Newsletter 590 – The McDonaldization of Our Lives

McDonalds 2Perhaps you are familiar with the term McDonaldization. It was new to me until last week but, as you can imagine, it refers to our widespread values of hurry, convenience, efficiency and the desire for consistency. Franchised fast-food restaurants are controlled from the top with detailed policy manuals. Almost everything is predictable, including the seating, lighting, and color schemes that are designed to discourage lingering. One writer describes McDonalds and Berger King as drive-through calorie-filling stations that are all alike with consumer commodities that are packaged, marketed and sold. Their advertising focuses on meeting needs, immediately and quickly, like “you deserve a break today!”

Surprising, perhaps, this characterization was stimulated by a new book titled Slow Church. The authors, Christopher Smith and John Pattison, write thoughtfully about how the values which led to fast food restaurants have given rise to what one book calls The McDonalization of the Church. Many of us want churches that are efficient, entertaining, convenient, growing (the bigger the better), controlled by one or a few leaders at the top, and all similar. This is especially common in highly controlled denominations and megachurches with their satellite campuses. Too often they become spirituality-filling stations, specializing in quick step methods and convenience with minimal commitment.

Does this one-method-fits-all McDonaldization seep into our professions and academic institutions under the guise of maintaining standards for training, practice and accreditation? Certainly there is a need for guidelines to insure quality and prevent chaos. But do we risk McDonaldization in our work, classrooms and lives because that is what we want and/or because we have little alternative? Where is the place for innovation and creativity?

There are many ways to express our individuality and still abide by the laws of the land and the requirements of our professions. The Smith and Pattison book shows how we can trim down some of our McDonalized ways of doing church and become more biblical. Can something similar be done with our lives and work? Like many of you, I break out of the mold and use lots of innovation in my teaching, writing, and coaching. And, gradually, I am learning to slow down and cut some of the hurry from my spirituality, relationships, work and life.

How are you doing with this? Please comment.

  1. Really good article. I actually like McDonalds; I enjoy going there with the kids (they’ve loved it from a very early age.) I also often sit there with a coffee and write my weekly Post.
    However, if there is any suggestion of our church’s ever becoming fast track consumer lead “one method fit all”, then I’d like to try put a stop to it.
    Interestingly our church is opposite the McDonalds in our local town. I wonder if anyone sneaks out half way through the Service for a quick coffee?

    • I love your post, Peter. My adult daughter always stops at the arches to get a diet coke before church. Sometimes I pick up a cheap coffee.
      Of course there are churches like yours. The Slow Church book mentions several and applauds them. But it disturbs me that so many churches have become corporations, intent on getting bigger but not accomplishing much else.
      This book shares the remarkable story of Willow Creek church that is prominent and big. The church commissioned a survey to see how much the bigness was leading to spiritual growth. Answer: bigness was not making better believers. The pastor, Bill Hybels and his team courageously published the findings and tried to make changes as a result. We attended WC services for many years and watched its evolution.

    • Scott La Point
    • November 20th, 2014

    Does it sometimes feel that academics have also gone the way of McDonalds, and by that I mean are curricula and didactics turning clinicians and therapists into technicians who all look alike but lack any of the creativity and inspiration? Where does the work of the Holy Spirit come into play in a world where every intervention is empirically validated and where nothing is left to personal experience and the imagination? That’s not to say that we shouldn’t rely on things that work, that are proven to help. I believe in that. In fact, I wear a tool belt equipped with all of the latest empirically driven methods of treating psychopathology, and every evidence-based treatment protocol for every imaginable diagnosis sits on my bookshelf. But perhaps in our drive to have everyone know everything we’ve forgotten that the work of therapy is more like a dance than it is a mechanistic endeavor. In our drive to be faster and better, perhaps we’ve lost the value of appreciating the journey and relishing in the pursuit more than the outcome. I for one need to and want to slow down. I want to dance.

    • THIS IS A PHENOMENAL POST, Scott. I wish I could say this as well as you have. I tried to point to this but did not do very well. I have a lot of problems with accrediting agencies and some picky policies that come from professional organizations (comprised of mental health professionals or coaches). Often these rules make things worse and a lot more rigid than approaches that demand competence but leave room for innovation and even what we once called clinical intuition. I agree with your comments completely. Well stated!

  2. Being cautious to keep the main thing the main thing, is an ever challenging task in every area of life. We have a hunger to know and to be known. To connect and to relate to others in significant ways. Yet so often we fail to understand the cost of things that are very appealing and enjoyable on the surface. Like the empty calories that come with the McDonald’s meals. And the health issues that are behind countless Big Macks.
    Living purposefully with God as our guide in the daily focus. That’s what will best keep us on track and to prepare for eternity well.

    • Thanks Bruce. I am responding to this post after writing my post for Thanksgiving week where I describe our love and fascination with American football with its validity and its dangers. What you write applies this week as well as the current post here.

    • Mark S. Gerig
    • November 20th, 2014

    Excellent post, Gary! Some of my rather random thoughts:

    In regards to spiritual formation and development, I am reminded of Dallas Willard and the distinction of “trying vs. training” that he made so well in “The Spirit of the Disciplines.” In our rapid-paced contexts, I find it easier to train in “gratitude” than “solitude.” My practice of mindfulness and “staying in the moment” is challenged with each glance at my inbox.

    McEducation surrounds me and my colleagues. My task in higher education requires me to harness the strengths of technology. It can certainly be used to the benefit of the learning environment. But, it is never easy to harness a horse that is in full stride! Oh, if I could only keep two strides ahead of that horse. Being purposeful, intentional, and focused are such important skills as we each interact within our unique ecological contexts.

  3. Thanks for your comments Mark. You describe challenges that all of us face, I think. I love your term McEducation. Don’t miss Scott’s comments above. I suspect a lot of us in academia feel the same.

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