The Franchising of America

Quick! What are the last five restaurants where you have eaten?

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Now, how would you have answered this same question 20 years ago.

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Now, put an X by all the franchises.

If my guess is right, there is a difference between the lists. We eat at franchises more now than we did twenty years ago. And it not just restaurants. It is also true of where we buy stereos, where we get our hair cut, and where we buy our clothes. American retailing has been overrun by the franchise.

And there is good reason for this. Over a million new businesses are born in America every year. Eighty percent of them will fail within the first five years. Of the 200,000 that survive their fifth birthday, only 20% will see their tenth birthday. (1) There is one type of business, however, that has an 95% annual success rate over the first five years: the business franchise. There is a reason our world has been taken over by Best Buy, Chili's and Barnes and Noble. (2)

There is a reason for this. It is in the Book. God has given us the law of sowing and reaping. You reap what you sow. You reap what you sow every time. Franchises have figured out, in the details, exactly what it takes to reap their desired results. They sow the required behavior and expect and get the desired results. Every single time. If it works in Atlanta, it will work in Dallas. If it sells in Chicago, it will sell in Sacramento. Every single time. It is a law. God has said it. It will be done.

What does all this have to do with church growth and how we are going to double the church in the next twenty years? Well, several things. First, I would make the observation that franchises all have something in common. When I say they all have something in common, I don't mean that all Best Buys have something in common, I mean that Best Buy and Barnes and Noble and Chili's all have something in common that they do not have in common with most mom and pops. Franchises are all like each other, regardless of the brand or category of store that they do not have in common with mom and pops. In the average franchise, there is a level of professionalism and class and doing things right that is not nearly as pervasive in the average mom and pop. You could take me to a city I had never been before, blindfold me, take me to store I had never seen to before, and if a few minutes I could tell you if it were a part of a large national chain or was a mom and pop. You could tell too. Franchises just do things better. That is why there are so many of them. That is why they have a 95% five year success rate as opposed to a 4% ten year success rate. The law of sowing and reaping says it must be true.

Let's go back to church. I am in about 70 churches a year these days. About half of them growing and about half of them not growing. I was in a church this weekend that has doubled in the last five years. I will be in one tomorrow that has been roughly on plateau. There is a difference. I can feel the difference, see the difference, smell the difference. The growing churches just do things differently. They have worked out, in the details, how to do things right, and it shows. It shows in a thousand details just as in a thousand details you can tell the difference between Red Lobster and Joe Bob's Fishery. Doubling churches do things better, more professionally, and with greater pizzaz than non-growing churches. Are there exceptions? Of course. Still, the exceptions are exceptions. There is a reason they are growing. It has to do with living according to God's law of sowing and reaping. Doubling churches are all alike just as franchises are all alike and mom and pops are all alike.

There is a bit of fine print in this discussion that I don't want you to miss. It is commonly taught that doubling is all about understanding 5 purposes or 7 principles or a handful of big picture issues. It is not. It is not about a hand ful of broad principles. I wish I had a dollar for every time I have heard someone say that all we have to do understand a handful of broad principles and everything will work out. It is not true. Success is not in understanding a handful of broad principles. It is in the details. Chili's is not successful because they understand a handful of broad principles of culinary arts, marketing, demographics and business management. Chili's is successful because they have worked out, in the details, how to make these principles work in the real world. The location, the amount of parking, the landscaping, the design of the menu, every spice in every entre', a thousand specifics about the atmosphere, the way they train their managers and on and on and on. They have worked out the law of sowing and reaping in the details. And so have doubling churches. They have worked out, in the details what it takes to serve people through a local church. Non-doubling churches, by comparison, are not as sharp.

If you aspire to double your church, I have some sobering news. It is not about understanding a handful of broad principles. It is about getting rid of that stack of old literature in the corner of many of your classrooms. It is about doing something about that smell in the nursery. It is about improving, week by week, year by year, improving the quality of your communication skill in the pulpit and in the classroom. It is about getting that piano tuned, and keeping it tuned. It is about making sure that every pew has those little golf pencils so you have a shot at getting the names of visitors. It is about seeing that every visitor is contacted every single week and invited to someone's home, or to do something personal and is treated like a treasured V.I.P. being, not a project or an obligation. It is about eliminating every second-and I mean second-of dead time in the worship service. It is seeing that the landscaping is manicured and the paint is not chipped or pealing. It is about executing every facet of the details. Welcome to the real world.

All good ideas degenerate into work.


1. Michael E. Gerber, The E Myth, (New York, New York: Harper Collins, 1995), p. 2.

2. I realize I am using he word "franchise" a little imprecisely. Some of my examples may be company owned stores. I use the word in the popular, street usage of the word to mean "national chain," whether company owned or franchised, as opposed to a mom and pop.