Thom Rainer Founder and CEO of Church Answers
I have pretty clear memories of my first visit to a cafeteria. I was five years old, and my parents wanted our family to experience a Morrison’s Cafeteria in Montgomery, Alabama.
It was amazing. I saw untold numbers of dishes of meats, vegetables, salads, fruits and, of course, desserts. I had never seen anything like it. Mom and Dad had already given my brother and me strict instructions on how much we could choose. But, for a small-town kid who had never seen such a feast, I was amazed.
The concept was basic. If you paid your money, you could choose whatever you wanted. Your preferences were paramount. It was all about you.
It sounds like some churches we know.
Though we don’t have the numbers of cafeterias we once had, the lessons are instructive. Simply stated, your church is not a cafeteria. Here are seven differences.
1. In a cafeteria, you pay for your preferences. In a church, you should give abundantly and joyfully without expecting anything in return. If you ever hear someone say, “We pay the bills in this church,” you know they act like the church is a cafeteria.
2. In a cafeteria, the focus is on you. In a church, the focus should be on God first and then others. If you ever hear someone say, “I’m not getting fed in this church,” you know they act like the church is a cafeteria.
3. In a cafeteria, you demand to have things your way. In a church, you should sacrifice your own needs for others. If you ever hear someone say, “I want the order of service to be like it’s always been,” you know they act like the church is a cafeteria.
4. In a cafeteria, the business must continue to make things more appealing and attractive for you to return. In a church, you should not expect to be entertained to get you to come back. If you ever hear someone say, “I’m going to a church where the music is more exciting,” you know they act like the church is a cafeteria.
5. In a cafeteria, if the customer does not get his or her way, the business must make every effort to address and remedy his or her complaint. In a church, we should be so busy doing for others and serving Christ that we don’t have time or the desire to whine or complain. If you ever hear someone say, “People are saying . . .”, you know they act like the church is a cafeteria.
6. In a cafeteria, you have a full staff serving you behind the glass partitions, indulging your every desire. In a church, you should not expect the staff to do all or most of the ministry or service; instead, the members are to do the work of ministry. If you ever hear someone saying, “Pastor, you should . . .”, you know they act like the church is a cafeteria.
7. In a cafeteria, you will likely complain to others in person or on social media if you are not fully satisfied. In a church, you should not have a gossiping or complaining spirit; instead, you should be building others up. If you ever see someone complain about their church on social media, you know they act like the church is a cafeteria.
Cafeterias were fun when I was a kid. But Morrison’s went out of business and the pieces were picked up by Piccadilly Cafeterias. And Piccadilly declared bankruptcy in 2012.
The big cafeteria chains have not fared well. And neither will churches if they keep acting like cafeterias.