Franchising Church

September 12, 2007 by

We’re living in modern times. Everything is outsourced, and everything is franchised. Why should church be any different?

Todd Rhoades at Monday Morning Insight discusses this model of church planting where a larger church will directly partner with a new church plant.

Of course, every instance of this is different, but with a North Point plant franchise in my own town, and with friends working there, this is what I see.

This church plant does not take the name of the larger church, but they do work hand-in-hand together. The church plant almost always looks very similar, if not identical, to the original church, and they follow the same model as the planting church.

You can read more at Monday Morning Insight, but here’s a quote from a pastor of one of these church plants, Eddie Johnson.

“Just like Chick-fil-A, my church is a ‘franchise,’ and I proudly serve as the local owner/operator.”

These churches seem to be effectively reaching out to the community. The language, however, is a little bit tough to swallow. Judging by the success of these plants, maybe we need less pastors and more church operators?

Post By:

Joshua Cody

Josh Cody served as our associate editor for several years before moving on to bigger things. Like Texas. These days he lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife, and you can find him online or on Twitter when he's not wrestling code.
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23 Responses to “Franchising Church”

  • Wayne
    September 12, 2007

    Franchises come and go. The church of Christ goes on. We always want the newest and hottest stuff. Franchised “Chik-fil-a” “congregations” will fill a person for a meal, (and not a good one btw) but when they’re really hungry, they’ll still have to seek to find real food that satisfies. It’s God’s church. Jesus needs disciples, not franchise operators.
    Just my 2 cents.

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  • Adam Lehman
    September 12, 2007

    we need to realize that pastors, operators, leaders, teacher, influencers, shepherds, etc. are all different names that different people give to similar sorts of positions or responsibilities. Let’s concentrate not on what a position is entitled, but what that person actually does.
    Maybe someone is a pastor of a church, but maybe he has no influence. Maybe a church is called a plant or franchise or start-up but who cares. The real question should be: “is this group of people acting as the Body of Christ here on earth?”

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  • brad
    September 12, 2007

    In one way this has been a part of the church from the beginning. Every congregation that has been mentored by another adopts certain elements of its ‘parent’ by default. Even a church started by a lone church planter is birthed with certain preconceptions of what church is supposed to look like. So no single church exists in a vacuum.
    In another way though, the franchise mentality opens the door for empire-building, where an established church merely wants to plant a new church to grow its own size and/or influence. And a resulting problem is that the clone church may not accurately reflect the unique personality and needs of its congregation. A formulaic strategy for church planting will never accomplish the same goal as a unified church hungry for growth in the Lord’s love, grace and truth — especially one that is eager to share it.
    The language that informs this is subtle but deeply meaningful. No pastor near me better claim to be the owner/operator of a part of the body of Christ. That’s an utter corruption of the role.

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  • Erik
    September 12, 2007

    It’s funny how words affect our perception on things. This is just another way to church plant. And just like any other kind of church planting it can be done well, or it can suck.

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  • Chris Harmon
    September 12, 2007

    Funny … our first church home back in Ohio was kind-of started this way… a fairly good sized church was helping an almost-closed smaller church a little distance away and after a while the smaller church wanted to I guess “partner”. A whole portion of the congregation went over with a pastor to this new church…
    Believe me I highly simplified the story and left out a lot, but in the end they considered themselves “sister churches”, but they said many people said something like this just COULDN’T BE DONE. But they did and both are quite strong and growing.
    Sounds like the bigger church is offering guidance and support – not a bad thing … is it? Yeah the wording being used does feel funny though. I like “sister church” better…

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  • Gman
    September 12, 2007

    Next thing you know they’ll franchise youth ministry …wait a minute I think 180 is already doing that (Church on the Move in OK)

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  • Jason Curlee
    September 12, 2007

    I have so thought this is one of the best things…why would you not want to get something worked out with the systems and structure and put it into place in another location.
    The funny thing about church is everyone seems to have this idea that we got to work it out ourselves.
    I respect models like lifechurch and northpoint who are leading the way in areas like this.

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  • Jesse
    September 13, 2007

    Dude, maybe every church is a franchise, Jesus is the CEO (The H.S. is the COO).
    It makes total sense to me. We’re all supposed to be one, big, unified body. Big churches helping little churches is a good thing.

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  • Tim Wall
    September 13, 2007

    Chick-fil-a is not a franchise strictly speaking. They are wholly owned by the parent company and the “owner-operators” invest a small amount to participate with the company, but not in a true ownership role as in other chains like McDonald’s.
    So, would be akin to Chick-fil-a since they wholly own all of their locations. Other churches that let their plants operate as independent churches might be more like McDonald’s.

