In-N-OUT -A Contemporary Examination of Religious Exclusivity by Bill Dahl
A Contemporary Examination of Religious Exclusivity
by Bill Dahl
Allow us to explain.
Founded in 1948, IN-N-OUT Burger remains the UN-franchise in America. Privately owned throughout its history, IN-N-OUT customers remain the company’s most powerful marketing mechanism. With a menu that has hardly changed since the days of President Harry Truman, “Quality You Can Taste” remains the simple, powerful motto that reflects the authenticity of the customer experience and drives customer ravings – and cravings. On the morning of April 24, 2007 when IN-N-OUT was set to open their first location in Tucson Arizona, one observer of the mass of humanity that swarmed the area remarked; “If you actually drove by the place today, you’d think Jesus himself was working the shake machine”[i] – Only if Christianity in North America might be so fortunate. Allow us delve into this phenomenon a bit further.
Nobody who eats at IN-N-OUT confines themselves to their menu for every meal throughout a lifetime (that we are aware of). We humans were created with appetites – tastes for certain fare that change over time, a desire for diversity in our consumption, and a necessity for human health. Truth be told, people who enjoy IN-N-OUT Burgers each year, eat other burgers as well. Frankly they eat tacos, fried chicken, fruits and vegetables, pizza, pasta, beer, sausages, hot dogs, enchiladas, chow-mein, teriyaki, yakisoba, sushi, bacon, beef steaks, pork loins, tortillas – ad infinitum.
In many ways, this is the story of the UN-conventional organization: Stay small, for-profit, privately held (and militant about staying that way), customer satisfaction, cleanliness, fresh ingredients, the best ingredients, overpay your employees, let the product be your most precious marketing tool, treat your suppliers as cherished, trusted partners, spend little on advertising (vis-à-vis competitors), slow growth, work hard, very limited menu, be price sensitive, do nothing to compromise either product quality or front-line employee morale, NEVER franchise, ignore what your competitors are doing (including “industry trends”), and don’t take anything for granted.
Satisfied customers have sustained IN-N-OUT since its inception. What began as mom and pop operations in the 1930’s and 40’s, the fast food industry had morphed by 1973 into upwards of 245 franchise companies with 32,000 U.S. locations and $9.7 billion in sales.[ii] IN-N-OUT did not mimic either the behavior of their competitors or their industry in terms of opening new locations or adopting the franchise model of expansion. Yet, the difference between how IN-N-OUT treats their customers vis-à-vis the typical approach of the established franchises of faith in North America, is a distinction worth exploring further. Taste the following example with us.
Let’s say, after eating the day before at Burger-King, Carl’s Jr., McDonalds, Jack-In-the-Box, Sonic or Wendy’s – you approached the counter at IN-N-OUT. You would be greeted by the order taker (with a smile). At that very moment, you become overwhelmed with the desire to confess to the man or woman about to take your order. Looking into the order-takers eyes, you surrender to the necessity to be real. “Before you take my order, I just have to confess that I enjoy other fare. In the past week I have ingested meals from Pizza Hut, Barbara’s Baby Back BBQ Barn, three deli salads, 7 bowls of cereal, three sub sandwiches, a chicken sandwich from Burger-King, a Five Dollar Burger from Carl’s Jr. (with a large fry and strawberry shake), 4 Crispy Gorditas from Taco Bell, my mom’s spaghetti and garlic bread, 6 Dunkin Donuts, two Big Mac’s and some tofu-like stuff by my fiend Sarah.” Somewhat stunned, the order-taker looks at you, smiles and says, “Well, I hope you enjoyed it! May I take your order?”
Let’s look at a similar scenario for a church-goer in North America. Humans are created to believe, belong and behave – just as we are to eat. We also possess appetites for beliefs, just as we do for foods. Yet, the franchises of faith that populate the North American landscape treat their customers quite differently vis-a-vis IN-N-OUT when they might confess they have been digesting fare that is not on menu of beliefs sold by a specific franchise.
