But innovators can’t just look in the usual spots.
Gordon Ramsay and Robert Irvine are world-class chefs and restaurant owners. On their shows, Kitchen Nightmares and Restaurant: Impossible, they try to turn someone else’s struggling restaurant into a thriving business again.
The principles they use are time-tested and valid, even if the theatrics are staged – allegedly. And the parallels to church work are significant.
The one thing they never tell a struggling restaurant owner is that the restaurant needs to be bigger. It seems restaurant experts have figured out something church leaders often forget.
Bigger fixes nothing.
The last thing a broke, mismanaged restaurant owner needs is a bigger restaurant to manage.
But that’s exactly what we do in the church. Just last week I saw a website that says they want to help Small Churches. Their advice? Use our ideas to make your church bigger. If you don’t succeed, shut the church down.
I have a better idea. Let’s turn struggling Small Churches into great Small Churches.
If your church is small and struggling, these principles could be a lifeline.
If your church is small and healthy, they can strengthen what you have.
1. Simplify the menu
In a Restaurant, this means: Stop forcing a massive menu on an overworked staff. Stop trying to emulate the big guys.
A big menu is expensive to print, so it gets out of date. The choices are so vast that they can’t keep all the ingredients in stock and the quality suffers.
It’s better to have fewer choices on a smaller menu suited to the talents of the chef. The costs go down, the items are always available and the quality goes up.
Less is more.
In a Church, this means: Stop forcing multiple programs on an overworked staff. Stop trying to emulate the big guys. Big, full-service programs cost too much time and money, and the quality suffers.
It’s better to have fewer choices, suited to the gifts of the workers, meeting specific, current needs of the church members and the surrounding community.
The budget drops, the ministries you keep are better, and everyone’s church experience is more positive.
Less is more.
2. Cook fresh and local
Restaurant: Stop re-heating frozen food in the microwave! People can do that themselves. One of the reasons people come to a restaurant is to get an experience they can’t get at home.
If your restaurant is on the coast, buy fresh fish. In dairy country? Feature local cheeses.
Church: Stop downloading sermons from other preachers! If you found it online, so can the congregation.
People come to your church because, believe-it-or-not, they want to hear your take on God’s Word, not a re-heated sermon from Rick Warren, Beth Moore or Charles Spurgeon.
When you’re starting in ministry, you have to lean on the expertise of others more. But from Day 1 you need to start learning how to speak with your own voice.
There’s only one way to do that. Spend time in God’s Word. Hear what God is saying to your heart, not just for a sermon, but for you. Then let it bubble up.
People would rather hear an imperfect talk from the heart than a perfectly-crafted message that you copied [*cough* stole] from someone else.
Keep it local – speak from your heart.
Keep it fresh – what’s God saying to you right now?
3. Ask for help
Restaurant: Restaurant fix-up shows don’t begin when the camera crew shows up. They begin when someone at a struggling restaurant gets tired of failure and sends an email to a producer.
That invisible-to-the-cameras cry for help may be the hardest step of all. But no one, anywhere has succeeded without it. We can’t do anything on our own.
Church: Jesus said “the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” So why are Christians among the most stubborn, prideful people on the planet? Especially about our church. Especially pastors.
Stop trying to do everything alone. Pick up a phone, send out an email or wave semaphore flags. But do something to ask for help.
Don’t wait for your denomination, your mentor, or your former seminary prof to call you. Call them! No, you may not get what you need from the first call, the second email or the 10th carrier pigeon. It’s the same with the TV shows. We see the restaurants they decide to help, but they sift through hundreds of requests before saying yes to one.
You might be surprised at the help that’s out there, waiting to step in, if only you would ask.
Then – and here’s the key – be humble and listen to their advice. Especially the advice you like the least. After all, if you were a good judge of what works and what doesn’t, people would be calling you for help, not vice versa.
What was it Jesus said? “You don’t have because you don’t ask”.
Ask. Ask large. Then ask again. You might just receive. And your joy may be full.
So what do you think? Do you have any ideas to help struggling Small Churches become great Small Churches? Do you have questions based on these ideas?
We want to hear from you. Yes, you!
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