What can the Church learn from Hamburger Joints?

My first real job was with a McDonald’s.  I enjoyed the job and learned many valuable lessons.  Had I been interested, I am quite sure I could have stayed with the company and eventually have gone to Hamburger University.

I didn’t.  Instead, I went into ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church.

This past weekend my family and I visited In-N-Out Burger for our first time. Lunch was fairly satisfying, though we were not overly impressed.  The service and, frankly, the friendly attitude of the employees did impress me. In fact, they reminded me of the way I learned to serve when I worked at McDonald’s.

This morning, as I was reliving some of my In-N-Out experience in terms of my years at McDonald’s, and my observations of McDonald’s since, I had the following realization.

When I worked at McDonald’s, they didn’t try to match Starbuck’s drinks or even try to offer a wide variety of sandwiches.  They philosophy was “If you want our burger served well and fast, come to McDonald’s.”

It worked – “Billions and Billions” were served, the road signs assured us.  We worked hard to greet customers with smiles and get their orders to them within 60 seconds.  That was good enough that the store I worked at was number 4757 – there were already, in the late 1970s, nearly 5000 McDonald’s.

Since then, the Golden Arches has tried to become all things to all people.  I suppose the god McDonald’s is serving is market share and profit increases.

On the other hand, 30 years later, I walk into an In-N-Out for the first time.  This chain started in 1948, so it isn’t new.  The look and feel is a bit nostalgic to me, but I don’t know how much of the draw is nostalgia and how much is this:  “our burger served well and fast.”

I don’t know how much In-N-Out is about market share and increased profit. (If wikipedia is right, though, they do seem to be about paying their employees better than the minimum wage, which is likely to contribute to happier employees.)

Ok, here is the realization (finally!).  Throughout the church world today we hear terms and phrases that might make one think Jesus would have sent the 12 to an MBA program had one existed at the time.  We want measurable outcomes.  We want reports and numbers and graphs and charts.

Perhaps what we need, though, is to learn the lesson of the burger joint:  If we serve OUR product well, people will be drawn.  What is our product?  A transformational relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

How do we offer this?  The first step is, obviously, invite God to begin to transform us.

The second step will easily follow – let it show!

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