Spaghetti-sauce churches

January 4, 2012 | Viewpoints | Number 1
By Troy Watson |

“Why plant a new church?” It’s a legitimate question and, as a church planter, one I have heard often. With most churches in decline, and more than a few closing altogether, does it really make sense to start a new one? As one friend put it, “Why don’t you start a new typewriter company while you’re at it?”

Some Christians feel it would be better to help rejuvenate one of the many struggling churches in existence than to spread resources thin by starting new ones. Church revitalization is indeed a pressing concern in our time and culture, and we need leaders who are called and equipped for this ministry. I see this as a possible calling in my own future, for I, too, long to see struggling churches become vibrant again. Yet I believe the need for new kinds of churches is just as critical.

The story of how Howard Moskowitz, a psychophysicist and market researcher, revolutionized the food and beverage industry in the 1980s illustrates this point. The Campbell Soup Company hired him to solve its Prego problem, as Ragu was dominating the spaghetti-sauce market at the time. Moskowitz made 45 varieties of spaghetti sauce with various levels of garlic, spiciness, visible solids, etc. In his test results he looked for patterns and clusters in people’s preferences. His research revealed that Americans fall into one of three major groups: plain, spicy and extra-chunky.

At the time, there was no extra-chunky spaghetti sauce on the market, yet Moskowitz’s research showed that a third of Americans were craving it! His results demonstrated a fundamental flaw in the conventional approach of the food industry: Campbell’s shouldn’t have been looking for the perfect Prego spaghetti sauce; it should have been looking for the perfect Prego spaghetti sauces.

Prego developed these three lines and made $600 million off its extra-chunky line alone in the ’80s. Everyone else jumped on board. That was when the industry started coming out with 10 different kinds of vinegar, olive oil and mustard, among other items. There are 36 different kinds of Ragu sauce today.

Moskowitz changed the way the food industry did business by debunking the notion of the perfect dish, introducing, as he did, an appreciation for the variableness of human life.

Now, every analogy has its limitations. I am certainly not equating the preferences of spaghetti-sauce consumers to the spiritual needs of people. Yet some parallels exist. There is no perfect church; there are only perfect churches. Perfect in the sense that they serve a niche in the variableness of life and humanity. There is no “one-size-fits-all” church.

The Quest church-planting team and I did not set out to start a perfect—or even better—church. We planted a different church because we realized the Niagara Region has many different kinds of people and, therefore, needs many different kinds of churches. We intentionally started a church that was different than the other churches in our community, not because we had anything against those churches, but because those kinds of churches already existed.

We live in a niche world where everyone and everything has a specialization. The overall mandate in the health and wellness industry, for example, is to promote healthy living and provide quality health care, but every department and practitioner has a different specialization in order to fulfill this general mandate. If someone has cancer, she doesn’t go to see any doctor; she sees a specific kind of doctor: an oncologist. And even then there are specific kinds of healthcare workers in oncology that deal with different kinds of cancers and different aspects of cancer treatment.

I believe the kingdom of God involves specialization as well. Every person and church has the same general mandate—love God, neighbour and self, and make disciples—and at the same time has a unique calling or vocation. Our calling does not set us apart from the world; it sets us apart for a specific part of the world.

As Christians and churches, we have a responsibility to discover our specialization and serve in our God-given niche. And as a denomination, we must continue to plant churches with different specializations that serve the many subcultures and needs of our increasingly diverse context.

So why did I help plant a new church? Because God has called, shaped and equipped me to engage particular kinds of spiritual seekers who haven’t yet found a place of belonging that empowers them to grow spiritually as followers of the way of Jesus.

Troy Watson is an extra-chunky Anabaptist church planter.

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