be a Way to Melt the Cheese

By T. Ray Rachels

Several years ago, Bruce Horovitz, in USA Today, had a question for McDonald’s CEO: “What can you do to fix McDonald’s?”

The then 47-year-old chain, with 30,000 restaurants in 121 countries, appeared to have lost its way. Its stock had tumbled. Same-store sales were mostly down. The chain that virtually invented fast food had failed to innovate for years, according to industry analysts. As a result, it was becoming a last resort instead of first choice for families.

The fast-food giant ranked dead last in a national polling of nearly 50,000 frequent eaters from 70 food chains. “Most consumers have a pretty low perception about food at McDonald’s,” noted the survey.

The top echelon at McDonald’s listed 10 things McDonald’s must do to get its house in order.

As I read the list, it became a powerful reminder of the lessons of leadership pastors must embrace and put into action if the church is to effectively present the gospel to a skeptical, bone-weary society saturated with secular intentions.

Leaders who handle ministry and take responsibility for leading God’s church need to find ways to connect the eternal, satisfying Word of God to the hungry appetites of a lost world looking for salvation, even though they may not know they are lost or looking.

In what ways can church leaders head off a McDonald’s syndrome, spiritually speaking, concerning people who might prove to have a low perception about the food at the church? What items might be included in a top 10 list of things a pastor must do to either refocus or reinvent the way in which church resources are deployed at the place where God has called him to serve?

Here is USA Today’s list of 10 things McDonald’s must do to get their house in order, along with a few thoughts of my own about the church and how the list relates.

1. Fix the food

“McDonald’s has engineered the soul right out of its food,” said Alan Hickock, analyst at US Bancorp Piper Jaffery. “It’s so consistent. So perfect. And so bland.”

Hickock, whose four children were ages 6 to 14, says one of his best barometers on McDonald’s is through his kids. They have all stopped asking him to go to McDonald’s. “They prefer restaurants like Applebee’s,” he says, “or any place with a really good dessert.”

Perhaps even more damaging is the Sandelman and Associates fast-food survey, in which consumers ranked McDonald’s food near the bottom in taste, quality, and temperature. The survey indicated that most consumers have a low perception about food at McDonald’s.

The Bible’s message, eternally contemporary, is that God’s love is consistent; it is perfect, and it is richly textured, always available, never bland. He has engineered the soul right into His salvation.

It is a healing message that brings connection and integration to the separations in our lives. The task of church leaders is to create an atmosphere in which the taste, quality, and temperature of God’s fantastic love and grace can be seen and experienced.

2. Serve it hot

Although McDonald’s spent years developing its new cooking system, consumers continue to complain that the food is not served hot enough. “Its staples — burgers and fries — are widely regarded as the fast foods where temperature is especially critical to good taste.”

Passion is critical. Maintaining enthusiasm for life, pursuing God and His glory, getting and keeping a spirit of joy, finding delight in knowing that God is present in daily situations, building healthy relationships with family and friends, staying active and alive all your life, giving in to laughter and to tears, and opening doors of hospitality where the grace of God in your life can be seen and felt. These spiritual staples are widely regarded by people in and out of the church as critical to good taste.

3. Lose the lines

“The kitchen is broken,” says Dick Adams, a consultant to McDonald’s franchises. To speed service, he says, stores must be permitted to make some food ahead of time “so folks can grab it and go.”

Put order and orderliness in public church meetings. Wasting time kills off people’s eagerness to participate, and often makes them frustrated onlookers. Sloppy platform leadership takes the oomph out of unction.

I do not recommend the current rush toward express worship services, where a minimalist mentality for time spent at church should rule. However, the act of thinking through the elements of a church service (before the service), then using godly sensitivity and genuine openness to the Spirit’s guidance to act on those plans, allows for the human spirit to be more fully prepared to receive blessing, power, and revelation from the Holy Spirit.

4. Clean up the joint

Besides being convenient and fast, McDonald’s national reputation was built on the fact its stores were always “spotlessly clean,” says Dennis Lombardi, Senior VP at Technomic, a fast-food research firm. During the rapid growth of the 1990s, however, that mission fell to pieces, experts say.

With the help of mystery shoppers, McDonald’s has recently begun to keep better track of its stores and has put on a better face.

My wife, Judy, spoke at a Saturday ladies banquet in a church that had recently welcomed a new pastor and his family. Telling me about her experience, which was positive, she said, “The church was so clean and well kept — the parking lot, walkways, foyer, sanctuary, bulletin boards, and fellowship hall — everything was unbelievably clean.” Now she was animated. “And the people talked about how proud they are of their church and pastor.”

A clean place boosts morale. Dirty, neglected, junky looking, and unattractive places hurt and limit progress. It takes hard work and good planning to ensure that a church’s facilities, clean and attractive, say welcome to everybody. It pays off.

5. Do Not Ignore Grown-ups

“McDonald’s should find a way to make sure that even adults feel good eating there,” said one frequent diner, Phil Terry, a flight attendant. “It seems as if all their breakfast items are either fattening or sugary,” he said. “They need to clean up their act and offer some healthy alternatives.”

Church leadership that places an intentional focus on children, making every arrangement possible to bring the gospel’s influence to them on their level, is wise and farsighted. Children who feel loved at church and who have ministry explained on their level, have enormous influence on where the family attends church. Most parents will extend themselves to a significant length when their children are happy.