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  • Geoff Surratt
    September 13, 2007

    Good point about and their similarity to Chick-fil-a, however Chick-fil-a has better waffle fries.

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  • Kyle
    September 14, 2007

    I personally view this form of church planted to be a lot like how denominations originally started spreading. The main need for any certain denomination was so that they could support new church plants with the same church structure, support, and accountability. Sounds a lot like the “franchise” church model to me.

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  • John L
    September 14, 2007

    Church operator? It all started around the time Ignatius selected the first Bishop of Christendom circa 100AD.
    Just finished a long blog series on the early church (vis a vis Viola) which explores the enormous differences between “elder” in the NT church, and today’s CEO “church operators.”
    Good post, Joshua.

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  • Jeremy Scheller
    September 15, 2007

    Somebody said franchises come and go…
    Its actually the mom and pop and independent places that seem to come and go…
    You can get the same big mac in my town as you can in your town. And in the event you’re on the otherside of the world, consistency switches to cultural adaptability (i.e. the Big Mac in India where cows are considered sacred or at least dietery restricted, they are made with chicken).
    In general, the experience you’re left with at a franchise meets the expectation. No one expects a drawn out gourmet meal at McDonalds. You expect a fast greasy meal wahsed down with a high carb coke at fairly low price. That’s what you get.
    Franchise work because they have already worked. It’s easy to replant the same restaurant 400 times and make it work 95% of the time because you’re starting with a business model that has already worked somewhere else.
    Franchises can be great, we all use them all the time. I’m not advocated that the church should be like this, but the business model is intriguing.

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  • Aron Strong
    September 16, 2007

    There is such a huge investment of time and resources to create every element of a new church plant from nothing. An identity, from ministry philosophy to administrative processes, takes time to cultivate.
    With a franchise plant, new church plants benefit from all the pre-work done by the parent church. The plant benefits from knowing it works, the community is already familiar with the brand and the plant is also likely to receive a larger investment from the parent church to ensure its success.
    All in all, it seems like a very smart and strategic method of planting churches.

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  • Shane Montgomery
    September 20, 2007

    Here are my three biggest concerns…
    1. You can not equate a formula to spiritual growth. TO think we could do everything the same, offer the same menu, the same coffee bar and cafe, the same children’s ministry programs and etc. and expect a plug and play experience is ridiculous! Where is the Holy Spirit in all this.
    2. Franchise does not equal quality. Regretfully, I live a the “trendy” part of my city where we have every franchise from Outback Steak House to Moe’s Burrito Cafe. But what I don;t have is the local restaurant where I know the owner and he knows me – where their food is made fresh and there is creativity in the kitchen not a generic “recipe.” Which would you rather have, a meal from Marconi Grill or an authentic, gourmet Italian meal made by a friendly chef in a nice, affordable atmosphere where you are a friend not a number.
    3. What does this do to the Biblical role of the Pastor/Teacher – This is my biggest concern about the multi-site movement when we dismiss the less charasmatic but more genuine teacher/pastor and pipe in the superstar from the mother ship. Is this biblical? I don;t know – maybe the real question is not “does it work” (it does) but “should it work.”

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  • Rich Barrett
    September 21, 2007

    Wow! I’m a little surprised at how many comments this has generated.
    I’ve had the privilege of conversing with some bright and well-intentioned people in the multi-site community for the past four years, and every one of them are asking careful theological and ecclesiological questions as they go. Please—just because you may not have met these folks, don’t assume they don’t care what the Bible says.
    We’re all wrestling with how to best reach the communities around us. In the case of North Point partnerships, the mother church is not choosing where to plant these partners, but listening to the communities themselves, who are begging for these churches in their area.
    At no point are we excluding the Holy Spirit. In fact, give me a call and I’ll tell you 50 stories from our North Point partnership where I’ve seen God work in ways unlike I’ve ever seen!
    In most churches of more than 200 adults, the pastor has a very limited ability to develop meaningful relationships with the people to whom he communicates each Sunday. The fact is, to teach people the Bible, you need to understand the Bible, and the universal human condition.
    I listen to Chris Tomlin, David Crowder, Steve Fee, and Todd Fields a lot. They lead me in worship, but they don’t have to know me… they just have to know the eternal truths of God and the universal human condition, and they can teach and lead me!
    I am the local shepherd for Access Church. I care for this congregation. I pray for them. I encourage them, and try hard to challenge them. But I have no problem with being the lead pastor while Andy Stanley, Louie Giglio, and others are the teaching pastors.
    Let’s get past the “country church” mentality that says if the church has more than 50 people it’s not a “real” church. The early church had very few elders or apostles and they were growing by the thousands! Did all those people know Peter or James or Stephen personally?
    Signs of health in a church are clear and easy to evaluate. Are people pursuing a genuine relationship with Christ and all the submission that goes with that? Are they developing authentic community with other believers? Are they influencing the community around them in such a way that others are being drawn to know God as well?
    Whether these things are happening matters much more than whether the sermon is live or via video, and whether the local campus pastor calls himself an “owner-operator.”

