The Beef I Have With Franchise Type Churches. By Kevin E. Jesmer 11-27-17

The Beef I Have With Franchise Type Churches…

Controlling The Expression Of Gospel Mission

By Kevin E. Jesmer 11-27-17

There is a trend of protestant churches, wanting to ditch their denominational name and present themselves as non-denominational Bible churches. The elders may feel that their denominational name and affiliation is the reason why their church growth is stagnant. They feel that if they just get rid of the stigma with the old name, then everything will be different. Church life will be vibrant once again. They may have a point about getting rid of the old name. Why hold onto something that only drags you down?

But on the flip side, they may not have a point. Yes, change does need to happen. The message does not change but church structures may have to. But church structures are not the way that lives are changed and God’s kingdom grows. It is by the faithful proclamation of the Gospel delivered by believers who follow the way of the cross, the way our Savior Jesus, trod. This is the avenue of church growth.

But there is tendency for believers want to do something different, like embracing the name and structure of a franchise church. In our own town, a Baptist church, previously named, Bethany Community Church, changed to Wellspring Chapel and in 2007 it became Harvest, a franchise church. Similar churches are growing across our nation.

Congregations want to drop the name of their denomination. They want to be non-denominational. In order to do that, they have a few options. They can break away from the denomination and become a stand-alone church. But then they will lose a lot of support. They can break away from the denomination and join with other like-minded churches and become one in a franchise-like chain of churches. In this way they have the support of the network, they may even get financial support and leadership training and resources.  But they also give up a lot, which we will soon discuss.

These churches are upbeat. They attract a lot of people. One church has over 1,200 weekly attendants. The people going there are very excited about their church. They just built a $7 million-dollar church next to the local high school. They have people, they have elders, pastors, local and international missions, a great community impact, etc. I find myself going for some of my walks and passing by the church to visit with friends who are coming out to the Saturday evening service. They are a great bunch of people and the church is nice church. It all seems so good. But why do I have some gripes with this style of church? I can think of four reasons;

  1. There are too strict of definitions of what missions the church will “own”.
  2. It is not a local church, even if it is filled with local people.
  3. The music is not historical, “reformational” singing.
  4. They depend too much on management media, excellence in worship and programs and reputation to accomplish the will of God.
  5. Franchise churches have a tendency to have top-down leadership.
  6. They lose the plurality and diversity of elders.
  7. They seem to be stuck in the “seeker friendly” mode.

Let’s look at each of these factors separately.

  1. There are too strict of definitions of what missions the church will “own”. The churches are a type of franchise. They have a mission to church-plant and expand, but along with this comes a mandate to replicate itself wherever it goes. Yes, the members are free to pursue unique missions. At one church there is a man that takes people on medical missions to a third world country yearly. There is a group of people who serve international students. These are individual ancillary type missions, that are not church planting. Individuals have freedom to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, and that is good.


But when it comes to church planting, preaching/teaching and church structure it is all about the franchise. It is very rigid. If a person or a church wants to join in the franchise network, or be part of leadership, they need to go to the church training academy. The need to get credentialed by their program. Then the church will “own” the mission by the people trained in their academy. They will throw everything behind it, providing their own pastors, books, online support, training and money. The new church plant needed to follow the guidelines and seek to replicate the franchise church culture. Personally, I think that this approach severely stifles the work of the Holy Spirit.  God may want one thing, but the rigid mandates of the franchise stops the church from moving in the direction that God is trying to lead them.


I think about the mission to the First Nations in Northern Canada, that I am involved in. I am very happy with my church’s embracing of this mission. They have allowed God’s Spirit to work among us and change us. I feel that this mission is not just my personal project, it is a mission given by God to this congregation. They are not afraid to allow God to change the character of the church and mission life according to his will. If I moved to a franchise church, the mission to the North will be respected, but it will be something that “Kevin” is doing.  The mission will be prayed for, but it will never be what is becoming at my present church. It is because the franchise church has a mandate to replicate itself with its unique culture. Everything else is ancillary.

  1. It is not a local church, even if it is filled with local people. A lot of these churches are not local churches. They are led by people who do not live in the community. One church actually video feeds the founding pastor, into the sanctuary every week. The pastor is 40 miles away in another community that is entirely different from the community that the church is in and yet he is the preaching pastor, via video. The church reads and studies his books. The people at the top of the church leadership are not local people and the church might not even reflect the demographics and the local flavor of the town. It is a transplant.
  2. The music is not historical, “reformational” singing. People have a lot of gripes when it comes to the music in the franchise type churches.   It is very contemporary. It is usually loud and very professional. It is like a concert or a recital. You will not hear the old hymns often. People do sing, but they seldom are singing the familiar hymns that have blessed the church for centuries. It is all part of being seek friendly and relevant to a younger generation.

I am very happy with my church and how they sing. There is a good mix of old and new songs. The sound is not too loud and I can hear the rest of my congregation singing around me. The band members are not professional musicians and I appreciate that. It seems to me, that the franchise type churches are too preoccupied with promoting excellence in worship music, rather than fellowship in congregational singing.

