Worship the Waffle House Way, by Phillip Magness

(Phillip Magness writes our “Not Your Grandfather’s Church” Column. In this post he considers the notion of the liturgy as positive branding for a confessional church. Here is the first part of the column. The rest can be read on his blog at the Liturgy Solutions website.)

This morning I had breakfast at Waffle House. I hadn’t been there in a few years, due to a couple of bad experiences, but one of their restaurants was right across the street from our hotel, and the parking lot was full of local plates, so my son & I took a chance and went in. We had a great breakfast, in a clean restaurant full of friendly workers. It brought back fond memories of my youth, when I used to cook at a Waffle House and learned the importance of doing things “The Waffle House Way”.Those who currently run the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod could benefit from considering the benefits of “The Waffle House Way”. They should be open to this, actually, because they are much enamored of the “church growth movement” and tend to appreciate corporate lingo. They may not be so crass as to speak of “market share”, but the overall emphasis on “growing the church” using marketing, mission, and “outreach” techniques means synod & district officials and reports usually have much more talk about marketing strategies than, say, justification or the sacraments.

So let’s take a look at what the brand “LCMS” means to folks as if LCMS were in the restaurant business. Working with the “church growth” analogies like this can actually be quite instructive. (continue reading here)

Phillip A. Magness, Cantor
Bethany Lutheran Church and School
Naperville, Illinois

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


Worship the Waffle House Way, by Phillip Magness — 14 Comments

  1. Phillip,

    You state: “Wouldn’t it be better for people to know what to expect when they see the letters LCMS on a church sign?” A great statement if all the new churches we are starting under the ablaze movement used the name Lutheran and indeed did put the LCMS on their church sign. I personally have seen four which have not and do not!!

  2. The analogy can be extended to foreign missions as well. I live in Venezuela where, while I have never encountered a Waffle House, there are a number of familiar franchises: McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy´s Hamburgers, KFC, Church’s Fried Chicken, TGI Friday’s, etc.

    To take one as an example, when you walk into a McDonald’s in Venezuela, it is definitely a McDonald’s. The menu, of course, is all in Spanish, and you may notice a few things that you would not see in North America. For example, you may have your choice of french-fried cassava in place of french-fried potatoes. And, after you have finished your meal, one of the servers may offer you a shot of espresso coffee.

    But overall the place will have the distinctive look and feel of a McDonald’s, which lets people know that they can expect to find what McDonald’s is known for — burgers, fries and soft drinks. By maintaining its brand identity in this way (and the other franchises do the same thing), McDonald’s manages to “reach” both Venezuelans and homesick North Americans.

  3. David,

    Yes, the anaogy really does hold up. I was at a McDonald’s in Paris in the late 70’s and observed similar things.

    Many who criticize those of us who uphold historic liturgical practice paint a characature of us as some sort of “liturgomaniacs” who are trying to repristinate some sort of Lutheran golden age. It’s a convenient ‘straw man’ set up to avoid the real issues.

    I know some things like screens and drum sets have iconic status and so may be beyond the pale of confessional liturgical practice at this time, but the real issue is not so much the tools themselves but how they are used. And some tools – like drums sets – may be tools that just don’t have much use for us. Remember, at one time, the organ itself is a relatively recent innovation which had to be developed over generations.

    Could the local LCMS “Waffle House” have drums? Sure! We’ve got congas, timpani, and a djimbe at Bethany. Could screens be used? Yes – but I have yet to see them as used as vehicles for projecting art, and their capacity for delivering information is limited. But what they would – and should – all have in common is a recognizable Lutheran piety shaped by a common liturgical order.

  4. Those of us who have attending the “Equipped to Serve” programs at Fort Wayne, with Dr. Senkbeil, can remember the opening sesssions, which basically asked: “Who are we?” I’ve had any number of discussions about this very topic, and it’s patently obvious that the LCMS has forgotten who it is, from pastors to laypersons, to DP’s to SP’s to Commissioned Ministers to SS Teachers. We simply no longer know who we are. Forty-five years of poor catechesis has done this, and we’re still paying for the 50’s and 60’s.

    You’re right on, Cantor Magness

  5. Falstaff beer. At one time Falstaff was *the* most popular brand of American-style lager brewed in this country. When Hank Williams OD’d on drugs and alcohol in the back seat of that big white Cadillac he was drinking Falstaff. In fact, at one point Falstaff was introduced as the defacto brew in Bush Stadium, much to the consternation of Gussie Busch who threw a fit. Famous Sox (later Cubs) broadcaster Harry Caray’s brew of choice during the 40’s was Falstaff, not Budweiser.

