This newspaper article is one of the first we read in 2009: the UK marketing director of McDonald’s (who is actually called McDonald!) says that if fast food wasn’t full of salt and fat nobody would buy it. Those who’ve followed our lives and thinking in the last few years will not be surprised to know that it generated some interesting conversations around the holiday table. And not about restaurants, but (what else?) about McDonaldization and the church.
Only time will tell if Jill McDonald is right in claiming that if they changed the recipe too much they would never attract people to her restaurants. But there can be little doubt that churches certainly don’t have the luxury of doing nothing in order to ensure their future flourishing. When you think about it, sticking to the old recipes is actually the exact opposite of the teaching of Jesus, which is all about change and new life, looking to the future rather than to the past. He was so attractive to people precisely because he offered them a vision of who they could become, and never left anyone feeling they had to be trapped by their past, however negative it might have been.
Mind you, we would not want to rubbish the past, because we recognize that our forebears in faith created the sort of churches that were able to faithfully embody the good news within their own cultural context. But slavishly sticking to their recipe is not only strategically unhelpful in today’s rapidly changing world, but can actually be seen as a denial of the very things they stood for. Both of us love tradition, not as ancient history but as living reality. Seeing the past through the challenges of the present not only opens up fresh angles on ancient wisdom, but can equip us to be agents in creating a new future. Aiming to explore that for ourselves, and empowering others in their own quest for personal wholeness, seems like quite a reasonable aspiration for a new year.