The McChurching of America . . .
I haven't read the whole book, but I've had discussions with those
who have, and I've read excerpts and followed online discussions of
George Ritzer's The McDonaldization of Society. McDonaldization
is "the process by which the principles of the fast food restaurant
are coming to dominate more and more sectors of American society and
the rest of the world." Just do a Google search on the word "McDonaldization"
and you'll find all kinds of information about what it is, but the
short version is it creates a process that is efficient, calculable,
predictable and is easily controlled and then franchises that process. The key thing is that it is a predictable process which gives predictable results - you can always count on getting the same thing with the same taste at any McDonald's you go to.
With this in mind, Kyle at PureText and John at Rabe Ramblings are talking about Willow Creek's new satellite churches. Both say "yuck" at the whole thing, with John at Rabe Ramblings calling this McChurch.
While I am uncomfortable with the whole idea I am reticent to go too overboard in my criticism of them lest I who am with great sin be guilty of throwing stones.
I have written a little bit about McDonaldization as it relates to modernization here. While I'm no fan of McDonaldization it has its benefits and is not all bad.
The fact is that almost all of our churches are McDonaldized to some degree. Remember, McDonaldization creates a process and franchises it, demands the process be followed, offers predictable results and controls the process tightly. The question here is one of degree.
The 40 Days of Purpose Campaign is an example of McDonaldization, the Alpha Course is an example of McDonaldization, Evangelism Explosion (which we use in my church) is an example of McDonaldization, the 50 Day Adventure is an example of McDonaldization, even the Embers to a Flame Conference is an example of some degree of McDonaldization.
John Maxwell is famous for saying that if you do the right things
the right way you will get the right results. This is a textbook
McDonaldist message. All of us who go to a conference or buy a book
which tells us how to do something and guarantees particular results
are acting like McDonald's customers.
When missionaries go to a foreign country and insist that those they minister adopt western modes of dress and western styles of worship they are acting in a McDonaldist fashion.
I'm saying all of that to illustrate that McDonaldization or McChurching goes far deeper than we think. It's a matter of degree and before we throw stones at Willow Creek we need to see where else we are doing the same thing.
Further, McDonaldization has its benefits. McDonald's isn't Ruth's Chris, but you can get a filling meal there. There are lots of people who have gotten their first jobs there and moved on to greater things.
Similarly, western missionaries may have carried a bit too much of their culture to foreign countries at times but they have gotten the gospel out. The Alpha Course and Evangelism Explosion have been used to lead many, many to Christ.
Although I am not the biggest fan of Willow Creek I can see a
certain logic to what they are doing. One of the things that some
critics don't realize is that, in those satellite campuses, they have
or can have, all of the aspects of a church in place. Such churches
have, or can have, local elders and deacons who shepherd the flock,
they can have Sunday School teachers, small group leaders and
everything else in place for a church, the only thing they lack is a
The difference between Willow Creek using Bill Hybels to preach and
your local church using Nicky Gumbel to evangelize is one of degree.
By what principle do we declare it out of order for Bill Hybels' to do
the preacher's job for him yet don't rule it out of order to let Nicky
Gumbel do their evangelism for them?
Further, what if this were an article about someone like, say, John
Piper? What if Bethlehem Baptist were franchising out his ministry?
Actually, they are. They have two campuses and Piper preaches live
at one and there is a video of his preaching that is played at the
other. I haven't heard the same outcry about Bethlehem as I have about
I think the reason for this is that critics of Willow Creek think
Willow has compromised the gospel, so pretty much anything they do is
an expression of compromise. In all fairness, if satellite campuses are the real issue here then someone ought to be criticizing Piper and Bethlehem B
aptist in the same way. Critics of Willow Creek may be attracted to
the idea of franchising John Piper because, after all, he's John
In saying all of this I am not arguing that having satellites are
the best thing, or even a good thing. But, I have been told on several
occasions that the number of pastors leaving the ministry far exceeds
the number of new pastors being trained. So, suppose we come to a day
where a church just can't find a pastor, but still has the manpower to
sustain the other functions of a church. Should they close up or would
it be ok to show a video of someone preaching?
They should close up and go join another church you say. Sure,
that's a fine idea, but what if those in the church that is closing
have strong convictions that prevent them from feeling at home in other
churches in the area? Well, maybe their are straining at theological
gnats you say. This could be, but which one of us wants to tell
someone else to compromise their biblical convictions. In my church,
we practice infant baptism and I do all I can to talk people into
believing in infant baptism. But I also tell people that their
consciences are bound by the word of God and if I haven't convinced
them from the word of God that infant baptism is biblical, they better
not compromise their conscience. This usually is not a matter that
causes someone to leave the church, but suppose someone has a number of
convictions that make it hard for them to fellowship in a particular
Or, suppose you have a similar situation, maybe a rural situation
where there are 30-50 members of a church and they can't afford to pay
a pastor's salary. Further, suppose there are no bivocational pastors
available. Further suppose they can find a circuit preacher who can
only come to them once a month as he hits other churches the other four
Sundays. Should such a church simply not meet the other four Sundays?
Should such a church meet and do everything except listen to a sermon?
Or, could the 30-50 of them scrape up enough money to buy a 36 inch TV
and a VCR and then spend $145 to get R. C. Sproul's Dust to Glory
Series that will take them through the whole bible in a year?
I want to be careful about this, my own church faces some of the
familiar financial challenges that many churches are experiencing in
our post 9/11 world and they may decide that they can get a lot better
preacher for a lot less money than me. I am only suggesting that this
is a viable option in some cases.
So, getting back to the point, there are some dangers with what
Willow Creek is doing and they are the same dangers that face John
Piper and Bethlehem Baptist. But we ought not to criticize them out of
hand. We, and they simply need to ask some hard questions and answer
Are they creating a personality cult? Are there other qualified pastors out there who simply lack the pizazz of their guru?
Are they McDonaldizing in a harmful way? Just read the book and
look at what Ritzer says are the ill effects of McDonaldization and
Are they being lazy, or cheap? Do they just not want to go through
the difficult process of finding a pastor? Do they just not want to
spend the money and time to support a pastor?
In any case, this whole phenomenon of satellite churches raises some
thorny questions, but let's not criticize Willow Creek in this matter
just because they are Willow Creek.