Let me begin with a disclaimer: I do not like speaking negatively about the church. I once heard an analogy that, since the church is the bride of Christ, criticising the church is like telling a groom on his wedding day that his bride is dog ugly. You wouldn’t dare! While I try not to criticise the church, I do think it is helpful to enter into positive dialogue about the church so that we can help maker it a better place. Afterall, even the most beautiful bride has her hair and makeup done on her wedding day.

That said, one of the things that has been concerning me lately is the trend of “church franchising”.

By definition, a franchise is the same wherever you go. McDonalds in Joburg is the same as McDonalds in Cape Town, which is the same as McDonalds in Tokyo. Likewise, every Virgin Active in the country smells the same (I suspect it’s because of the pool and cleaning chemicals they use).  And, that’s fine.  They are all reaching the same target market, with the same product, using the same strategy.  McD’s get you there because your kids want a happy meal.  Virgin Active gets you there because you want to either get healthy, or because you get to go for free with Discovery – and so they market in those two ways.

What does that mean for the church, though? I believe the local church is placed in a particular community to reach the people of that community in a way that is relevant to them. As such, you would plant a significantly different type of church in Sandton than you would in the poorest parts of Soweto.  The reason is simple: you are aware of the type of people you are going to be ministering to when you plant your church, and therefore structure your church around the type of people you are going to minister to. Well, ideally.  Unless you are a “franchise church”.

A franchise church, like any other type of franchise, has a look. It has a smell. It has a sound. It has a design.  Here’s where it gets tricky. Unless planted in the exact type of community all over the world (which is surely impossible) the church is expecting the community to relate to the church, rather than building a church that relates to the community.

Another part of the franchise church model I struggle with, is the rapid growth that these churches are able to boast about.  I almost always celebrate when a church grows! I say almost, because sometimes churches are growing, but the Kingdom isn’t.  I suspect this is a trend with franchise churches.  Many of these churches celebrate 500, 1000, 2000 people at their first service.  Can we agree that, most likely, 0% of those are unsaved. Rather, they are other Christians who get excited about the new franchise moving in, and neglect their corner dely for the big lights of the Golden Arches.

So instead of a franchise church moving in and having a radical effect on the unsaved people in their unchurched community, they take good men and women from good churches – leaving those churches that were already doing a work in that community, struggling for resources.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not hating on Willow Creek or Hillsong or any other “franchise church”. There is no doubt that they are doing an amazing work for God. I just wonder if there isn’t a better way of using their resources (that’s polite for the millions they have made from selling books, cd’s and dvd’s), without being dogmatic about branding, sound, look and feel.

I could be on about nothing here, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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