A couple weeks ago Carrie and I saw that one of our favorite TV shows was coming back with new episodes. If you’ve never seen Restaurant Impossible on Food Network, it’s worth checking out. The premise is that failing restaurants contact celebrity chef Robert Irvine in the hopes that his crew can overhaul the restaurant and give them a second chance. They normally overhaul everything: the menu, the appearance, and sometimes even the staff. After 48 hours they unveil a reveal where the restaurant reopens to a full house.
It’s really special. But then you see the success rate for these restaurants is less than 50%. Food Network Gossip has the list of restaurants that have aired, and 105 out of 144 have closed. Restaurants that were family treasures, a life’s work, or that were an effort to live the Dream… gone.
The overwhelming reason many of them close is that the cost of change was greater than the cost of losing everything. Churches and ministries do the same thing. When faced with change or death, many times they choose death (intentionally or not). We can, and should, learn from Restaurant Impossible. The carryover value is immense!
Desperation Leads to Quality Reduction - “CANNED!” is one of Irvine’s common things he screams when tasting the food. When restaurants get desperate, they start cutting quality. They get canned food, lower quality products, and skimp on the details like cleaning. Churches fall into this when they go into survival mode. They cut budgets way back to missions and ministries. They start into deferred maintenance. And they start and stop initiatives like they’re throwing spaghetti on the wall.
Hard Truth is Hard to Hear - In the show, the owners have to confront the hard reality. Many of them are in denial of how close they are to ruin, or how poor their food is. Sometimes they even threaten to stop the renovation because they don’t want to hear the hard truth. Churches and ministries sometimes need to hear hard truth that things aren’t working. It’s hard to eliminate ministries that don’t accomplish anything anymore. It’s hard to hear that things aren’t going well. But we can’t live in an echo chamber.
Lasting Change Starts Small - If you really think about it, what the crew does in Restaurant Impossible isn’t that much. They repaint, they get some new furnishings, they put some new items on the menu, and they open with a bang. It’s small. But it provides a spark. Churches that find themselves on the brink sometimes just need a spark, a small victory. Kotter calls it gaining momentum, Rainer calls it low hanging fruit. Sometimes if you want to see lasting change in a church, it can start as easy as decluttering closets or weeding the flower bed. What’s been missing in many of these churches and restaurants is hope. Starting small can give that dose of hope.
Culture > Renovation - It’s cool to see the renovation finished, when there are tears of joy and the credits roll with a full restaurant and a busy kitchen. But once the cameras are off, culture sets in. Culture is what is expected from the leadership. Culture is what pushes through when the initial rush settles. Sadly, many of the restaurants that close are because they go back to the same habits that got them in trouble. Churches without a healthy culture won’t see lasting change. That starts from the pastor setting the tone. Is it a culture of intentional health, growth, mission, and discipleship? Or is it a culture of laissez-faire?
What other connections would you make from the show to ministry?
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.