Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Franchising the Gospel

McDonald's is a franchise. When you go to a McDonald's anywhere in the world, you will see the same signage and the same decor. You will be greeted the same and be offered (usually) the same menu items. McDonald's puts its franchise owners through a 9-month training course, where they learn about McDonald's culture, advertising, expectations, procedures, and best practices. In return for continued support and training, business placement, national advertising (in all different media), name-brand recognition, and coordinated purchasing and supply processes, the franchisee pays the franchisor about 12.5% of sales.

In a way, the Seventh-day Adventist denomination is like a franchise. The franchisee is the pastor. Although the pastor goes through a 27-month training at the seminary, she still has no real knowledge about SDA culture, advertising, expectations, procedures, or best practices. All she has learned is theology and how the teacher did things 20 years ago. When she gets out into the real world, she finds that, even though she sends over 50% of the total receipts to the conference, she receives no business placement. If she's lucky, a church building will already be there. If not, she will have to buy or build one with the meager funds left over after the conference franchise fees are paid. She will get little, or no, ongoing training. She will receive no national advertising, little name-brand recognition ("Adventists...you guys are, like, mormons, right?"), and no coordinated purchasing and supply (except for Sabbath School materials).

If the Adventist church were really like a franchise, it would maintain very high standards about signage, appearance, and customer service. It would re-train and re-assess its pastors and fire the ones who could not manage a church. It would develop and constantly refine best practices (the Church Manual contains a few best practices from the 1950s). It would coordinate and lead targeted national advertising campaigns in all different media. It would actually pay for the buildings, since it owns them anyway. It would have national contracts with office equipment and supply companies, to get volume discounts on the goods churches need to maintain the high quality of the franchise culture. And (and perhaps this is the most important thing of all) the church would have an active program to achieve market saturation by opening as many new churches as possible.

No franchisee in his right mind would pay the type of franchise fees that we pay to get so little in return.