  1. They depend too much on marketing appeal. Good management, excellence in worship, media, programs and reputation are the things people are tempted to depend on to accomplish the will of God. What should propel the work of God forward and expand the kingdom of God is faithful preaching, acts of faith and sacrificial love and obedience to God and his word…obedience that requires faith. Depending on anything else to proclaim that Jesus is the Christ is taking the easier way. Church growth must proceed along the way of the cross and not some other “humanly smart” way.
  2. Franchise churches have a tendency to have top-down leadership. The church is founded by a pastor who has a good idea. He has communication and management skills. He establishes people around him who believe in the church and have been trained in their leadership academy. They promote the founder’s books and teaching. The affiliate chapters of the church are led by people who have been trained through the academy. They buy into the vision. They promote the vision. Though the congregation participates in the body life of the church, major decisions concerning the direction of the church are coming from the top, from people living somewhere else, far from the community. How easy it for the average person to feel like they are only a number.
  3. You will lose the plurality and diversity of elders. Yes, the franchise churches have elders. But in a franchise church, they are all those who have bought into the program, and have been trained by the academy and proved their loyalty to the franchise. You may have numbers of elders, but you won’t have diversity of elders. I believe God wants to work through a diversity of elders.

I believe that the Bible promotes the idea of a plurality and diversity of elders. Think about the disciples themselves. They were so different from each other. One was a zealot. Some were fishermen. One was a former tax collector. They were all different and they were united through faith in Jesus. They would become the Christian leaders of the Roman world. Think about how different Paul and Peter were. Yet, they were co-workers in the Gospel mission. I don’t think it is good to have a board of elders who are all alike and who have jumped through enough of the same hoops that a franchise has demanded of them.

  1. They seem to be stuck in the “seeker friendly mode”. These churches don’t hide the fact that they are trying to take down all the barriers to people seeking Jesus. They are seeker friendly. But, over the years I have talked to several people who left such churches, for smaller, Bible churches. A common statement is that they felt they were not growing through the seeker friendly messages. The messages were also topical and they yearned for inductive, book by book preaching. And so, they left.

One person serves Jesus in a franchise church. He appreciates the seeker friendly atmosphere and contemporary worship. He really likes the special speakers and the presentations that his church provides. He works hard to take non-believers and believers to these presentations. He is really excited about his church and takes advantage of the opportunities that his ministry has prepared to invite people. He wants to meet people where they are at. He befriends them and invites them to his church to spend time with his family and his church listening to a presentation. He feels that this is a good way to evangelize. He thinks that a Christian cannot approach a non-believer and begin talking about the meaning of sanctification, for example, right away. There needs to be a relationship built and his church provides the vehicle for that to happen. He believes in his church and what his church is doing and providing. He is a committed to the mission of his franchise church.  What he is saying makes sense. But, by doing ministry in the franchise church he is sacrificing things that have already been mentioned. It is almost like the church saying to him, “you can do that, but in order to do so you need to submit to this.” Wouldn’t it be nice if the man could do ministry the way he likes and not have to be encumbered by the mandates of a franchise church?

It seems to me that there are two groups of Christians, each thinking that they know best on how to evangelize. One group wants to stick to inductive preaching and discipleship and more traditional church structures. They believe in the power of the Word of God and the power of God to change hearts when that Word is preached faithfully by faithful people. The environment is of secondary importance. They are definitely not willing to surrender some of their freedoms of Christian expression to the mandates of a franchise church.  To them, depending too much on the atmosphere is a type of compromise.

The other group, also believes in the power of the Word of God, but they think that Christians should make a determined effort to create an environment in the church, where non-believers could be introduced to the Gospel with few barriers, so they focus on change in the church environment and on how the Word is presented. They are open to what the franchise churches have to offer.

I believe that there is no perfect church structure in this world. The church is called to reveal God’s glory and reveal Him in all of his perfection to the others who are lost in darkness.  Jesus is perfect. The church is the best attempt to reveal our perfect God. But it is limited. It is run by imperfect people. It dwells in a fallen world.

God is working through all kinds of church structures. God is working in the franchise churches. Many Christians are happy there. They are serving Christ. People are being saved. As time unfolds God seems to work through different church structures. I enjoy going to some programs of these churches. I would never say that Jesus is not working there, for he is.


The big difference, for me, is when it comes to mission. For the average church goer, it is all a matter of personal preference. They are not too concerned about some of the issues I have brought up as long as they like their church experience. That is OK. People need to like where they attend. But for those who are concerned about mission in the church, how the church embraces mission, and the direction and maturation of the church, such issues are vitally important. To me, the franchise churches place too many restrictions on the form that missions can take. There are too many controls on leadership and church mandates. It is like someone holding the rudder of the ship when God is trying to turn the ship to where He wants to take it.

For a church, seeking to court a franchise church network, I can see several options.  First, be a stand-alone church. You can change the name and disconnect with the denomination and be a stand-alone, non-denominational Bible church. This will cost you in financial support and leadership resources, but if is God’s will then so be it. The other option is keeping the name of your denomination and trust God with your future. It is a fact that some denominational names are getting negative connotations in our society. But if you really believe God wants you to stick with the name, then do it.  If you do want to join a franchise type chain of churches keep in mind what you will be losing something? You will be losing the local flavor of your church and freedom to make decisions about mission. You will be obliged to follow the mission mandates of the franchise church from the top down. You’re only hope to grow in leadership is the fit the mold that the franchise demands. One important thing is…make sure you are depending on Jesus, the faithful preaching of the word of God and taking the narrow way of the cross for church growth and not depending on management and marketing appeal.





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