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Kale and Campbell’s Soup…3 Questions Leaders Should Ask

Seven years of great abundance are coming throughout the land of Egypt, but seven years of famine will follow…let Pharaoh look for a discerning and wise man and put him in charge… (Genesis 41)

Joseph had time to prepare Egypt, and God provided a season of abundance…before the famine!

Russ Bredholt has been only an occasional voice in my leadership life but a profound one. Our paths intersected for a few days at a Thrivent gathering for a small group of national Lutheran leaders. He offered a bunch of kale and a can of Campbell’s tomato soup as an illustration.

Allow me a much abbreviated explanation here.

It turns out that the “Big Foods” industry is being upended by:

  • Shifting consumer behavior
  • Distrust
  • Reorganization and cost cutting

I had a brief sympathetic response–a “misery loves miserable company”–response. “It’s not unique what we as leaders in the church are experiencing in the U.S.”

Campbell Soup, Kellogg, Kraft…

The packaged food industry is being turned upside down by the “health conscious” demand for fresh products, like kale.

Here’s their problem: Kale-like products produce a 2% profit margin while the big profits are found in processed foods, like tomato soup with a 20% margin.

Yet, Campbell…and others…are investing heavily in fresh food companies…in spite of the small margin.

So, the religious landscape across America…See some similarities?

  • Shifting behavior
  • Distrust
  • Reorganization and cost cutting

Churches face the potential of a broken ministry/business model where most of the “profits” come from a loyal aging membership while potential growth is in younger adults who tend to give to specific causes, and they’re not as inclined to give (or give as much) to the “general fund” which pays salaries and general congregational operations.

There are probably several unhelpful responses.

  • It will never affect our congregation or me.
  • It’s too late. We should have been planning for this seven years ago or 14 years ago.
  • Using “profits” to reference the generosity of God’s people?!

Here’s the good news… this most recent development does not catch God off guard!  “Wow, just never saw that generational shift in the U.S. coming!”

And, as hard as all of this is/will be for leaders and for congregations across the landscape, it might result in communities of believers that are more vibrant with deeper connections and wider influence.

So, can the church navigate a change that moves toward reaching out to younger adults while likely wrestling with cutting costs to do ministry?

Inevitably for you and the leaders around you, facing enormous discontinuous change, we need to decide if we will see ourselves as helpless victims or as leaders, even more deeply dependent upon God to lead and provide and protect.

Here are 3 big issues:

  • Mission of God or survival? Which will be the dominant focus?
  • Reaching an emerging generation and “cutting costs”? Could that work?
  • Discipling leaders who multiply missional impact in the future? What’s your plan? Is it working?

PLI would like to be your partner in this journey.

There’s more to come on this topic.

But, let me propose this: embedded in this note is an action or a further action that you need to uncover, and not simply wait until next year.

By the way…

Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt.
(Genesis 41:46)

Jock Ficken
Rev. Dr. Jock Ficken

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