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  • James Dalman
    September 22, 2007

    There are some excellent points here and I do agree with Shane.
    It’s been really interesting to watch the church “trends” over the last 10 years and I provide my opinion as one who has been in ministry, church marketing, and as the shunned outsider.
    I think we are in real danger by having churches starting to operate like a business or the entertainment industry – but what do we expect in such a consumer driven culture? Our society has become so focused on self interest and pride; success is determined by what we are told by the media and others. Many churches now are no different from the world. We can barcode our children and send them to play PS3 on Sunday morning, walk in with Starbuck’s coffee, and then watch Max Headroom on a big screen with tightly knit videos and smoke machines in between. Now we can franchise it!
    I champion the innovation and use of creativity in churches and absolutely believe that larger churches should help the smaller churches or church plants with resources. I am not against multi-sites, megachurches, or serving Starbucks over Folgers. What I am concerned about is the increasing value placed on the lead communicator and the ability to manufacture and brand a cool experience over Christ, spiritual growth, and becoming a missional body of believers. The world doesn’t need another McDonald’s with WiFi, it needs Jesus Christ.
    Both country churches and mega-churches can be effective Rich. I served at a country church where it was a throwback to the 1940’s but who had more real community than the ṻber-hip mega-church down the street. I know it can go the other way as well. I do have a question. What does a church do when the “teaching pastor” (for whatever reason) no longer teaches or the video goes down? How do you build muscle if you don’t train? I think I suck at teaching but I have to “work out” to learn and grow.
    Ultimately we must determine if we are following God’s plan for His church and the vision He has given us and being faithful with that. The importance should not be on brand associations, big screens, or big numbers but “franchising” and modeling Jesus Christ.
    That’s all I got to say ’bout that.

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  • Eddie Johnson
    September 22, 2007

    James, you said: “I think I suck at teaching but I have to ‘work out’ to learn and grow.”
    Can I ask an honest question? If you (or someone else) doesn’t have the gift of teaching…why do you feel like you should teach? Is that even biblical? Help me understand how that’s good stewardship?
    Eph. 4:10-13
    10He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
    A couple of thoughts:
    (1) Jesus is the One gifting us as His followers with certain gifts to grow His Church. It’s his deal, not ours.
    (2) It looks like Paul made a difference between the gift of “pastor” and “teacher”. If it’s good enough for Paul, shouldn’t it be good enough for us?
    (3) Maybe we should focus on the gifts we HAVE been given and not the ones we think we want or should have. Maybe the church would be more effective at reaching the lost and creating better disciples.
    I don’t know if you can teach or not James. That’s not the point. (sorry if this comes across personal, cause its really not) The bigger issue is what North Point and others are doing with video teaching biblical and is it effective in creating more Christ-like followers who are in turn reaching the lost. That’s the real question. In my mind, the rest is just preference.
    However, what you shared above is a concern I have for a lot of churches and pastors out there today. Are we serving Christ and His Church through our giftedness or out of our pride? Or out of what others TELL us we have to do to lead (or help lead) a church?
    I personally believe there is A LOT of guys teaching that have not been given the spiritual gift of teaching and are not helping the Church “grow” and “be healthy” because they refuse to acknowledge and use the gifts they HAVE been given. To me, that is even MORE disturbing and concerning to me.
    Just a thought and one man’s opinion. ;>)
    I’m enjoying the conversation and thoughts being shared here. Good stuff fellas! I’ll keep trackin’ along.

