A student's personal journey at IESE Business School

Christianity or Mcdonald’s,Who did it better?


It was a late summer night around a few glasses of wine. My friend Joao and I were talking about Religion. When he stated, “The catholic church is the very first and most successful franchise in history!”. I thought it was a very interesting thought and I wanted to dig a little deeper in the comparison.

The History: Church is older and grows faster

The Church: First of all, Religion existed long before Jesus and the apostles. Christ was the igniter of a bigger movement that spread worldwide. Creating a large following based on love. The true geniuses behind the alleged most successful franchise in the history of mankind were made possible by apostle Paul and Peter. Christ never went to Rome, the empire was built by the successors of both apostles. They invented the concept of missionary journeys to spread Christianity across Europe and Asia.
The organisation has been around for about 2000 years and counting. It has more than 1.3 billion followers and it grows on average by 37 million people every year.

McDonald’s: The idea launched by the two brothers was simple enough. Get amazing food, fast. They designed a new type of kitchen and created a very successful joint. But they could not have turned it into a real estate conglomerate. Ray Kroc was the true architect of the empire. Kroc and his dodgy practices made the franchise super successful. The nice two brothers didn’t have the guts nor the grit to take their company to the extra step. Kroc could do it without looking back, even if it meant stepping over a few dead bodies.
In terms of numbers, The company serves 68 million people per day and grows its restaurants by 1% every year.

The Product: McDonald’s burgers are tangible

The Church: Originally, the Church was selling the salvation of souls. Nowadays, the Church sells a sense of spirituality and community. It’s a way for people to gather and share social activities together, but also psychological support. The products are thus, intangible. In order to belong to the community, though, people need to follow the rules. Those can be more or less strict depending on the subgroup you choose to be part of.

McDonald’s: The restaurant empire sells sandwiches. That is probably the main difference between the two successful ventures. McDonald’s product is tangible and delicious. Though, you could argue that their restaurant is also a way of finding a sense of community. It has become a meeting point for social highlights such as children birthdays and even weddings.

Franchises: The Church has more franchises

The Church: according to multiple sources, the most accurate number of churches under the umbrella of the name of the Catholic Church is 221,700. Just like McDonald’s, the buildings are often designed in a very similar way. It counts around 466,000 people in its clergy (around 2 people per church, not counting volunteers). Their uniforms are really well codified and each role has a special outfit. The logos and references to the religion are placed evidently and you can’t confuse them with icons from other religions. The main symbol, i.e. the cross, is present everywhere in sight. The main product, i.e. absolution, is obtained by queuing and reciting a few verses to the closest priest and getting an edible representation of God.
90% of the money collected through the pious followers go directly to their local parishes. The next 10% fuel the local organisation (archdiocese). The Vatican per se collects money from their followers through an initiative called the Peter’s pence where people can donate directly to Rome. Last numbers indicate that the Vatican collected between €65-80 million through this channel.

McDonald’s: McDonald’s operates more than 36,000 restaurants in more than 100 countries around the world. Many of the McDonald’s restaurants around the world look similar to the ones we see in the US, but the menus vary to reflect the local cuisine of the country. It has 1.9 million employees worldwide, that is 52 per restaurant on average. Employees have uniforms and the Golden Arches a present everywhere in sight. The process to obtain the main product, i.e. delicious fast-food, is also codified. Clients queue in line, recite a few sentences, pay, and wait patiently to receive the product.
Of course, a franchisee pays a contribution to Mcdonalds HQ to operate ($45,000) and a monthly service fee equal to 4% of gross sales.

Financials: McDonald’s is more profitable (or is it?)

The Church: According to its latest financial statements, the Church allegedly has €3 billion assets on its balance sheet and made a net profit of €31million in 2017. Though it is unclear if those assets include the real value of its properties. For example, in its intangible assets, it only reports the computer software license. Yet, it owns priceless buildings such as the Sistine chapel and the St-Peter’s basilica.
We also know that the church owns approximately 700,000 square meters of properties worldwide including churches, cathedrals, monasteries, schools, etc…
The hundreds of millions paid in settlement for Sexual abuse are also nowhere to be found in the books.

McDonald’s: According to it’s latest financial report, Mcdonald’s net income was $5.94 billion with total sales of $21 billion. They reported $32 billion in Assets including $22 billion in net property and equipment.


We can’t really conclude anything from this comparative analysis. The Church and McDonald’s are quite similar in terms of how they grew and how they operate their franchises. The symbols they came up with are recognizable everywhere we go and there are very little places in the world where a church or a Mcdonald’s restaurant can’t be found.

It is quite difficult to find proper numbers for the Catholic Church, especially regarding its assets. I noticed something pretty ugly concerning the Church, though. Local churches regularly tend to declare bankruptcy to avoid paying the entire sexual abuse settlement payments in the U.S.

All in all, Mcdonalds seem to be a more transparent company even though it also has its share of controversy (it paid more than $100 million in legal cases over its history).

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