Imagine you enter the lobby for a Sunday morning service in a North American Pentecostal, conservative Evangelical, or Southern Baptist congregation. You’re met by a smiling greeter. “Good morning,” they say. You nod approvingly, smile and draw close to the greeter for a confession. “I want you to know that I don’t believe the U.S./Canada or Great Britain were founded as Christian nations. I decided not to tithe or give financially to this church anymore because God has shown me he’s more interested in how I spend my time rather than my money. I attended the Wednesday night service over at the church across the way. It was marvelous! I’m going back for more of that! I have questions about the Bible being the sole source of absolute truth. Don’t get me wrong. It’s inspiring. I firmly believe that the Palestinians deserve an independent state. I think it’s wrong to support Israel financially with church funds, attempting to hasten the second-coming. I’ve met a lot of nice people in church services and various volunteer activities. However, when I meet them in business, they are quite different; judgmental, hypocritical and phony. It’s the duplicity of all that I’m struggling with. I voted for a Democrat for President in the last election, and I’m going to do so again. How do you explain Dinosaur bones from twenty-five million years ago versus the timeline in the biblical story of creation? Don’t you think it’s terribly important to be teaching our children about evolution in school? What’s this special offering stuff for the building fund? How can we morally consider the option to build church buildings when there is abject poverty, hunger and homelessness in the adjacent community? The audio on the web-based rebroadcasts of last weeks service suck. I would like to see this church employ a woman as the lead-pastor for this congregation. Can you give me the odds on that? Why doesn’t God audibly speak to me? Are you paid as a greeter?”
There are several likely reactions to an honest, public confession like this:
- The greeter passes out on the floor in front of you.
- The greeter nods, without speaking, and waves you invitingly into the church. (‘God knows you need it,’ they’re thinking).
- The greeter leads you forthrightly to someone who is available for those entering the lobby who are obviously distressed, or require somebody to speak to and/or pray with – before the service starts.
After you share the same with the person who is now listening to you, they suggest you make an appointment with a church leader and/or church counselor. They join hands with you and utter a sincere prayer for your well-being. They provide you with a contact name and number and suggest you take your seat as the service is about to begin.
What’s happened here? What’s the difference between the responses from the franchise of faith vs. the home of the hamburger? In the case of the UN-franchise of hamburger heaven, you’re authentically accepted just the way you are. In the case of the franchise of faith, you have been identified as (at least) defective. Your confession contains heretical elements that are contrary to the belief and behavior systems of those who partake of the spiritual fare served at this particular establishment. In fact, you (perhaps, desperately) require correction. In point of fact, there may be some question about whether you belong among the patrons of this franchise. Trust us, when you see either of these folks again, either at church or in the public square, their perception of you has changed immeasurably. You’re no longer in, you’re distinctly out. There’s something wrong with you.
In fact, there have been a whole slew of terms that have been derived to describe folks like you, emanating from within organized religion. These include heretic, backslider, confused, one of inadequate faith, outlier, lost, exile, nomad, casual, nominal, prodigal, lukewarm, wayfarer, church shopper/hopper and wanderer. Do any of these labels sound like characterizations of the inestimable worth that each and every creation of the Creator is endowed with? If not, why not?
Let’s take a look at another UN-assuming entrant onto the North American business scene. In 1968 The J. Walter Thompson Company (an ad agency) positioned the soft drink beverage 7up® as the “Uncola”—“a product that was as different from colas as rebellious teenagers were from “the Establishment.”[iii] In response to the cola monopoly in the soft drink category, JWT Co. characterized colas as being stuck in a “dreary homogeneity.” 7up was positioned as the beverage of choice for those who championed “difference, daring and rebellion” from the mundane mainstream North American soft drink consumer. For consumers of soft drinks, the message was clear: “untraditional is the 7Up tradition.”[iv] They even designed a glass that was the exact opposite of the popular cola glasses – bulged at the bottom rather than at the top. The result: 7up sales shot up over 50% during the first full year of the campaign. Dr Pepper/Seven Up, Inc. (aka DPSU) is the currently the #3 soft drink manufacturer in the world, trailing only the two industry behemoths: Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo. It remains the top U.S. provider of non-cola soft drinks, with its mainstays holding top ten positions among all soft drinks with Dr Pepper ranked sixth and 7 Up ranked ninth.[v] Both brands are currently wholly owned subsidiaries of Cadbury-Schweppes plc.
