No more IHOP?

International House of Pancakes Logo

When I was between the third and seventh grade we lived in Clayton County just south of Atlanta and were a block off of Jonesboro road. The last time I drove down that way it looked nothing like it did in the seventies. What we called “The Hamburger Highway“ has become one of the area’s most economically depressed and crime-filled strips in the metro area. They hold some crime statistics that are too unsavory to mention on fB. I digress.

I recently read a piece that caught my eye, “These Restaurant Chains Are on the Brink of Disappearing Entirely” [Sounds like clickbait, but I snapped at it.] The image I pictured was my childhood ‘highway.’ For perspective, when reviewing the latest pages of the Readers Digest in the reading room of rest, one could look out the window and see the Golden Arches a block away.


“According to the National Restaurant Association, some restaurants are not going to be able to recover from these losses and will have to close many, if not all of their locations. These are the major chains that are in serious danger of disappearing altogether.” [These Restaurant Chains Are on the Brink of Disappearing Entirely] By By Kate B.

Those local to us in the Northwest Georgia / Metro Chattanooga area named in her article include:

  • Applebee’s
  • Carrabba’s Italian Grill
  • Bonefish Grill and Outback
  • Ruby Tuesday
  • Krystal
  • Hooters
  • Papa John’s
  • Golden Corral
  • Steak ‘n Shake
  • The Cheesecake Factory
  • Red Robin
  • Buffalo Wild Wings
  • Checkers and Rally’s
  • Jack in the Box
  • O’Charley’s
  • Bojangles’
  • IHOP
  • Taco Bell
  • Subway
  • Burger King
  • Pizza Hut
  • Carl’s Jr.
  • Sonic
  • Dave & Buster’s.
  • Others around the country were listed in the article.

Note: This was not an indication that all these will close in our community or in this year ahead, it was indicated who was most at risk to close of name brand food chains.

While this is only one glimpse of the fast-food slice of the market, what does our community look like without these options? Think of how many people work at these establishments, how many tax dollars are raised by these businesses? How many family savings are invested in keeping these chains open in our communities?

The questions that this piece sparked me are these: 1) Does that mean we need to support local businesses to keep the economy going, or 2) is it a sign that we are or need to make more healthy food choices. The article indicates that some chains were in trouble prior to the pandemic and others have had legal and personality issues the contributed to potential closings. I’m not looking for political banter in this reflection. I’m looking at the sociological and economic impact face most all our businesses, and not just the big named chains.

As a follow-up perspective, this article could be a commentary on the church, as we have many different branch locations of name brand churches. What does 2021 look like for us, again I’m not inviting political conversation, but a more proactive suggestion for what strengthens our community in the year ahead?

Of all the mission statements, from the churches I have served, my favorite is the one at Gainesville, I believe that continues to use it today even though it is nearly thirty years old. “Sharing the never-changing Gospel in an ever-changing world.” Some of the changes in restaurants and customer’s preferences and eating behaviors change and so does the marketplace of places to eat. How is the church read to respond to serving Christ in the turbulence of post-covid perspectives?

My hunch is that our desire to get back to what is comfortable to the fold will not serve us any better after the pandemic than it did before. Our need for spiritual feed a hungry world has not changed. Our need to take to Gospel to the places where people are empty, lost, misguided, and afraid has not changed. Our call to be mentor, disciples, and prepare people to transform the world through Christ has not changed. But the context is an opportunity.

The church can no longer afford to only be the haven of affirmation for the comforting of the flock. Christ’s desire is for the lost, who risk leaving those who know Christ’s heart and way, to gather us all under his wing. Christ died for the sins of the whole world and not just the members on a roll. This moment in our history can be blamed on whomever we choose, but the reality is that it is our clear, and maybe final, wake-up call to be the living body of Christ for the world.

Step one: Repentance. We must own up to the reality that more often than not church has been about buildings, members, and worship attendance. I ask our scholars of bible studies to find where Jesus built a building? I recall him talking about the temple falling, but not building branch locations. Did Jesus franchise the church? Or have we done that in a quest to find the palatable flavor we enjoy most? It is time that we who have branded ourselves as one body or another be unified in Christ, and not for the sake of unity, but for sake of Christ love for us, who are sinners, hungry folks who keep making poor spiritual food choices.

When we repent that we have made the church into our place of worship; the home place we help provide; the place we like the music or preacher; we have made church about us or shaped it into what we have needed it to be for our world view. The church is about God’s business, God’s plans, God’s righteousness, and God’s grace that enfolds us into the work guided by the Spirit. If that is not what your whole church is about, then the whole church needs some time of confession and repentance. My does too.

