Did you know that McDonald’s, the world’s largest fast-food chain, actually fell into a bit of a slump in the 1990s? McDonald’s was facing attacks from nutrition and environmental critics and was threatened by big competitors such as Subway, Wendy’s, and Burger King. McDonald’s was in trouble, proving that even the biggest can fall if they fail to adapt to consumer and cultural changes.

What elements of McDonald’s mistakes and consequent improvement plan can we translate into our own environments? Let’s take a look at this company and see what we can learn.


The first McDonald’s, a spin-off of a California hamburger stand, opened in 1955. It promised to be the world’s best quick-service restaurant. The menu was simple and the goal was speed. At the time their motto was, “Quality, Service, Cleanliness & Value.” But by the 1990s, customers wanted more. That’s when business started slipping. Following the slip in sales, McDonald’s updated their mission to, “Our customers’ favorite place and way to eat and drink.”

Application: When was your church or ministry founded? What was the original mission of your particular ministry and has it changed over time? If you were to update your mission for the future, what would it be?


McDonald’s had a strategy wrapped up in real estate—the goal was to continue to expand. They weren’t attracting new customers with this strategy. James Skinner, who helped transform McDonald’s, said, “We had lost our focus. We had taken our eyes off the fries.”

Application: In what areas has your ministry lost focus? How can taking your eyes off of your mission affect your ministry, team and families?


Originally, the emphasis was on speed and value. But today, people also care about the environment and quality—they want more for that dollar. So McDonald’s new goal is to be more concerned about the overall customer experience—not just efficiency.

Application: In what areas of your ministry is it important to focus on speed and efficiency? What happens if families don’t feel connected, even if it’s convenient? How can you rethink strategies so that you don’t have to pick one over the other?


McDonald’s has a marketing strategy—a strategy to win in the fast-food business—that they call “The 5 Ps.” The 5 Ps are: People, Products, Place, Price, and Promotion. Thinking through McDonald’s own strategy to win can be helpful as you strategize and plan to win in your ministry.


McDonald’s looked at customers’ changing patterns and then made adjustments accordingly. Customers wanted healthier options for themselves and their kids. Customers wanted an environment they could work from with modern conveniences like WiFi. Customers wanted a “home away from home” where their kids could play comfortably, even with gaming consoles.

Application: How have families’ patterns changed at your church over the years? What has stayed the same? What needs to be updated or changed to reach today’s families?


McDonald’s never launches products that haven’t been carefully thought-through and tested. When business started slumping, they didn’t start selling pizza. Selling pizza would have undermined their credibility and made people question if they knew what they were doing. Instead, they responded to the feedback they had been hearing from their customers, and responded appropriately: with yogurts, salads, and fruit sides instead of fries.

Application: Are there programs that have changed so many times they’ve damaged your ministry’s credibility? How can you get regular feedback from the families you serve? What changes need to be made to address feedback you’re receiving from the students or families in your ministry?


In 1998, at the peak of some of its struggles, McDonald’s invested in businesses such as Chipotle and Boston Market. But as part of their turnaround strategy, they decided to sell off some of those investments to return focus on their core brand. In addition to selling off potential distracting investments, McDonald’s closed down older stores that weren’t productive. The new mantra wasn’t just bigger, but better!

Application: Are there ministry areas where you spend a lot of energy but they don’t align with your core mission? What can you cut back on so that you have more energy for what’s most important?


McDonald’s wanted customers who had grown up on their food—but had stopped consuming their products for whatever reason—to return. They expanded their hours and offered low-cost snacking options for those who work or play at odd hours. Their new, healthier food choices also appealed to moms feeling the pressure to balance their kids’ love of fast food and wanting to feed their kids something healthy. McDonald’s appealed to a broader market without losing their loyal fry-loving customers in the process.

Application: If your church closed tomorrow, what would people miss the most? What community needs could you meet so people would want your doors to stay open? Consider contacting students or families who have left your church to learn the motivation behind their departure so you can improve and meet families’ needs.


When McDonald’s was trying to improve its image, they made sure to highlight the fact that, of their 50 highest ranking employees, 40% started behind a restaurant counter. And when the number of teen employees started to decline, they began offering flexible work hours to motivate parents with young children to work at McDonald’s. They also improved their website, making it easier for people to apply.

Application: If you randomly stopped people in the street and asked them what they thought about your church, what would they say? How do you plug new people into your church and what obstacles stand in their way of getting involved? How can you make it easy for people to serve and participate every week?


Some researchers say that the Golden Arches are the most universally recognized brand by young children, and that many children recognize their logo before they can even talk or read. Why? Because to a kid, McDonald’s is a place designed specifically for them—Happy Meals with toys and a place to play. And for most of McDonald’s history, this was enough to keep parents driving their kids to their restaurants. The kids wanted it, parents fed it to them. But when our culture began to focus more on nutrition in the 1990s, adults needed more convincing why McDonald’s should be their restaurant of choice. So McDonald’s changed.

This case study reveals how important it is to tweak and redefine your ministry, to get rid of anything that takes away or competes with your primary focus. It also shows us how critical it is to really understand and listen to the people you serve.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed in ministry, but think about McDonald’s task. They had over 31,000 restaurants and 1.5 million employees and franchise employees to refocus and train to address new customer concerns. How can you tell their plan succeeded? In 1997—in the middle of their sales slump—McDonald’s net income was 1.55 billion. 11 years later, mid-implementation of their turnaround strategy—McDonald’s net income was 4.31 billion (2008).

Do you need to redefine your mission? Do you need to restore faith in relevance of what you’re doing for students and families? Do you need to stop doing some things so that you can do other things better? How can you develop the talent and strengths of the people around you so that you can expand without losing momentum or quality?

McDonald’s is a familiar brand that will remain successful as long as it continues to focus and respond to the people they serve. What can you learn from the Golden Arches?

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