The UNcolas remain a force to be reckoned with in North American culture and across the globe. Sales of soft drinks in the U.S. alone are estimated at around $U.S. 500 billion. The burger purveyors are doing just fine as well. The 2011 combined U.S. sales of Wendy’s Inc. ($8.5 billion and 5,900 U.S. locations), Burger King ($8.4 billion and 7,200 U.S. locations) and McDonalds ($30 billion and over 14,000 U.S. locations) total some $50 billion.[vi] However, two UN-burger-like have now garnered prestigious positions among the top five fast food restaurants in the U.S.. Subway is now #2 and Starbucks is #3.[vii] However, there’s another bottom-line other than sales, locations or profitability. Limited to their 264 locations in just five states, In-N-Out Burgers, the UN-franchise, was ranked #1 in customer satisfaction out of the top 53 fast food chain restaurants in the U.S. by 36,000 subscribers of Consumer Reports Magazine – not just the highest ranking for burger barns – the highest ranking out of all 53 chains surveyed.[viii]
So, what are some of the takeaways from the real stories of the UN-franchise and the UNcola, as it relates to our topic of the franchises of faith in North America? Consider some of the following, as we take each example in turn:
For IN-N-OUT, the takeaways might look like this:
- Growth is not the priority. Serving a quality product that motivates customers to rave to others and return themselves, is – all there is. Meet or exceed customer expectations at every visit. When in doubt – see 2, 3, 4 and 5 below
- There are no outsiders – whether a customer samples burger fare throughout the year at other places is immaterial. Every customer is worthy of our outstanding product and service – at each and every visit. When in doubt – see 1. above and 3, 4 and 5 below.
- There are no distinctions between customers. When in doubt – see a. and 1and 2. above and 4. & 5 below.
- You belong here. We’re glad to have you as an employee. Believe it. Behave it. “IN-N-OUT, IN-N-OUT, That’s What a Hamburger’s All About!” When in doubt – see 1. 2. and 3. above and 5. below.
- You don’t have to mimic a Big Mac to be successful. When in doubt – just refer to the 2011 Consumer Reports Customer Satisfaction Survey.
The takeaways for 7up might be characterized as follows:
- Our market of potential soft-drink consumers is vastly larger than the numbers we are currently serving.
- Why not respect and interact with those consumers who are sampling the other stuff, and share ours?
- How might we distinguish ourselves from the other brands and flavors that currently dominate the marketplace? Equanimity, perhaps?
- Maybe we should just be ourselves with people, rather than sordid attempts to market to the same group our competitors are targeting.
- How about embracing the message that truly captures the essence of what our product is all about: “Drink 7up – Just as you are – different, daring and perhaps, even a bit rebellious.”
Allow us to synthesize a bit further now, as it relates to ChristiUNs and the products, services and expectations sold by the franchises of faith in North America:
- People choose to ingest a wide variety of burgers and soft drinks, provided by various sources. There are as many flavors of faith as there are choices for burgers and a beverage. Variety is a friend of the UN-franchise and the UNcola whereas uniformity and single-source is the preferred model of the established faith franchises.
- Instead of creating boundaries that attempt to capture and keep customers in (denoting some form of exclusivity). The UN-franchise and the UNcola created bridges for customers to come and go as they pleased, treating each and every customer as worthy and of equal value.
- For the UN-franchise and the UNcola, the UNpopulation is a precious commodity. For the faith franchises, the UNpopulation are “lost, sorry souls.”
The way you treat people is important…fundamental actually. You can either build barriers around your organization or build bridges at every strategic on and off ramp (location, location, location). We live in a world where the history of human civilization has a common strand running throughout: We humans have a propensity toward defining who’s in, and who’s out. Institutional religion is no exception. The sheer variety of the reported 38,000 different denominations of Christianity that inhabit the globe is evidence of that. Why?