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  • James Dalman
    September 25, 2007

    Great thoughts and I don’t take your post personally at all. I agree that God does provide us with gifts He chooses to give us whenever and however He chooses.
    I don’t try to preach or teach because I “want” to but because I am “compelled” to. If God has called me to teach (even though I personally may feel inadequate) He will use me for His purpose by the Holy Spirit’s power and leading. This is exactly what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2:4. Obviously he was called to preach but he also mentioned to the Church of Corinth he came in weakness with great fear and trembling. My part is to act in obedience to God’s will and purpose and He will do the rest. But I have to be ready to work out.
    I don’t think that Paul was mentioning “pastors and teachers” in the context for which you may be using it (and I could be wrong). I think some people are called to be pastors and some teachers. Teachers may be gifted to teach Scripture but not be called to shepherd God’s flock. I do believe that a pastor or overseer must be able to preach/ teach. Paul clearly states this in 1 Timothy 3:2 in his qualifications for being an overseer. Wouldn’t that mean that a “Lead Pastor” should be able to teach? Not to mention, if you are shepherding God’s flock, wouldn’t you have to be able to teach biblical principles in order to counsel or lead people in the Christian faith?
    Maybe there is a disconnect in our human terminology or that we must look at the different applications of God’s gifts and how they are used. My basic point is that I don’t believe a “teaching pastor” via satellite is wrong but that if you are a lead pastor you should be able to teach, even if it is not every week.
    I agree with you that what REALLY matters is if people are growing in their faith and reaching those who don’t know Christ. Personal preference is irrelevant.
    As far as the overall topic of franchising churches like McDonalds… I strongly disagree and don’t see this but as another church planting trend or fad that will eventually lose steam.
    Thanks for the conversation and thoughts!

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  • onesam
    October 13, 2007

    Is this yet another example of the body of Christ conforming to a worldly way of thinking and operating? I can’t help but think so.
    I can only imagine that the churches that would be well enough resourced to do this kind of thing would be marketing a style of church that is just like every other contemporary church, that is, able to meet the needs and wants of middle class western Christians. Does the church really need to invest more resources into this area?
    Let’s face it, the Church is in decline. In spite of every gimmick in the book, in spite of the fancy name of franchising, in spite of billions of dollars of resources in the way of finance, property and people, Christianity is having less and less impact on the world.
    The Kingdom would be so much better off if individual Christians were trained and empowered to to interact Christianly with their communities.
    We might even bring a few more people to Christ.

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  • Nikola Jacques
    November 10, 2007

    James, recent figures show that religion (i.e. the Church) is on the rise on every continent save Europe. This includes Christianity.
    Now how about a few questions from an outsider? (Belgium, EU)
    I’m interested in the Church/Business phenomenon from a scholar point of view (indeed, I’ve chosen it as a paper-subject for my American Civ class), but, although I can’t call myself a believer (as many people living in my country), I confess I have been brought up a protestant and believe religion to be a good thing.
    Now -if I may say-, let’s get down to business.
    This phenomenon of running churches as businesses has stricken me, because it seems to me -in a naïve way, I must admit- like religion has become a service, the faithful have become costumers (or to put it more blantly, ‘consumers’), and the Churchhas become a company, in a way shocking to me because it has integrating a business model -a money-making scheme- in such an open and shameless manner. Now, to the inhabitant of a Continent wich still has a strong socialist tradition, this seems like the ultimate vice of capitalism. It seems like “das Kapital” has infiltrated the ultimate fortress. What would you say to this? How do you, as Americans, see the evolution of the Church? Do you see any limit to it? What do you think about pastors having $ 2 million houses and traveling around in corporate jets?

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  • James Dalman
    November 12, 2007

    I am not sure if you intended to ask “onesam” or me the question, and I am not really certain of what you are may be asking.
    My response to what I feel you are driving at is that “the Church” should not be operated like a business and it is a shame that many are treated that way. While I believe churches can learn many great things from business people and businesses, church is not a C Corp and should not be treated as such.
    It IS a shame that some churches have given Christianity a black-eye with their greed and lust for money. However, not all churches are created equal or should be lumped into one “pot”. I would also add that religion and Christianity are not necessarily the same (which is another entire discussion).
    My view is that there are bad churches and there are good ones. The same goes for their leaders and congregations. We all fall short of God’s glory and even church people screw up. I don’t agree with pastors having million dollar homes and private jets – not because God is against it – but because I feel there are better uses for God’s resources and money. Sometimes there also seems to be a double standard on this issue;there is less of a problem with athletes or CEO’s having these things than Christian leaders, which isn’t right either. I am not defending these extravagant lifestyles, because again, I personally do not agree with it and I am not the judge – God is!
    Not sure if that is clear as mud. Thanks for the thoughts.

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  • Eric
    March 23, 2008

    i personally believe that churches r no longer places of worship but premises where being socially acceptable is having a deeper pocket.if i need ministry and fellowship ,let it not be strategicalły marketed to me.the so called born again individuals use the Gospel as bait to gain money and recognition.My name is Eric

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