Bigger Fixes Nothing: 7 Great Ideas for Small Churches from Robert Irvine & Gordon Ramsay – Part 1

Gordeon Ramsay & Robert IrvineInspiration can come from unlikely places.

But innovators can’t just look in the usual spots.

Gordon Ramsay and Robert Irvine are world-class chefs and restaurant owners. On their shows, Kitchen Nightmares and Restaurant: Impossible, they try to turn someone else’s struggling restaurant into a thriving business again.

The principles they use are time-tested and valid, even if the theatrics are staged – allegedly. And the parallels to church work are significant.

The one thing they never tell a struggling restaurant owner is that the restaurant needs to be bigger. It seems restaurant experts have figured out something church leaders often forget.

Bigger fixes nothing.

The last thing a broke, mismanaged restaurant owner needs is a bigger restaurant to manage.

But that’s exactly what we do in the church. Just last week I saw a website that says they want to help Small Churches. Their advice? Use our ideas to make your church bigger. If you don’t succeed, shut the church down.

I have a better idea. Let’s turn struggling Small Churches into great Small Churches.

If your church is small and struggling, these principles could be a lifeline.

If your church is small and healthy, they can strengthen what you have. 


1. Simplify the menu

In a Restaurant, this means: Stop forcing a massive menu on an overworked staff. Stop trying to emulate the big guys.

A big menu is expensive to print, so it gets out of date. The choices are so vast that they can’t keep all the ingredients in stock and the quality suffers.

It’s better to have fewer choices on a smaller menu suited to the talents of the chef. The costs go down, the items are always available and the quality goes up.

Less is more.

In a Church, this means: Stop forcing multiple programs on an overworked staff. Stop trying to emulate the big guys. Big, full-service programs cost too much time and money, and the quality suffers.

It’s better to have fewer choices, suited to the gifts of the workers, meeting specific, current needs of the church members and the surrounding community.

The budget drops, the ministries you keep are better, and everyone’s church experience is more positive.

Less is more.


2. Cook fresh and local

Restaurant: Stop re-heating frozen food in the microwave! People can do that themselves. One of the reasons people come to a restaurant is to get an experience they can’t get at home.

If your restaurant is on the coast, buy fresh fish. In dairy country? Feature local cheeses.

Church: Stop downloading sermons from other preachers! If you found it online, so can the congregation.

People come to your church because, believe-it-or-not, they want to hear your take on God’s Word, not a re-heated sermon from Rick Warren, Beth Moore or Charles Spurgeon.

When you’re starting in ministry, you have to lean on the expertise of others more. But from Day 1 you need to start learning how to speak with your own voice.

There’s only one way to do that. Spend time in God’s Word. Hear what God is saying to your heart, not just for a sermon, but for you. Then let it bubble up.

People would rather hear an imperfect talk from the heart than a perfectly-crafted message that you copied [*cough* stole] from someone else.

Keep it local – speak from your heart.

Keep it fresh – what’s God saying to you right now?


3. Ask for help

Restaurant: Restaurant fix-up shows don’t begin when the camera crew shows up. They begin when someone at a struggling restaurant gets tired of failure and sends an email to a producer.

That invisible-to-the-cameras cry for help may be the hardest step of all. But no one, anywhere has succeeded without it. We can’t do anything on our own.

Church: Jesus said “the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” So why are Christians among the most stubborn, prideful people on the planet? Especially about our church. Especially pastors.

Stop trying to do everything alone. Pick up a phone, send out an email or wave semaphore flags. But do something to ask for help.

Don’t wait for your denomination, your mentor, or your former seminary prof to call you. Call them! No, you may not get what you need from the first call, the second email or the 10th carrier pigeon. It’s the same with the TV shows. We see the restaurants they decide to help, but they sift through hundreds of requests before saying yes to one.

You might be surprised at the help that’s out there, waiting to step in, if only you would ask.

Then – and here’s the key – be humble and listen to their advice. Especially the advice you like the least. After all, if you were a good judge of what works and what doesn’t, people would be calling you for help, not vice versa.

What was it Jesus said? “You don’t have because you don’t ask”.

Ask. Ask large. Then ask again. You might just receive. And your joy may be full.

Click here for the final 4 ideas:

4. Work smarter, not harder
5. Clean and repair
6. Do what no one else is doing
7. Fall in love with cooking again


So what do you think? Do you have any ideas to help struggling Small Churches become great Small Churches? Do you have questions based on these ideas?

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11 thoughts on “Bigger Fixes Nothing: 7 Great Ideas for Small Churches from Robert Irvine & Gordon Ramsay – Part 1”

  1. I watch Restaurant Impossible whenever I get a chance and have applied some of Robert Irvine’s principles to our business but it never occurred to me that those same principles could be applied to a church.

  2. Hi, Karl – my nephew, Joshua, gave me this link over the Thanksgiving holiday. Love what you’re doing and the material you are putting out. Sane and sensible.

  3. I pastor Calvary Chapel Fremont (CA) and sent the link for the site to our senior pastor’s Listserver. Quite a few guys checked in on you and liked what they saw.

  4. Pingback: Movies In Church: Use Pop Culture, But Don’t Let It Use You | New Small Church

  5. Many of our small Methodist congregation’s preachers read their sermons from a script found somewhere. These are vague and have little application for our members. We do not recite the Affirmation of Faith as was done in former years. What is a tactful way to suggest that sermons come from the heart based on scripture and made applicable? Also, our pastors do not minister and instead behave more as guests. What can we do?Finally, some come in giving orders about new programs they want, choosing to ignore traditions and needs of the congregation. Many of these are young or inexperienced. They do not visit in the homes, nor do they seem to have much of an interest in what is happening in the lives of the members. I know I sound negative, and I do not like the way things are going. I could find another church, but this town is my home. I pray for our church, the pastor, and the community, where ours is the only church.

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