Consider the following from N.T. Wright, currently the Chair of New Testament and Early Christianity in the School of Divinity, University of St. Andrews:
In a complicated, confused, and dangerous world, anything will serve as a guardrail for people blundering along in the dark. We oversimplify complex problems. We bundle up very different social and political issues into two packages, and with a sigh of relief – now at least we know who we are, where we stand! We declare ourselves to be in favor of this package and against the other one. And we make life uncomfortable for anyone who wants to sit loose, to see things differently. [ix]
Author and social researcher George Barna, who has dedicated a lifetime to the study of C-4 (Church, Christianity, Christians and Congregations) has said; “The nation’s population growth has fostered an expansion in the number of people who avoid churches.”[x] He estimates this figure to be 100 million customers in the U.S. A figure he says is growing by one million annually. In 2011, Barna indicates that there are approximately 340,000 Protestant and 20,000 Catholic churches in the U.S., as well as an additional 15,000 religious locales for non-Christian faiths. They rake in approximately $65 billion a year.[xi] According to Barna in 2002, “Protestant and Catholic churches have raised – and spent – close to one trillion dollars on domestic ministry during the past two decades – with no measurable increase in their primary objective – to lead people to Christ and have them commit their lives to Him.”[xii] Needless to say, that’s big business, particularly when contrasted with the estimated $50 billion in 2011 annual U.S. sales for McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger-King combined. He contrasts this with the 50,000 post offices and 14,000 McDonald’s locations that currently serve our nation. He writes, “The church has less impact on our culture than any of those less prolific entities, despite missions that are much less significant or compelling.” [xiii]
Barna refers to a study conducted by sociologists at the University of Arizona in 2008, as the basis for the data that he reports as the base-line for calculating church mortality in the U.S. According to Barna, 3,500 churches close each year, replaced by a comparable number of new church plants. Since 2000, in excess of 35,000 Protestant churches have closed (again, replaced by a comparable number of new church starts).[xiv] However, when one reviews the source data for this representation, it reveals that this data is from 2005 (using a sample from 1998) and suggests a 1% annual mortality rate for religious congregations in the U.S.[xv] Needless to say, there remains an enormous challenge in precisely denoting the birth and mortality rates for religious institutions in North America. Barna also confirms Dr. King’s observation of 40 plus years ago that “eleven o’clock Sunday morning remains the most segregated hour of the week.”[xvi]
Sociologist Philip Slater makes a keen observation that slices to the heart of this matter when he writes: “A cultural system can make people believe the most bizarre ideas – even be willing to die for them, and to kill others for not sharing them. It can transform the most unpleasant kinds of behavior into cherished virtues.”[xvii] In her 2012 book, American religious scholar Diana Butler-Bass says: “The disconcerting reality is that many people in Western society see churches more as museums of religion than stages that dramatize the movement of God’s spirit.”[xviii] Butler-Bass also identifies the rise of what she refers to as the “religious unaffiliated” in western society, due primarily with frustration toward leadership, power and institutions.[xix] Finally. N.T. Wright observes: “So for many Americans today, and others elsewhere too, Jesus is part of the tight little world, closed and closed-minded, from which they have thankfully escaped.”[xx] Sound rebellious? Think about our 7up example for a moment…
We will close this chapter with a poignant quote from a Canadian: Bruxy Cavey is a teacher at The Meeting House. He lives in Hamilton, Ontario. According to Cavey, The Meeting house is a place for people who aren’t into church…where spiritual seekers are encouraged to ask questions and develop a thoughtful faith. Yet, Cavey “get’s it.” He understands the way ahead for ChristiUNs and the current conundrum of the in-n-out penchant so well-established in institutional religion. He writes:
“A Christ follower acknowledges that going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than walking in the woods makes you a tree…the problem with organized religion is not that it is organized. The problem with organized religion is that it is religious – believing that its own set of rules, regulations and routines are the exclusive way to God.”
