One of my favorite shows to watch on television is a Food Network show called Restaurant Impossible. The show follows Chef Robert Irvine as he is challenged week after week to turn around small, failing restaurants. In this pursuit he is given an interior designer, a construction chief, a very limited budget, and 3 days. Most restaurants he walks into stink, have unappetizing food, and have a decorating scheme that looks like the 60’s never left.
In the show Chef Irvine tackles about everything. With a great amount of huffing and puffing and a little paint he takes the outdated decor and changes the look and the feel of the establishment. After tackling the decor he then turns and reeducates the wait staff. In the final step of the show he then turns his attention to the most important problems in the restaurant, the lacking leadership of the owner and the unappetizing menu. The show teaches time and again that if the owner does not lead and the product does not excel, then the restaurant will fail despite its new look.
I have connected with this show because God has put a burden on my heart to pastor in established churches and see them excel. It is no secret that most churches (85%) are now declining and are within a generation if not less of permanently closing their doors. In a good majority of them they have tried redecorating more than just their walls. They have tried style, programs, and any number of things in attempting to revitalize what seems to be a sinking ship. The problem is they have changed the paint without ever looking at the bigger issues that keep them from turning the corner.
For the church to turn around it must go back to its menu and ask who and what it is serving. I believe that we as churches have forgotten what we exist to serve and have instead begun serving things that cannot sustain us in our future. We have directed our menus at trying to develop ministries and services that reach out solely to a saved and culturally Christianized crowd. I believe that this applies to both the “traditional” church and the “contemporary” one. What we have done in this is build an entire system of churches that attempt to grow off one another’s losses.
What must change? I think we need to overhaul our menus. We must go back to seeing growth through men coming to trust Jesus, not men transferring their membership. We must design our church life to put our church bodies back in contact with people who do not know Jesus, not just plan and enjoy events that entertain us. We must lose the concept that people just randomly come to visit church and realize that me must go out to meet them and invite them.
The gospel is just as powerful as it always has been. The church has a bright and glorious future ahead of it. God will not forsake his bride. We are not looking at church impossible. That said we must change the foundational things that have kept us busy and blind. We must get back to the one thing that matters most: gospel centered living and church.