Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Learning from McDonald's

I've lived in many different places in this country, and visited more, and talked to people who have lived in every more. One wouldn't normally think about it this way, but McDonald's actually has quite a bit of regional variation. In New Mexico, they would add green chile to your burger upon request. I remember more vegetarian options in CA (not precisely what. . . I'm not a vegetarian, and in CA there was a Jack in the Box, so I went there. If you want trashy, unhealthy fast food, I say go for it. . . but I digress). I have heard that in Maine there are lobster bits at McDonald's, and crab cakes in Maryland. . . probably more cheese stuff in Wisconsin as well. I also think it was easier to find a Shamrock shake in Chicago.

However, even with all of these variations - it was still McDonald's. I could go into any McDonald's in this country and get a Quarter Pounder with Cheese. They even had that in Spain, and Italy, and England. . . and apparently in Amsterdam where it is called a "Royale with Cheese". But the point is, even with the variations, the little things that are different in the various regions. . . it's still the same place, you can still get a burger, fries, and a coke wherever you are at.

When we say that rites and customs don't have to be the same in every Lutheran Congregation - this is the type of variation we are referring to. Do you have Holy Cross day or no? Do you chant or no? DS1 or DS3? Even. . . (shock, gasp!) Common Cup, Individual, or both? But anywhere you go. . . you ought to expect Lutheran substance accompanied with one of the various Lutheran styles.

We've lost that. Now, we don't know what we are going to get in terms of a liturgy when we walk into an LCMS congregation. Will it be using a hymnal? Will it be things made up that week by the pastor? Will it be classical hymns, or will there be a praise babe that all the guys oogle while the gals (at least the straight ones) try to croon along from the words on the giant projector boards.

Part of McDonald's strength is that it can attract travelers. You are taking a trip, the kids are hungry - oh look, a MickeyD's. . . let's go there. But what would happen if some McDonald's no longer served burgers. . . that's not popular there, so they started serving fried chicken and mashed potatoes (cause people like KFC)? Or if suddenly it was fried fish (cause people here really like Long John's Silver)? Or you walk in and there candlelight, white linen, and sushi (okay, that would be awesome, but I like Japanese food)? It would destroy the strength of McDonald's business. . . you can have your local variation, managers - but you will have certain items.

We have too many pastors and too many congregations that have gone beyond local custom and variation and whole scale abandoned common Lutheran practice in a desire to appeal to the local masses. . . normally by copying another Church's style. . . and normally poorly (sorry, you aren't going to out Baptist the Baptists, you aren't going our revive the Revivalists, and you aren't going to out Rock the real rockers). And things become unrecognizable. . . and we have lost our identity.

Our Lord says that the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light. Good night - have we Christians been out-shrewded by McDondald's?


The Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...


But that also leaves room for a little individual flavor. For instance, one region might have peach pies, the other might have cherries, the other might be test-marketing the McRib. Those things are brought in by choirs, instrumentation, chanting or not, pipe organ or electronic. But the main menu is the same. The words are the same. The tunes are the same. And that is a HUGE comfort.

The Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...

And now I'm jonesing for Jack in the Box. Thanks. 2 for 99 cent tacos or a chicken fajita pita? hmmm. Well, gas just went up again and the closest one is in St. Louis. Nope, not going to happen.

Scott Diekmann said...

Does this mean the motorcycle-as-sermon-illustration is out?

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


Not necessarily. . . if I myself knew bikes and had guys who knew bikes. If I was preaching in Sturgis, I might reference bikes all the time.

Orianna Laun said...

I totally agree with you. The time a restaurant goes under is the time they try to overhaul themselves and bill themselves as something they're not. Check out my "parable" at

Anonymous said...

Spot on. It is sad that we have lost our identity. With all of our guys studying business principles, we might think that they would see the value in a measure of consistency. Unfortunately, our congregationalism limits tag lines, identity, and marketing strategy to that particular parish, apart from our larger liturgical, theological identity. Of course they scream "adiaphora" and claim we share a same theology, but we know better. I am a caveman, not stupid.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

You mean we see the Geico ads on Synodical Policy and say, "Oh yeah, I get it. . . ha ha, very funny"?

Thursday's Child said...

Over here we have McArabia...chicken patty with lettuce, tomatoe, etc. on Arabic flatbread. Yummy! And the fish sandwich at BK is hammour...I'll miss those in the States!
But, I digress...you're right. It's one thing to allow for culture difference/preferences. But not at the expense of sound doctrine.