Perhaps, “My way or the highway” has seen better days. The suffocating exclusivity that in-n-out promotes and maintains is on its last breath. We hope so. Many of the ChristiUNs you will meet in this book have escaped from this place. Some have never even visited. Others are torn between the two places, suffering from confusing identity issues – wondering if they are any longer acceptable to God. Yet there’s one thing we know about ChristiUNs, those characterized as unattached, unaffiliated, prodigals, nomads, exiles, casuals, heretics, outsiders and the like – They’re loved by the same God just as sufficiently as those who currently maintain attachments to institutional religion. They also love the same God. Perhaps, it’s not the heart of God that needs to be enlarged here. Maybe, just maybe, it’s our hearts.
The words of the One caught in the middle of this madness might make sense at this juncture:
“Come to me all you people that are tired and have heavy burdens. I will give you rest.”[xxi](emphasis is ours)
Different. Daring. Unconventional. Unsung. Exile. Outsider. Unexpected. Misunderstood. Rebellious…Jesus…
Stay with us…
Bill Dahl & Ron Cole
[i] Perman, Stacy IN-N-OUT BURGER – A Behind-The-Counter Look at The Fast Food Chain That Breaks All The Rules, Collins Business – An Imprint of Harper Collins Publishers New York, NY Copyright © 2009 by Stacy Perman, p. 2.
[ii] Ibid. p. 96.
[iii] The Uncola – 1968-1774 http://www.duke.edu/~ajc6/7up/Uncola.htm See also: Collins, Andrew Collins History 291, Duke University / Prof. Simon Partner / May 1, 2004 at: http://www.duke.edu/~ajc6/7up/Chief.html
[ix] Wright, N.T. Simply Jesus – A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did and Why He Matters, HarperOne – An imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, Copyright © 2011 by Nicholas Thomas Wright, p. 15
[x] Barna, George and The Barna Group The State of the Church: 2005, Copyright © 2005 by George Barna and The Barna Group, 1957 Eastman Avenue, Ventura, CA 93003 p. 8.
[xi] Barna, George Futurecast: What Today’s Trends Mean for Tomorrow’s World, BarnaBooks Ventura, CA Copyright © 2011 by George Barna, p. 177
[xii] Barna, George The State of the Church: 2002, Published by Issachar Resources, a division of Barna Research Group, Ltd., 5528 Everglades Street Ventura, CA 93003 Copyright © 2002 by George Barna p. 63.
[xiii] Ibid. p.130.
[xiv] Barna, George Futurecast: What Today’s Trends Mean for Tomorrow’s World, BarnaBooks Ventura, CA Copyright © 2011 by George Barna, p. 187
[xv] Everett-Haynes, LaMonica June 6, 2008 http://uanews.org/node/19967 – NOTE: There are clear methodological concerns with this 1% mortality figure reported for religious congregations in the U.S. First, the study used 1,230 congregations in 2005, who had participated in the 1998 National Congregations Study. Second, the study authors indicate that the primary data collection tool was the internet. (with only 44% of all U.S. Congregations reportedly having an active website). The methodological concerns should be apparent, as well as the enormity of the ongoing challenge to accurately represent religious congregation mortality in the U.S..The actual Journal article can be found at: Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion Volume 47, Issue 2, pages 321–328, June 2008.
[xvi] Ibid p. 187.
[xvii] Slater, Philip The Chrysalis Effect – The Metamorphosis of Global Culture, SUSSEX Academic Press, Brighton, U.K. and Portland, OR Copyright © 2009 by Philip Slater p. 29
[xviii] Butler-Bass, Diana Christianity After Religion – The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening, Harper-One – An Imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, Copyright © 2012 by Diana Butler-Bass. P. 258.
[xix] Ibid. p. 85.
[xx] Wright, N.T. Simply Jesus – A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did and Why He Matters, HarperOne – An imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, Copyright © 2011 by Nicholas Thomas Wright, p. 15.
[xxi] Matthew 11:28.