It all started when I was an eighteen-year-old freshman at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia. I was on the soccer team, which meant frequent bus trips and food courts. On one such Saturday, as we traveled deeper into the South, we stopped at a mall to grab a bite to eat. And there it was. The beginning of something special.
No, not my future wife.
As was the case at any food court, I had options. All the standards were there. Yet a new one caught my eye. At least it was new to me. Chick-fil-A. Sounds good, I thought. So I ordered the basics: a number 1 original meal with waffle fries and a Dr. Pepper. The perfect pregame meal.
I had no idea what I was in for. There’s no way this is fast food, I thought. These fries aren’t like the ones I grew up with back home. And this chicken sandwich? Are you kidding me? Where have you been all my life?
I couldn’t contain my newfound joy, so I gleefully shared that this was my first time eating here. I guess that was a freshman mistake. They looked at me like I was from another planet! One guy in particular, from South Carolina, seemed both flabbergasted and offended. Speechless, they just sort of stared at me with eyes of unbelief. What kind of childhood did this Yankee have?
My relationship with Chick-fil-A has been blooming ever since. No detour is too far out of the way. My family wears our “I Heart Chick-fil-A” t-shirts whenever we travel. My wonderful church family regularly brings me back souvenirs and even food. And yes, I will eat day-old Chick-fil-A without hesitation. I think you get the point.
But Chick-fil-A isn’t just about the food. It’s about the Chick-fil-A experience. Not only does it pride itself on making a tasty chicken sandwich, but also it’s committed to making service and hospitality a reality instead of merely a slogan.
In fact, I think our churches can learn a few things from this Christian-owned, family-friendly company. Sometimes we can be so devoted to getting our doctrine straight and protecting our precious traditions that we fail in reaching out to strangers and visitors. Yet as Chick-fil-A has taught me, we shouldn’t have to choose between solid principles and genuine hospitality. Reformed churches ought to be places of warmth and kindness, precisely because of our sweet doctrines of grace. The truth of the gospel sets us free to love others well, to bend over backwards to welcome outsiders, and to make sure that our guests are served with excellence and respect.
Consider the following three commitments that I think Chick-fil-A can teach our churches.
Committed to Excellence
I can honestly say I’ve never had a bad Chick-fil-A experience. In fact, they keep getting better! No matter where I’ve been, a common theme seems to permeate the company: excellence.
If you’ve never had the pleasure of eating there, you’ll have to take my word for it. The chicken sandwiches really are that good. As they say, recently deceased owner Truett Cathy didn’t invent the chicken, just the chicken sandwich.
But in addition to the food itself, this fast-food chain appears committed to doing everything well. From clean bathrooms to friendly service to quick apologies, I’ve seen it all.
Our churches should be devoted to excellence, too. From our preaching to our teaching to our worship to our facility to our friendliness, we should care about doing all things well and to the glory of God. Not that our goal is to come across like we have it all together. Quite the opposite. Our pursuit of excellence should flow out of a humble gratitude in the sufficient work of Jesus Christ, with the goal of shining the spotlight on the worthiness and graciousness of God.
Committed to Sundays
Chick-fil-A refuses to trade principles for profit. In a culture where Sunday is a restaurant owner’s Black Friday, this company remains committed to being closed. Consider this from their website:
Our founder, Truett Cathy, made the decision to close on Sundays in 1946 when he opened his first restaurant in Hapeville, Georgia. He has often shared that his decision was as much practical as spiritual. He believes that all franchised Chick-fil-A Operators and their Restaurant employees should have an opportunity to rest, spend time with family and friends, and worship if they choose to do so. That’s why Chick-fil-A Restaurants are closed on Sundays. It’s part of our recipe for success.
To most franchises, that commitment would be considered financial suicide. But Chick-fil-A isn’t your everyday chain. Not that it struggles. As of 2010, it is the second largest quick-service chicken restaurant chain in the United States, with more than fifteen hundred locations and annual sales of more than $3.5 billion.
By application, our churches do not have to cut corners or make compromises with the Word of God. God desires our faithfulness. We should make no apologies about our commitments, for example, to the Lord’s day, even in a culture that is increasingly disinterested in the fourth commandment. Chick-fil-A has chosen not to stray from its principles, and neither should we.
Committed to Service
The third and final characteristic that I’ve noticed over the years at Chick-fil-A is their commitment to customer service. It’s always about the customer.
So many fast-food joints are just that: joints that seem to care less about us, the eaters. You know the kinds of places I mean: workers who make you feel guilty that you, the customer, are asking them, the employee, for help; where the bathrooms look more like the debris from Hurricane Hugo than a place to freshen up; and where the tables are not only not clean but have mysterious things growing on them.
But not at Chick-fil-A. Every thanks is returned with their signature “It’s my pleasure.” They even hire someone (usually a sweet old lady) to walk around the restaurant asking the customers if they need refills, extra napkins, so on. Some locations even send the manager on rounds to check to see if our food and experience was enjoyable. Wow, was it ever!
To draw a parallel, our churches would be wise to take some of these customer-friendly ideas into our own context. I’m not advocating that we change our message or our method. God’s ways are always the best ways. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be intentionally welcoming, sincerely friendly to visitors, and go out of our way to make sure that their questions are being answered and their needs are being met.
For example, when is the last time you asked a first-time visitor with kids if they were interested in attending Sunday school after the service? Or if they knew where the nursery was located? Or if they had any questions, or received a bulletin, or knew where to find the bathroom?
Customer friendliness is about the details. It’s about the visitors. It’s doing the small things that go a long ways to those who are our guests.
Don’t assume someone else is going to talk to them. Be the one to greet them. Go out of your way (even if it’s uncomfortable) to make sure that your visitors feel important. Oh, and don’t think your job is over if you’ve talked to them once. Imagine if the friendly folks at Chick-fil-A were only nice on your first visit? You might not go back a second time.
I hope this article has made you more than hungry, although I’m not ashamed to exhort you to find the closest Chick-fil-A near you. Mine happens to be more than ninety miles away, so please email me if you feel led to franchise one in my area. We could use one just down my street, now that I think about it.
May the King of the church grant us a spirit of humility to examine areas of weakness, along with the desire to grow in ways that bring Him the honor due His name.
Rev. Michael J. Schout is the pastor of Grace URC in Alto, MI. He welcomes your feedback at firstname.lastname@example.orgJan/