A few years ago, the CEO of Domino's did something incredible: he admitted that their pizza was awful.
Let's back up a bit. The mission of Domino's is simple: to provide people with pizza. The problem was that no one wanted to eat it.
Over time, their pizza developed the reputation of being bland, unappetizing, even disgusting: because that's exactly what it was. Domino's one job was to make good pizza, and they were failing at that miserably.
When new CEO Patrick Doyle took office in 2010, he had a choice. He could decide to sidestep the problem with spin: maybe Domino's needed a new advertising campaign, to spend more dollars on media, to invest in a new website, or to come up with some new gimmicky sales strategy to cover up the terrible pizza.
But he didn't.
Instead, he admitted there was a problem. And he took steps to solve it.
Doyle did something remarkably brave and bold. He was at center of a daring advertising campaign which admitted that Domino's pizza, their flagship product, was a disaster.
Doyle and his team didn't hide from an unpleasant reality. They met it head on.
This was no mere publicity stunt. And this was not a simple rebranding or repackaging of a failed product. Domino's admitted their failure, not because it would draw attention and new sales, but because they heard people’s complaints.
And they believed they were capable of more. Doyle and his team believed that they could offer a tasty pizza that people actually enjoyed.
This was, in a sense, an act of repentance. They accepted the criticism, acknowledged the disaster, and unveiled a new recipe.
This courageous move paid off. Domino's new pizza was, in fact, much better than their old recipe. Sales immediately skyrocketed, and Doyle was named the CNBC Street Signs "CEO of the Year" in 2011.
When Doyle took over as CEO in 2010, Domino's stock was trading at about $9 per share. Today, it's pushing $200.
Pizza is a particularly interesting image for us in the Church because it uses food to illustrate ministry. As Jesus said in John 21:17, "Feed my sheep."
And, just as Domino's was struggling to reach their customers, the numbers suggest that the Church has been struggling to feed the flock.
As the Barna group recently explained in You Lost Me, 60% of young Christians disengage from the church as they transition from youth to young adulthood.
The Orthodox Church is not immune. Though data specific to the Church is lacking, the following figures are provocative.
In 2010, a study commissioned by the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops found that there were 799,400 Orthodox Christians in the United States. In the early part of the twentieth century, the Christian Herald newspaper used to commission similar studies. Their last such census, in 1947, found that there were 702,273 Orthodox Christians in the United States.
That translates to 14% growth over 63 years.
That might seem respectable until you remember that waves of immigrants from traditionally Orthodox countries entered the US during those six decades. And that a majority of Orthodox Christians now mary non-Orthodox, potentially growing the Church with every marriage. Yet even despite all that, our growth measured only 14% over 63 years.
Over the same period, the population of the United States more than doubled.
This indicates, at least for the Orthodox Church, that our ministry problem may run a lot deeper than the contemporary rise of the "nones." We may be looking at a sustained track record of missteps that stretches back multiple decades and multiple generations.
When Father Jason Roll (Director of what was then called the Youth Department of the Archdiocese) brought me on to join the team four years ago, we had a choice to make. We could look back at some of the old resources and initiatives of the past and try to rebrand them. We could devise new strategies to double down on what the Church had, for decades, been using to feed young Orthodox Christians.
But, under his brave and visionary leadership, we didn't. We decided that we needed to be honest. We decided that we needed to admit the mistakes of the past.
And, putting our trust in Christ, we were motivated by the confidence that we could do better.
So we rechristened the Youth Department as Y2AM, with a new ministry vision grounded in Christ and oriented towards His Kingdom. And we began this new adventure with a new project: a risky and untested video series known as Be the Bee.
As one fourth grader described in a letter, an episode of Be the Bee “made me reach my goal and made me achieve to pray every night because of you. So every night when I pray, I also pray for you because you taught me to pray.”
As a high school student recently wrote, “Your ministry has led my girlfriend and me to convert to the Eastern Orthodox Faith!”
As another high schooler wrote, our YouTube channel “was probably the biggest thing that got me to go from being an atheist to an Orthodox Christian inquirer.”
As a young adult who is reengaging with the Church shared, “My wife converted to the Orthodox Church and your words and lessons have helped our journey to Christ.”
As a mother recently explained to us, she sends our videos to her two children before dinner, “and discussing them at dinner has added so much to our family dinner conversations. My husband and I have learned right alongside them, what a blessing!”
Throwing out a recipe, especially after decades of use, can be a very scary thing. But, as Doyle would suggest, "playing it safe is the riskiest course of all."
So we all have to ask ourselves: are we going to stick with the terrible pizza we know, or offer the amazing pizza we know we’re capable of making?
Steven Christoforou is the Director of Y2AM.
Want more from Y2AM? Subscribe to our email list and get weekly tips for your spiritual life every Monday! And you can support Y2AM even more by becoming a supporter. Your contribution can help us continue the work we’re doing.