    But once the last of the Lemp family members passed on without leaving any heirs to the company, it was eventually taken over by an inept investor by the name of Paul Kalmanovitz who gradually ran it into the ground by making a series of acquisitions and other foolhardy decisions, some totally unrelated to brewing. Instead of concentrating on what it did well, brew good beer (like its chief competitor Budweiser), he fooled around with what he thought were innovative ideas to attract a “younger, more vibrant customer” that bombed one after and another. Nowadays the name is virtually unknown to the youngest generation and is only a distance memory to previous ones.

    Is there a lesson to be learned someplace here?

  6. You betcha, George!

    (btw, other excellent comments are being posted over at Fine Tuning. Thank you, Pastor Rossow, for linking to the Liturgy Solutions’ blog this AM.)

    Here’s another analogy from the corporate world: Hardee’s. By the mid-90’s Hardee’s was in trouble. They were selling fried chicken, pushing countless breakfast items, and had merged with Carl’s Jr. A sustained emphasis on variety was accompanied by poor oversight of quality. Then in the late 90’s they turned it around by asking a question: “What are people looking for when they go to Hardee’s?” Tne answer: A HAMBURGER. So they ditched most of their menu and focused on quality. They started serving Angus steakburgers. They improved the qaulity of produce so that they could offer crips, fresh sandwiches instead of the goopy ones they had been pushing (believe it or not, their mid-90’s slogan was “grab lots of napkins”). They even upgraded the bun, and, for desert, started serving hand-dipped ice cream, featuring the local favorite brand in various parts of the country. The franchise turned around. (Sadly, they are now going south again, adding menu items and cutting back on store supervision, but that’s another story that reinforces the point.)

    If we really cared about “church growth”, we’d focus more on quality so that people would associate LCMS with the “go-to place to receive the forgivness of sins.” Ablaze! would nurture pastors, shore up vital preaching stations, and help congregations nurutre quality leadership of the Lord’s song. And we’d run commericals promoting “Baptism and It’s Benefits”, forensic justification, the blood atonement, Two Kingdoms Theology, The Lord’s Supper, Law & Gospel, Lutheran piety, “The Gift of Faith”, and the three Solas. People would know what we are about – and what to expect when they come to our congregations.

  7. It is classic marketing history: “this is not your father’s oldsmobile” (which I am young enough to remember seeing between nick at night shows, or some such) spelled the end of the Oldsmobile’s market share. They alientated what they had but never gained the market they thought they could sway. Just can’t be cool and drive an “old”smobile. Sorry. Nope.

    It’s textbook. Seriously. Look it up.

  8. Hey Young Lad in #7 :),

    That is an excellent case study. One could even broaden it out to cars in general. A “cool” car (i.e. relevent) is a type of car for whom? It is a car that is typically for teenagers and those having a mid-life crisis. In general, most people are basically conservative about cars because of the gravitas and expense that goes with the car. It’s not an area that we typically look to for stylistic innovation. (Even more so with houses.)

    A guy who drives an old Oldsmobile might splurge and buy a loud shirt (one or two at most) but buying a loud car is a whole different matter because it makes a bigger statement and because it is a weightier matter.

    Likewise with the church. It is the weightiest of matters and so we ought not to buy a trendy, mid-life crisis, relevant, and loud church but a stayed and true one handed down to us through the ages.

    Thanks for giving us something to think about this morning. I hope I have increased your analogy/case study.


  9. From Phillip Magnes above…

    “If we really cared about “church growth”, we’d focus more on quality so that people would associate LCMS with the “go-to place to receive the forgivness of sins.” Ablaze! would nurture pastors, shore up vital preaching stations, and help congregations nurutre quality leadership of the Lord’s song. And we’d run commericals promoting “Baptism and It’s Benefits”, forensic justification, the blood atonement, Two Kingdoms Theology, The Lord’s Supper, Law & Gospel, Lutheran piety, “The Gift of Faith”, and the three Solas. People would know what we are about – and what to expect when they come to our congregations.”

    That’s all brilliant. Got any plans on how to accomplish it?

  10. Much can be accomplished if/when the “palace” starts doing what it was meant to do and stops trying to be the Roman Curia.

