What the Church Can Learn from IHOP's Change to IHOB

A few weeks ago, IHOP made a bold move.  They changed their name from IHOP to IHOB (international house of burgers).

It takes guts to make that big of a change.  But the leaders at IHOP were willing to take the risk.  You have to admire them for their courage to change and emphasize something different through this new name. 

IHOP was founded in 1958 and opened its first restaurant in Burbank, California.  This means they changed something that has been in place for the past 60 years.

What caused them to pursue this new direction?  CEO Stephen Joyce says, "Casual dining and family dining categories are big, but they are not growing.  We need to take share from other brands."

Traffic into the restaurant has been declining for the past two years.  Rather than ignoring this trend, the company is making big changes to turn that trend around.

There are some key lessons ministries can learn from this.  Let's talk about a few of them.

Honor the past, but don't worship the past.  IHOB has six decades of history.  They will continue to offer their breakfast menu, but will now emphasize burgers more than pancakes.  They will stay connected to their past, while working for the future. 

All across our country, there are churches that are plateaued or declining.  In many of these churches, they are unwilling to let go of the past.  They are still singing the same songs they sang 60 years ago.  They are doing ministry the same way they've done it for the past 60 years.  Their inclination to "do what we've always done" is signing their death certificate.

We should honor the past, but not worship the past.

What worked yesterday may not work today.  Emphasizing that you serve breakfast food has been profitable for them in the past.  But they have realized that it's not working as well today.  Foot traffic into their stores has declined.  They could continue to stick it out and hope for an upswing.  But that probably would not have happened.  

Churches across the country are declining.  Why?  Because they continue to do ministry the same way they did 60 years ago.  They watch as the congregation grows smaller and smaller with each passing year.  But they are not willing to make the necessary changes that are needed to bring life back into their church.  Instead, they just keep plugging away, doing the same old same old...with the same old results.   

Sometimes you have to take a risk if you want to grow.  Changing their name to IHOB was a risk.  But they were brave enough to take that risk for the opportunity to grow and expand.  When was the last time your ministry took a risk?  When was the last time you stepped out of your comfort zone?

Years ago,  I took a position as children's pastor at a church.  The church had a great history, but the children's ministry was tired and not growing.  This was reflected in the facilities and especially in the logo.  The ministry had a logo that had obviously been created on someone's desktop computer and the name they had chosen for the ministry was outdated and not relevant.

When I brought up the idea to update the name of the children's ministry and the logo, I was met with some opposition.  Some of the executive leaders felt it would hinder the "brand" the children's ministry had established in the community. 

It took awhile, but I was finally able to convince them it was a necessary change for the sake of the future of the ministry.  Yes, it was a risk, but it was a risk worth taking.  The change not only helped us breathe new life into a tired ministry, but it also got people excited about the future.  The ministry took off and started growing again.

A crazy idea can sometimes be the best idea.  Think about it.  Someone around the IHOB leadership table threw out a "crazy" idea.

"What if we changed our emphasis to burgers and changed the name to IHOB instead of IHOP?

I'm sure there were some gasps and smirks around the table at first.

"You are saying we should do what?"  

"We have a long history with our name.  I think it's too radical of an idea to change it."

I'm sure there was lots of debate and push back around their leadership table. But finally, someone agreed that they should try it.   Momentum began to build around the "crazy idea" and now it's becoming a reality. 

If churches want to grow, they are going to have to start thinking outside the box.  They are going to have to try some things that, at first, seem crazy.

This will happen when you create an environment where people feel comfortable sharing their ideas...even the ones that seem crazy when first mentioned.

Bottom line...if you want to experience crazy growth then you're going to have to try some crazy, new ideas. 

Past success doesn't guarantee future success.  Just because something worked well in 1970 doesn't mean it will work today.  When a church talks more about the "good old days" than about what God is doing now, it's not a good sign.

Churches must be willing to take a hard, honest look at what they are doing.  Are we growing?  What programs are on life support?  If people vote with their feet, what are they saying by their actions?

Expect opposition when you make a change.  I have noticed on Twitter, that they've already had some negative feedback.  That is to be expected.  Anytime you change something, there will be some opposition.  Change is hard for people.  It should be a process rather than a surprise.

Hold the ministry with open hands.  I have found out something about myself over the years.  I'm fine with changing something that someone else originated.  But I'm not as enthusiastic about changing something that I created or started.  And I have a feeling you are the same way.

But for the ministry to move forward and grow, I must hold it with open hands.  Realizing that it's really not my ministry, but God's.  I must stay in tune with His guidance.  The ministry should never be about our preferred way of doing things or our personality.  It should be about doing whatever is necessary to reach and disciple kids and families.  Even if it means changing a long-standing method of doing things. 

You can't grasp the future if you're occupied with hanging onto the past.  Remember...change is your friend.