We Can Tell When You’re Desperate

McDonalds is desperateThe McDonald’s Corporation is not exactly in trouble, but it’s not like it used to be.  Their flagship restaurant closed in Russia last week and profits are down in general.   One of the local McDonald’s near my house now offers Live Music & Karaoke on Friday nights.

This feels sad.

I interpret this new programming as an act of desperation.  Yes, it could be that a creative McDonald’s staffer recently noticed that there was no place for the kids to hang out on Friday nights and suggested something cheesy/fun to give them a Third Place.  Karaoke and Live Music on Fridays!  Who would not want to hang out here on a Friday night?  At McDonald’s.  In the suburbs.

What does this remind you of, Church Friends?

When I hear church elders say, “Let’s ask our pastor to lead a Bible study in a local coffee shop or bar!” (as if that’s not a 10 year old idea) or “If only we got screens for the sanctuary . . . ”  (as if that’s going to make everything alright) or “Let’s chuck our traditional worship service and get a praise band!” (from the people who think “contemporary music” will save us.) – I feel a mixture of sadness and frustration.

Often, it sounds desperate, as if you will “do anything” to get “the young people” to come back.

But, if we are honest, you don’t really want to make changes that will shift your basic culture – which is what’s truly needed.  Simple but desperate measures do not result in a culture shift.  Such measures are taken for the sake of survival.

With all due respect, the shift we need is to move from Institutional Perpetuation to Making Disciples of All Nations and Loving Our Neighbors.

This is what desperation looks like:

  • Our reason for existing is unclear and so –  like a hamburger chain that offers karaoke on Friday nights – we offer activities that have nothing to do with our basic purpose and mission.
  • Our desire to offer what the community really needs is overshadowed by our desire to take the easiest possible steps that appear to offer something for outsiders.  (And then we blame the pastor and other leaders when the results are lackluster.)
  • Our love for each other and hospitality for newcomers – about which we occasionally congratulate ourselves – has not been honestly evaluated lately.  We simply continue to say, “This is a loving church” and “This is a friendly church” as if saying it makes it real for everybody.
  • We stubbornly cling to the very leaders and buildings and programs that are killing us.  We can’t possibly tell Elder X that her attitude repels people.  (What if she leaves?!)  We can’t possibly do something dramatic with our building.  (It will cost too much.)  We can’t possibly stop doing our traditional [fill in the blank: Vacation Bible School?  Organ Festival? Fall Fair?]  

So, here’s the thing about Friday Night Karaoke and Live Music at McDonald’s: while it could be an act of desperation, it’s possible that it’s an attempt to change the culture to make McDonald’s into the kind of place people would hang out on a Friday night.  It could actually be a move to reach into the neighborhood in the hope of connecting with the real needs of the people.

This article speaks of the authentic actions McDonald’s has taken to reach out to people in France, where the customers are notoriously suspicious of Americans. Imagine if we in the Church reached out in authentic ways to those in our neighborhoods who are long suspicious of us.  It takes more than a “free chili dinner” to reach out;  it takes genuine concern for our neighbors as human beings rather than numbers or targets.

Image of a McDonald’s in the South Suburbs of Chicago.

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One response to “We Can Tell When You’re Desperate

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