Children are important. But what about adults who look to the church as place where their needs can be met and where they can find spiritual rest for the clamor in their souls. Another thing — people are living longer. What is your church doing to care for the needs of older adults?

6. Get relevant

“The folks who were reared on Happy Meals™ 25 years ago do not think McDonald’s does it for them anymore,” says Peter Oakes, analyst at Merrill Lynch.

“The days of people beating a path to McDonald’s door to eat with plastic utensils on immoveable furniture are over,” Oakes says. “Something as simple as piping classic rock music into McDonald’s could improve the ambience.”

How can the church deploy its incredible, life-giving message in the most winsome and relevant way? Does living for Christ work in a culture as mixed up and dizzy as today’s? If the answer is yes, then what specific steps are you taking to build bridges to your neighborhood? If relevant ministry makes a difference in the sanctuary, it will also make a difference in your neighborhood. When you begin to consider ways to get the people who are on the outside inside, you have taken the first steps toward relevancy. A church that enthusiastically embraces the Great Commission is an awesome organism.

7. Grow smarter

McDonald’s widely publicized move into new restaurant ventures has mostly been a bust. Only its investment in Chipotle Mexican Grille remains a clear success, says the report.

Growing the Donatos Pizzeria chain has been more difficult than executives anticipated. Boston Market is making money, but not much. Pret A Manger’s growth in the United States has mostly been limited to New York City.

The company quietly sold its unsuccessful Aroma Café business in the United Kingdom.

“Their new acquisitions have been lackluster,” quoted a youth market research firm.

Great care must be given when assessing the emotional and spiritual readiness and financial ability of a congregation to add significant debt to its books. Building a new church, relocating, adding a gym or Christian education wing, or buying something that costs a great deal of money, has merit under the right circumstances, but never without carefully counting the costs. Expanding beyond your ability to pay or your church’s need may bury your dreams in red ink and cause great frustration. In the meantime, while you are growing, find creative ways to grow smarter.

8. Let Research and Development’s hair down

“The name of the game is new products,” says Gene Galgliardi, a product development specialist who helped create Popcorn Chicken™ for KFC.

There was a time when research and development was McDonald’s hallmark. With encouragement from management decades ago, regional franchises developed product hits like Egg McMuffins™ and Big Macs™. But massive bureaucracy has stifled research and development; and a message seems to prevail today, hinted the report, that only executive opinion matters.

The message of the gospel is eternally settled; it needs no further research and development.

Maintaining a learning posture is critical for pastoral leaders. Growing your mind and heart big enough to meet the diverse needs of a wide variety of people, whose functions and dysfunctions are continually brought inside the church, is a major factor in preventing congregational slow death.

How do you grow a heart like that?

By remaining effective in the pulpit through study, prayer, and having a fresh Word from the Lord every week; by encouraging people who want to serve; by opening avenues of service for volunteers; by releasing God’s people with well-planned and intelligent programs for ministry; by getting ministry off your desk and into the hands of people who want to work.

Give good people access to decision making and they will make good decisions.

9. Fix the ads

For decades, McDonald’s was almost as widely recognized for its advertising as for its food. In fact, some say the image created by the chain’s early ad campaigns — You Deserve a Break Today™ — helped establish the image of McDonald’s as a place that is clean, wholesome, and special.

Another slogan — We Love to See You Smile™ — has little direct connection to the food, the report said. “It is rare for a fast-food campaign to be successful when it does not focus on the food.”

Truth in advertising is more than just a cliche. Negative things happen when words do not match up to promises — the image and reputation of the church you pastor is critical to your success in getting people in your community to believe that peace, hope, and new life can be found at your church.

You can say what is true about Christ and be sure that it is. Say what is true about your church, then make sure it is true. Your greatest success will come when you focus on the food.

10. Melt the cheese

Then there are the basics. The things McDonald’s used to be so good at, such as serving juicy burgers and hot french fries.

Under the new cooking system, cheese is added to the burgers at a temperature that is often not even hot enough to melt it. Both consumers and franchisees have complained about that, the report says. “There’s got to be a way to melt the cheese.”

Thoroughness is a quality that adds value and credibility to leadership at any level. For church leaders, it attests to the high view they give the gospel and its preeminent place in congregational life. Thoroughness inspires confidence and is appreciated.

Over the past few years McDonald’s has worked to change its image and provide healthy food alternatives. Will we, as a church, make the needed changes to keep relevant in today’s society.

All links in a church’s chain are vital. Care for them all.

Good leadership rests on doing the basics well, staying with the fundamentals, getting the essentials right. For church leaders that means:

  1. Diligent, personal study yields good, needs-related preaching.
  2. Good preaching yields conviction and life change.
  3. Good administration yields integrity and transparency.
  4. Good planning yields confidence in leadership.
  5. Good leadership offers opportunities for people to discover and engage their talents and energies on behalf of growing the church.
  6. Good opportunities for spiritual growth yields the church’s next generation.

“There’s got to be a way to melt the cheese.”

There is. When those ways are discovered, and managed wisely and with spiritual intelligence, great things happen: people find Christ; they love and support the church and its mission; and, as a result, become its most inspired advocates.

T. RAY RACHELS, currently executive presbyter for The General Council of the Assemblies of God, Southwest Region, and former Southern California District superintendent, 1988–2010.

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