Bigger Fixes Nothing: 7 Great Ideas for Small Churches from Robert Irvine & Gordon Ramsay – Part 2

Robert Irvine & Gordon Ramsay

Restaurant experts know that telling a hard-working, exhausted restaurant owner to build a bigger restaurant is not a wise or helpful strategy.

Church leaders need to figure that out, too. Instead of telling hard-working, exhausted pastors of struggling congregations to build bigger churches, let’s help them build healthy Small Churches.

This is the second of a two-part post in which I look at 7 great turnaround ideas from the hosts of Restaurant: Impossible and Kitchen Nightmares, and their surprising Small Church parallels.

All 7 ideas center on a simple principle: Bigger fixes nothing.

In Part 1, we saw three ideas:

1. Simplify the menu
2. Cook fresh and local
3. Ask for help

Now, in Part 2, we’ll look at the final four ideas.

If your church is small and struggling, these principles might be the lifeline you’ve been looking for.

If your church is small and healthy, they can strengthen what you’re already doing.

If you missed Part 1, click here.

4. Work smarter, not harder

Restaurant: Laziness is seldom the problem at a failing restaurant. Here are a few ways Ramsay and Irvine help failing restaurants work smarter:

  • Delegate and verify – Find good people, train them well and follow up on them.
  • Manage your money – Know what you’re paying for food, staffing, utilities, etc.
  • Greet the guests – It’s easier to keep current customers happy than to find new ones.

Church: There may be no harder-working person than the Small Church pastor. But most don’t work as smart as we need to – partly because no one has told us what it means to work smarter in a Small Church.

  • Delegate and verify – Our churches are filled with good people who want to help. But they don’t step up because they haven’t been trained. And they haven’t been trained because we, pastors, haven’t trained them. Train them well and follow up on them. Then learn from the follow-up to tweak future training.
  • Manage your money – Know what you’re paying for staff, rent, utilities, etc. Put accounting principles and accountability standards in place. You can’t afford not to. It’s basic stewardship.
  • Greet the guests – There’s a lot of work to do in a Small Church, and not enough time for any of it. But don’t neglect the people. They expect their pastor to be a hands-on caregiver. It’s one of the main reasons they come to a Small Church. If that personal touch goes missing, so will they.


5. Clean and repair

Restaurant: Filthy kitchens, rotting food, thread-bare carpets, rats, cockroaches, and decades-old décor are the norm for failing restaurants.

The excuses are always the same – we don’t have the time or money to keep things up.

And the answer is always the same – how much money does soap cost? How much time does clean-up take if you do it regularly?

Church: I’m going to flip this one on its head a little. Even most dying churches don’t have filthy facilities. There’s often one long-time member who comes in to clean. If there isn’t, this needs to be taken care of immediately.

But for old, dying churches, the biggest facility issue isn’t usually dirt, it’s clutter and décor.

I’m no style maven, but when you drive by many dying churches, you can tell immediately what era it was built in – and that it hasn’t been updated since.

Walk in the lobby and suspicions get confirmed. Pointed archways from the ‘60s. Pews from the ‘70s. Purple carpet from the ‘80s. All complemented by the most recent update – mauve curtains from the ‘90s. (In California, anyway. You can insert your own culture’s style stereotypes here.)

These are not quick fixes. I know. My church had a red brick façade from the ‘80s until just 2 years ago. One of the very big differences between your church and a TV show is that no one is going to show up with thousands of dollars to renovate everything overnight.

But if you own a building, you need to start setting aside regular funds for consistent updates.

In the meantime, start with what you can do for free or cheap. Clean and de-clutter. Pull weeds and clear the old car parts from the parking lot. Scrub the floors, toss the fake flowers and pastel artwork, remove curtains and let the light in, strip the wallpaper and paint the walls. Once you start, you might be surprised at the talent, time and money people will be willing to invest in it.


6. Do what no one else is doing

Restaurant: Don’t be the 75th pizza place in a 2 mile radius. Be the only gourmet burger café. Yes, just burgers (see point #1 from my previous post). Then offer those burgers with unique style and great customer service. Not everyone will like them, but some will love them. And the people who love them will tell their friends.

Church: Do you know what makes your church unique? Do you know what makes the other churches in your neighborhood unique? Until you know those two facts, it’s possible everyone is just duplicating each other. No, we’re not competitors, but we shouldn’t be duplicators, either.

Look around your neighborhood. What do people need that no one is providing?

Look at your church. What do you do well?

Now match those up.

It may take some time to figure that out. It took about 5 years at my church. But it’s time well spent.


7. Fall in love with cooking again

Restaurant: The best restaurant owners aren’t the ones who fall in love with a restaurant location, or who have dreams of being their own boss. They’re the ones who love to cook. Who have to cook. The ones who find great joy in making people happy by feeding them delicious food.

Restaurants start to fail when owners either obsess over, or ignore the maintenance issues. When that happens, the central focus is taken away from cooking epic food for grateful customers.

Church: Great pastors don’t obsess over their building (or lack of a building), their title or their status. Great pastors love Jesus and love people. Never sacrifice that for anything less.

If you’ve been overtaken by maintenance issues after either obsessing over them or ignoring them, there’s one thing you need to do above all else.

Fall in love with Jesus and his people again.

The world’s finest building, denominational status and greatest preaching may give you the feeling of accomplishing something, but without your first love, it’s all lukewarm. And we all know that Gordon Ramsay and Robert Irvine aren’t the only ones who spit out lukewarm food. (Mr & Mrs Laodicea – table for two!)

If you’re having a tough time re-kindling that first love, remember what it was like when you started in ministry. How much you loved Jesus and his people. Then start doing that again.

Don’t wait for the feelings. Feelings follow actions.

It’s never too late to start loving Jesus and his people again.

A church with a pastor who loves Jesus and loves people is a place others want to to be part of. And it just might make you fall in love with being a pastor again.


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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