  11. #9 – Plans to accomplish this? Step #1 is to end the crisis of ecclesiastical supervision in our synod and elect Matt Harrison President, along with a supportive slate of other office-holders.

    Are you ready to help? Is an appropriate lay delegate registered with your Circuit Counselor standing ready to serve if elected? Is there a pastoral delegate ready to serve as well? Have you called brothers you know in neighboring circuits to encourage them to be prepared at the upcoming circuit convocations? Have you reached out to moderate pastors and encouraged them to read “It’s Time”?

    Once we have leaders who understand what we are about, then we might see the appropriate radio & TV commercials trumpeting Lutheranism and a renewed emphasis on visitation to encourage fidelity to our doctrine & excellence in our practice (resulting in “quality improvement” in our “franchises”).

  12. Just one question Phillip. Why are you waiting for Synod to run commercials? If it is important to you, start scribbling ideas, and talking to anyone with a digital camcorder, video editing software, and a 5th grader’s knowledge of youtube. Don’t wait for someone else to think of the same idea you have, and complain when no one else does. If you have the vision then start making it happen.

    Besides, do you really want to see the LCMS run TV spots opposite the ELCA, United Methodists, and the UCC? I laugh at most every one of those I see, mainly because of how monumentally flawed the whole concept is. Church ads on TV represents the worst of American Christianity in my opinion.

    Recapturing the best of our identity as the premier confessionally Lutheran church body in the US will not happen via TV spots. It will happen by prayer, preaching, and catechesis.

    If we’re trying to get anything on TV, it should be the Luther movie, every year on a network, on or around Reformation Day. Anything else is just a marketing ploy that God is not obligated to bless, and which will probably fail miserably.

  13. Dear Pastor Eggleston,

    You flatter me with the idea that *I* could produce anything like the quality that could be produced by the talent in our synod.

    But I get your point about making it happen: I started Liturgy Solutions because CPH had concluded that there was no market for liturgical music. We’ve done pretty well – and now CPH has responded with its Acclamations series. I guess there is a “market” after all.

    But I can’t do everything. And neither can other individuals. The point of this discussion is, GIVEN THAT OUR SYNOD COLLECTS MILLIONS OF OUR DOLLAS, how best should we AS A COMMUNION spend that money for the sake of the Gospel.

    So I think you falsely pit “what I can do” vs. “what synod should do”. It’s not “either/or”; it’s “both/and”. Individuals should “make it happen”, as you suggest. But our synod should also not waste money.

    Now, you are absolutely right that confessional Lutheranism is not going to take hold via commercials alone. And the Methodist & UCC ads ARE laughable. But ours wouldn’t be. I do remember hearing radio ads extoling baptism in Peoria a few years ago and thought, “Wow, this is great. Not like the usual church ad.” And guess what, it was Lutheran! I talked to the pastor and he reported that they received several calls, some visitors, and that their congregation grew as a result of the ad.

    One of the best things President Kieschnick did during his administration was to put that spot in the papers in support of the President and his efforts after 9/11. I wasn’t and ad per se but a “public notice” that, if I remember correctly, was done in conjunction with other conservative religious leaders. Many churches were getting press with their pacifistic views as the war began, and Keischnick put out a wonderful endorsement that spoke Biblically about civil rulers being given the ‘power of the sword’ to restrain evil. I thought at the time: turn that press release into an ad. How many Christians have stopped attending mainline Protestant churches because of the left-wing politics & pacifism embraced by their leaders? How many sensible citizens have a stumbling block put in their way about the Gospel because they associate Christianity with goo-goo lefty causes? And sure, newspaper ads alone wouldn’t have suffices, nor a TV ad. But imagine the press the LCMS would have gotten if we started sending theologians out to the Sunday news shows to explain Two Kingdoms theology and our concomittant support for our government’s efforts to defeat Jihadists?

    All of this would not nor could not replace preaching, catechesis, and prayer. But it would go a long way toward amplifying our message and can only be successful if we walk together in doctrine and practice.

  14. If one tenth of the money spent on non Lutheran consultants and “marketing experts” had been spent on genuine Lutheran advocacy, we’d have seen something accomplished.

    If it had been done in conjunction with DP support of Lutheran Pastors, Lutheran liturgy and Lutheran practice, e.g., closed communion, ordained clergy and doctrinally correct hymnals, instead of “None of the above”, we’d still have a Lutheran presence in many places where it is becoming a joke.
    Not funny, but cartoonish, as TR explained to me.

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