My good friend owns and operates multiple local breweries, wineries, and restaurants. Because he knows I’m directly involved with steering design elements in the church I pastor, and because he knows I am deeply committed to investing in our city, he recently recruited me to design the branding and aesthetic of his new venture in our city’s downtown.
I’ve learned a lot about the industry in the process.
I’m amazed at how similar our “business” lives are. Restaurants and churches are both about people. People come to both with expectations. People make decisions on whether or not to return within the first few moments of their first visit. If people like a restaurant they will tell all their friends about it. If they hate it they will do the same.
There are a lot of differences as well. A restaurant is not a perfect analogy for church by any means. But let’s forgo examining the ways the metaphor is inadequate for now.
My friend is the leader of his business. He has a clear vision and business plan. His business is not like other businesses by design. He doesn’t want to own a chain or franchise—his business is unique.
There are certain “fair” expectations people have about his businesses e.g. there should be beer at the brewery and wine at the winery. But, since he is the leader of his company, he can serve up those items as he sees fit. He does what he thinks is best for his customers in the environment he is situated in flavored by his own preferences and quirks.
He just started a mug club for his new business. Before the mugs were fired, he invited mug owners to put their own thumbprint in the soft clay. As wonderfully unique as this idea is, he knows some will complain the mugs don’t fit just right or aren’t big enough or are too large. Complaints come with the territory but he sticks to what he knows is best.
There’s a lot of his personality all over his business. Good, bad, or indifferent. It is an extension of him. He doesn’t apologize for that.
He’s open to suggestions. He’s adapted his menu here and there after listening to patrons but he’s not a slave to people’s opinions. He knows his restaurant is not for everyone.
There have been employees with good suggestions and those who have been caustic and divisive. Some have hurt his business. Too many have undermined his authority by trying to change things they shouldn’t and setting themselves up as the expert.
But my friend is the owner. He is the leader. If the business doesn’t succeed he has no one to blame but himself. He makes tough calls. He works hard to make it the best it can possibly be. He is invested.
He hires people and keeps them employed (or not) based on their work ethic and their understanding of and commitment to the mission he feels strongly about.
Everyone understands and expects my friend to step up and make the ultimate calls for the design, personality, business plan, layout, music and entertainment choices, menu, and color scheme of the business he leads.
I don’t know of a successful restaurateur who allows his or her staff to overrule, allows his or her patrons or staff to alter the brand, or leads by consensus. But I know many church leaders who have at least one if not all of these shackles.
I don’t know of a restaurateur who has successfully branded his business as a half-assed copycat of another. But I know of a few church leaders who have gone that route with equal frustration.
Maybe they don’t know how to step in where the last guy left off. Maybe the church is small and the power brokers have held the reigns for a long time. Maybe it’s fear that holds them back. Maybe tradition.
Church leaders, like restaurateurs, need to have permission to surface what they believe about how things get done, how things should look and sound, what is (or is not) on the menu, what roles staff members play, day to day business, community relations, and who will most likely be attracted to their particular flavor and panache. They cannot allow someone else to brand them or choose a menu that is the lowest common denominator, least offensive, or most appealing to imaginary guests they may or may not have.
The role pleads for the discerning of one’s own palate, being familiar with the local crops, bartering with local merchants, and creating a feast that celebrates the individual’s culinary genius. They must stand behind what is being served. When they are approached by someone who thinks their cuisine is detestable or needs to be changed, they need to be able to say, “I’m sorry it’s not to your liking. This is what we serve here. And we’re darn good at it. It’s local, home-grown, prepared by our own chefs, and our regular clientele find it amazing.”