The goal of the community is not to keep businesses in the business. But if businesses don’t feed the consumers what they need, they will never keep up with the changes of context and responding to this and the next crisis that awaits. McDonald’s sells hamburgers; until profits are down then they try to sell something else too. [ Why the McRib I will never know. I thought when they took it off the menu back in the seventies that they did away with it for good.] If you want barbeque… Again I digress.

What will my life be like if there is not IHOP? I would miss the experience of being able to order from the Seniors menu and save $0.65. I will have to find some other place for comfort food and reminisce about the memories at the IHOP or maybe I realize that the coffee and pancakes at home are better, cheaper, and waiting for me to make at home. Personally, my life would go on without IHOP. I trust yours would too, unless you owned the business. Even then there are other businesses to run and other ways to sell food to hungry people.

There are two overlapping conversations. I hope you are keeping up. The impact of the pandemic and the economy on restaurants and opportunity the church has to repent and learn from what the pandemic has afforded local church and denominations about being the church in a world that is volatile, polarized, and ill-prepared to make the transition to be fully dependant on Christ, to do Christ work in a word that is hungry for both pancakes and spiritual meaning, grace, love, and purpose-filled living.

Step 2: I have been praying for a specific disciple ministry model for about a year. My prayer has been, “God what does the church need to be doing and how do we do it?”

The clear image is the one that Jesus has shown in calling, teaching, challenging, and growing and mentoring twelve people to the point of calling, teaching, challenging, growing, and mentoring twelve more each.

The task is not to immediately divide a church into groups of twelve and start a new version of small groups. The model is person-to-person, face-to-face, on-the-job-training, meeting people where they are mentoring.

Jesus goes to where people are both physically, politically, demographically, prayerfully, and spiritually to invite twelve to follow, to learn, and to inspire.

You might spend your whole life working on your twelve people, even one at a time, but imagine what our communities and churches would look like if each member invited, mentored, and inspired twelve people to love, trust, and serve Jesus Christ. WOW! I can’t wait.

The time commitment we see Jesus spending with his crew is from one to three years based on how you interpret timelines. So between one to three years of concentrated mentoring that impacts work and family time. The priority is following, trusting, serving, learning from Jesus and family and work follow that lead.

Church for the majority who participate is an occasional drive-through on Sunday morning for worship service of choice. Possibly others come inside and stay for small group or Sunday school and worship, with a little fellowship time, two hours out of one-hundred-and-sixty-eight hours in a week. The average churchgoer attends once in six weeks. [That’s two hours out of eleven hundred and seventy-six hours]

How many hours a day does an athlete train? A typical player will practice three hours a day. A better athlete might hone their skills for five hours a day. Since this piece is about food and church. How much time to devote to feeding ourselves? Include travel time, preparation time, consumption time, and clean up time. Let’s estimate 5 minutes for breakfast, 20 minutes for lunch, 5 minutes for snacks, and 30 minutes for dinner. The actual numbers are likely more.

If we carve out of our 24 hours one hour a day for physical food, let’s look at what we could do with an hour to nourish our spiritual hunger. Divide up time singing, reading the scripture, and other resources, praying, serving others in the witness of Christ. The average church member might devote this time once a week or every few weeks. If three hours a day makes a fit athlete, what would one hour of workout make an athlete? On the bench at best.

If a business owner pops in to check on things for an hour once a day, they either have the best employees highly trained and paid for success or they will not be in business very long. Things in life that make a difference in our lives and in the lives of others take our time, our energy, our commitment, our learning from failures and misfortunes, and the practice of doing the task over and over. The church is no different. Christian discipleship is no different.

What does our community look like the restaurants and the churches start closing or not sticking with what their mission is done chasing a dollar?

The hamburger highway of my youth had numerous churches back in the day, that same stretch of road has more pawn shops, liquor stores, and vape dispensaries, and auto part shops. These are profitable businesses for the owners but not for the community and not for the church.

I very much dislike articles about church life that dump on the church and don’t offer a real solution. The steps are simple to start, but hard to follow through. This is what the church needs to pray for and hold one another accountable. Repentance is very quick and easy. Not going back to our former comfort is a difficult choice. Putting the time in the spiritual gym and in the face-to-face relationship is the answer, paying staff to do it for us does not absolve our sweat equity.

So IHOP has its work cut out for it to thrive and so does the church. Which will be the location of the next pawn shop and which will transform the world for Jesus Christ?

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