This summer we’re revisiting some of the most popular posts from the first half of this year. This one was surprisingly talked about.
There’s a reason your church isn’t more creative.
It’s not just that your pastor and worship arts director aren’t creative or visionary or forward-thinking. I’m sure that’s true in some cases, but most churches are boring because of The Olive Garden Problem.
But First a Story
A friend of mine who preaches for a fairly traditional Church of Christ recently ran headlong into a problem he hadn’t anticipated. For the uninitiated, Church of Christ worship services are typically a cappella and tend to adhere to a fairly predictable form. There’s not a lot appreciation for difference or, quite frankly, room, to explore, change, or interject creative elements into the worship service – even if those elements are historically Christian. For some, worship elements need to be historically Church of Christ (my Baptist friends tell me they have the same issue).
Anyway, my friend’s congregation went through an expensive and lengthy evaluation process and, long story short, “Inspiring Worship” ranked the lowest of all the areas evaluated. He wasn’t devastated, but he was upset. I get that.
The problem is that he’s hamstrung. Locked-in. Cornered.
Due to his particular church’s practices (some borne of belief, others borne of tradition, and still others borne out of a nonsensical allegiance to things that don’t matter), there’s nothing he could change to make his church’s worship better. There is no element of worship his church could add or take away without causing a firestorm. And as you know, upsetting people is the unforgivable sin (sarcasm mine).
That’s the Olive Garden Problem.
Last year The Wall Street Journal printed an article about the popular restaurant chain revealing what executives and chefs at Olive Garden already knew: Olive Garden is not Italian Food. In part, the article recounted this:
“The Olive Garden is at the mercy of the kind of people who eat at Olive Garden, and the chain has no choice but to bend to their wistful, suburban, and tyrannical needs. That means value (a $6.95 unlimited soup, salad, and breadsticks lunch special), overcooked pasta, frosted salad bowls, and avoiding confusing words like “gnocchi.” Time to break it all down:
1) In field tests, diners wouldn’t order gnocchi. That is, “until chefs at the company’s Orlando, Fla., headquarters tried gnocchi in chicken soup, billed as a ‘traditional Italian dumpling.'”
2) Olive Garden HQ knows that their diners have limits: “Capers, with their salty, pickled flavor, are too unexpected for many customers, says a spokeswoman.”
3) And the restaurant chain will do whatever it takes to make customers happy: “At Olive Garden, pasta is served soft, not al dente or slightly firm, the traditional Italian method.”
4) So is it authentic or not? “We don’t use the word authentic,” said the president of Olive Garden. He prefers the term “Italian inspired.”
5) The chain does indeed take “inspiration” from Italy: Chefs at Olive Garden HQ went on a trip to Northern Italy and had “fresh-torn pasta dish with olive oil, garlic and herbs.” Somehow that dish was “reverse-engineered” into “baked pasta romana—a mix of lasagna pasta, rich cheese sauce, spinach and either a beef or chicken topping.” Originally it was chicken with roasted tomato sauce, but diners didn’t find it “cravable.”
6) And the chain pushes the limits of gastronomy: “Earlier this year, a pear and Gorgonzola ravioli with shrimp went too far.” The chain deemed the dish too “culinary forward.”
7) And all Olive Garden wants to do is update the damned dishware, but they can’t. The frosted, “semi-translucent, plastic, flower-shaped salad bowl” that delivers unlimited refills has been in use for decades, and every time Olive Garden tests new bowls, diners revolt. “There is a lot of love for that bowl,” said Dan Kiernan, executive vice president of operations for Olive Garden.”
Olive Garden makes food for people who want, expect, and enjoy low expectations. They don’t want food they can’t pronounce, not because they don’t like it, but because they can’t pronounce it. If it’s too foreign, too different, their customers don’t want it. What’s more, Olive Garden can’t change anything, regardless of whether those changes would be good for the company or the consumer.
Now what Olive Garden does is Olive Garden’s business. They exist to generate revenue for shareholders and their wisest course of action is to meet that end. But church is different…
Your church exists (especially it’s corporate worship) to Glorify God and edify believers. That can’t happen if both God and the church are bored…even if that boredom is created by willful decisions to remain boring.
What To Do?
Every church member should feel comfortable speaking to their preacher and worship leaders about their theology of worship. What do they believe they are trying to do? And how are they trying to do it? Why do we sing the songs we sing? Why does the sermon take the form it takes?
At the same time, if you’re a church leader stuck in an unyielding system, guess what? It’s your job to fix it. As Craig Groeschel says, “You’re in leadership. Quit complaining and fix it!” And yes, there will be a cost. Some people may leave to find another church home. People leaving is always sad and heartbreaking.
But worse is to face the God of the universe one day and have Him ask you, “I gave you the most powerful, moving, impactful message in history. Why did you treat it like you worked at Olive Garden?”
Tell us. What have been some of your most memorable and engaging moments in worship.