We all know about franchises. We see the sign and immediately know we’ll get the same kind of food or service at that place no matter where in the world it is. It can be a food chain, a dry cleaner, a bank, a tire store, or just about anything else you can imagine. Think McDonald’s. Think Starbucks. Think Pizza Hut. Think Tire Kingdom. While traveling in Romania several years ago, we saw a McDonald’s and had to stop and enjoy a quarter-pounder with cheese. It tasted exactly like it does here in the states. I’ve had Starbucks in the Bahamas, London, and Brussels, and it’s the same as I get at my local Starbucks. That’s what you expect; that’s what makes it a successful franchise.
There seems to be a growing trend in the American Church today to establish franchise churches. You have the mother church that opens another “campus” or an additional location and uses the same name, but tags on a location identifier like north, south, east, west, downtown, uptown, midtown, university, central, etc. Is this church planting or church expanding? Is there a problem with this method? Is it biblical? Good questions.
There is no short answer. There are many church planting “formulas,” but there is no “right” way to plant a church. What works in Atlanta may not work in rural Nebraska. So as I asked earlier, is a franchise church really considered a church plant? When you consider how the Apostle Paul planted churches, you don’t see him using this method. He used the same basic process everywhere he went. He went to the synagogue to speak to the religious leaders then he went to where the people were hanging out and told them about the death burial, and resurrection of Christ and what that all meant for eternity’s sake. No fancy lighting, no building, no worship team, not much of anything really except the power of God. Does that work today? Well . . . the power of God has not diminished, but that power doesn’t seem to impress people that live in such an advanced technological age. So we adapt our methods, but hopefully not the message, to meet the ever changing demands of the people we are trying to reach.
Now back to the question. A franchise church does make sense. You plant a church in some location that has that familiar church name or pastor’s name and viola, big crowds at the launch service. There may be a live band to have some pumped up energized worship and then the people watch the sermon on a TV or big screen and it’s called a church. There are some things that I wonder about. Is there local leadership? Is the goal to get unchurched Christians there or to reach the lost? Is there a way to effectively equip and encourage these people as part of a local body? Is there accountability? Is there evangelism? Is it really a church?
When you think about the fellowship John mentions in his first letter to the church, a group of people meeting together would certainly qualify if they have fellowship with the Father and the Son. Therefore we could call it a church. But I’m not sure if that’s what franchise churches do. The Church’s primary mission is to make disciples according to Matt. 28:19. If there is no method in place to do that, at the very least, the church is not functioning as it should. A group of people meeting together do not a church make. There must be leadership; discipleship, teaching, and equipping. You cannot have a church without a shepherd. The churches you hear about that are without a pastor for several years really trouble me, but that’s another blog post. Back to the question. If a franchise church has no desire to reach the lost, instead opting for the America form of evangelism (“Hey, you want to come to church?”) then I would classify them as a social club. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with social clubs . . . just don’t call it a church. Now we have churches launching internet churches. Come on, really?
I love when churches do something in the community to reach the lost, to demonstrate the love of Christ, to disciple members of the body. Churches must be outward focused rather than inward leaning. If you can pack the house because of a “big Christian name,” then I say go for, but don’t let it stop there. Let’s plant churches that have a desire to make disciples.