Treat 'em mean, keep 'em keen.' The philosophy of one-time Minister of Education, Sir David Eccles, came to mind as my radio recently announced Ryanair's record profits. Ryan's budget travel is aided by cuts in comfort to cut costs. No frills, no lack of punters.
A lesson here for the church? For years it has sought to indulge consumers. The way to fill the pews is to give would-be worshippers everything they want. The church should be as welcoming as Pizza Express with the waiters (sorry, clergy) intoning 'Enjoy.'
We often hear of the need to cater for comfort by installing lavatories in medieval churches. Why? What are buttresses for? Indeed, in charismatic congregations enforced hopping from foot to foot would suit the worship style.
If it's not vandalising ancient buildings by installing toilets, it's kitchens to allow for after-service tea in a 'social area' at the rear of the nave. 'Just recapturing the medieval way of using a church,' say the innovators.
Nonsense. Medieval folk knew nothing of tea. John Wesley correctly linked tea-supping with gin-drinking as a cause of moral ruin, and advocated beer. Save the expense of a kitchen. All that's needed is a barrel of ale.
Also, has anyone noticed that the Age of Faith came after the Roman Empire and its hypocausts vanished and before the invention of modern central heating? Churches should abandon promises of'a warm welcome' and provide Siberian sanctuaries.
Long before budget airlines grew rich by treating 'em mean, John Fothergill became the most successful inn-keeper in England with his version of eccles-ology - giving the customer what he wanted.
He evicted salesmen for talking shop over dinner and turned away any couple signing in as 'Mr & Mrs Smith.' Farmers had to give up their preferred steak and eat Fothergill's choices, or leave. Confessions of an Innkeeper and An Innkeeper's Diary give the secrets of Fothergill's success and are better reads than most Lent books.
For growth the CofE should do a Fothergill: turn off the heating, bin the tea urn, trash the toilets and restore over-long sermons. Treat 'em mean and get them coming back.
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