Joe Ratliff had seen McDonald's expanding into nontraditional areas like gas stations and Wal-Marts. While attending a meeting of black McDonald's franchise operators, Ratliff, a senior pastor at Brentwood Baptist Church in Houston, posed a question: "I commented to the vice president of the region, 'You've got them everywhere now-why not a church?'"

"It started out as a coy question, but then it turned creative," says Ratliff. "We began to explore it, and eventually agreed to try it."

At the time, Brentwood Baptist was building a 75,000-square-foot center that now houses classrooms, a computer lab, gymnasium, arcade and other services for the parish community. Plans were made to add a McDonald's to the center, complete with drive-thru.

Ratliff sees the franchise as benefiting the parish not only through its revenue, but also through the employment and education opportunities it will provide. "The practical opportunity to enlist and train young people to become responsible working people [will benefit the church]," Ratliff says. "I thought this would be a great opportunity to teach our young people about employment and savings and things of that nature."

In fact, employment potential was one of the factors that attracted the pastor to McDonald's. "It has one of the largest youth and senior employment populations of general franchises," Ratliff explains.

Jobs will be made available to both parish members and residents of the community. The restaurant-serving lunch and dinner during the week, and breakfast, lunch and dinner on weekends-will also be open to the general public.

Brentwood Baptist isn't the first church to go into business for itself-other parishes have opened cafes on or near church grounds. But while other churches have explored business ventures, Ratliff believes his is one of the first to try franchising, something he believes will make all the difference. "It has a base of familiarity. Everybody knows the golden arches around the world, so you're riding in on the trademark," he says. "To me, it was a good business decision as opposed to trying to come up with Joe's Burgers."

Though at press time the franchise hadn't opened yet, Ratliff is confident this venture will be a success. Says the pastor, "It's unholy to be unprofitable at this point."