Friday, May 17, 2013

What the Church Can Learn from Hooters

Showing wrinkles and missing a few steps, Hooters is in a midlife crisis.  USA Today ran a story last month on Hooters' CEO Terry Marks's work to help Hooters become more relevant for a changing culture.  Surprisingly, this story carries a boat load of learning lessons for the Church - which is also in its own life-stage crisis.

Hooters is the established leader in the "Breastaurant" industry.  And yes, that's a real thing.  Hooters pretty much invented this market niche when it started in 1980, but as they have failed to change with the times, they are quickly losing ground to competitors like Twin Peaks and Tilted Kilts.  Every Hooters restaurant still pretty much looks like the first ones in 1980!  They are dark, slightly dingy, and serve greasy prepackaged foods.  Sales are down, and last year, they closed about 50 restaurants.

Hence the need for change.  Hooters has identified several needed areas for change.
1. The uniforms.  Those well endowed women are still dressing like they're in the 80's, complete with dark hose and leg warmers.  Hooters is hoping to have a social media powered vote on the finalists for new uniform styles.

2. The food.  Even horny guys (and women who come to Hooters to hunt for horny guys) want to eat healthy nowadays.  Hooters is adding more salads, plus a host of other culinary upgrades.
3. The look.  They are remodeling everything - more windows, more flat screen TVs, better bar stools, maybe even some patio seating (which has got to be one of the best marketing strategies they could possibly do).

But they also aren't changing their core identity or core strengths.  They are keeping the name "Hooters," which has instant brand recognition.  Even as they redo the uniforms, they are committed to some iconic consistency.  The shorts will stay short and orange, and the shirts will stay tight, white, and low cut.  The addition of salads won't change their core menu items: wings and beer.

OK, so as guiltily interesting as it is to read anything about Hooters, what does this have to do with Christians and the Church?
Well, actually, the Church at large finds itself in a surprisingly similar circumstance to the Hooters chain.  We are outdated, losing customers, and closing locations.
We know we need to change in many similar areas:
  • Our Uniform: What we expect people to wear on Sunday mornings - both for pastors and laity, and what we think about how a good Christian "should look."
  • Our Product: Our worship services, missional outreach, and discipleship strategies are woefully out of date and ineffective.  
  • Our Look: It would be nice if our churches were only stuck in the 80's, but most are just now inching out of the 70's and quite a few are squarely in the 50's and happy to stay there!  Walking into a church building should not feel like stepping through a time warp.  

But like Hooters, we can't change everything.  We have to hold onto our core identity and core strengths.  For example, ridding the building inside and outside of all images of the cross is shedding our single most recognizable icon (or in secular terms "logo" or "branding tool").  In addition to all the theological reasons, for purely pragmatic reasons, we ought to embrace the cross structurally and programmatically.
More deeply though, the Church is essentially the disciples of Christ gathered into body of Christ in worship of Christ and on the mission of Christ.  We need to reclaim and restore these four basic core strengths: discipleship, worship, community, and mission.  When we are healthy, these will all flow together and be virtually indistinguishable from one another.  Still, these are our central concerns and our reason for existence.  
Yes, we absolutely need to change.  We do need new uniforms, new products, and new looks. However, losing people and closing churches are symptoms of our overall failure in our core competencies.  As we adapt to our postmodern culture, we also need to work with the Spirit to reinvigorate what it is that makes us the church: discipleship, community, worship, and mission.
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