News Articles

FIRST-PERSON: 5 things churches could learn from restaurants

NEW ORLEANS, La. (BP) — My wife and I walked up to her favorite restaurant. No one there knows our names or has a clue that this is her eatery of choice. But they get it right.

As we approach, a young lady opens the door and stands outside.

Inside, another attractive young adult greets us, asks the right questions (“how many,” “would you prefer a booth or table”), and shows us to a seat. She gives us menus and informs us that Greg will be taking care of us.

Greg shows up promptly, gets our drink orders and is off. The evening progresses as we expected. We enjoy the food and the fellowship with each other, we pay the bill and tip Greg generously, and we leave.

We wish churches knew what these places do.

1) We wish churches put as much emphasis on friendly greeters at the door as good restaurants do.

Have you ever arrived at an unfamiliar church and saw no one at the doors, no greeters anywhere, and wondered where to enter? As a guest preacher (I’m retired and go wherever I’m invited), this happens to me a lot.

Are restaurants more interested in welcoming paying customers than churches are in showing hospitality to those coming to worship Christ?

The most successful eateries choose greeters carefully and train them. Managers monitor them occasionally and correct the greeters who are not getting it right. Often, a young greeter will be accompanied by a mentor who is training him.

2) We wish churches knew what restaurants know: while the food is the main thing, it’s not the only thing.

Pastors sometimes assume that if their sermon is a winner, worshipers will put up with just about anything.

Not so.

The most successful restaurants do not rely solely on their menu to bring customers back. They are always painting and cleaning, tweaking their service, experimenting with new dishes, looking for ways to improve. Those that neglect their facilities and appearance will soon find themselves without customers.

3) The food, however, is the main thing — in restaurants and at church.

A store in Dothan, Ala., posted a sign in its window: “Going out of business because we forgot what we were in business for.” Sound familiar?

Even if the buildings are impressive and the location excellent and the people friendly, if the pastor cannot be counted on to deliver a worthy sermon, I’ll pass, thank you.

Most pastors know that at least 50 percent of their ministry is the Sunday morning sermon, and therefore give it the lion’s share of their study time. The pastor who cuts corners on this is asking for trouble.

4) People have a choice, both in restaurants and in churches.

In an Alabama town where I was speaking recently, the mega-First Baptist Church sits across the street from the huge First United Methodist Church. In between and almost crowded out was another, smaller church of a third denomination. Many towns across the Southland (especially) will have a downtown intersection where four Christian churches of different denominations occupy all four corners. We may not like that this is the way things have become, but there it is.

People will not stay in a church that does not feed them or challenge them or welcome them or one where the membership is always arguing and fighting. They can drive to another church down the street and find instant relief from such stress. While a few members will stay with a sick church out of pure loyalty, they are increasingly in a minority.

5) There is an important contrast, however: a restaurant lives and dies by the bottom line. A church does not and must not.

The church member who divides the number of additions into the cost of a revival to see if they are getting their money’s worth is missing the point. It does not work that way.

The church member who divides the number of salvation decisions into the cost of a mission trip is applying the wrong measurement to the event.

No church should be making a profit or declaring dividends.

The Lord’s best churches will always be straining at the limit of their resources. They will be finding new opportunities, seeing new visions, and pursuing new enterprises all the time. The church that waits until money is available before beginning a new ministry will rarely accomplish anything.

The only one who should be showing a profit from the church sits on the Throne in Heaven. We who are privileged to labor on His staff should keep His resources in play for Him and not bury them as the disobedient and fearful servant did in a parable Jesus told.

The Lord’s resources are as infinite as He is. He is displeased when we hoard them, pile them up in savings accounts in dread of some rainy day out there in the future, and act as if He has gone off and left us to our own devices.

Unlike restaurants, in the church our Master Chef is always on the premises, ever watching over the whole operation, overseeing each detail, and concerned about every person who enters and the personnel who serve them.

Now, may we take your order?
Joe McKeever is a Baptist Press cartoonist and columnist, a former longtime pastor and former director of missions for the New Orleans Baptist Association. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

    About the Author

  • Joe McKeever