For the first time earlier this week I met with a group of local church planters from the Research Triangle area. I eagerly look forward to meeting with them again next month. Our discussion was deeply theological, specifically practical, and intensely personal. The topics of conversation focused on leadership development and multiplication. One of the participants is an intern at a church plant in Raleigh and manages a local Chick-Fil-A™. He said that he’s learned more about servant leadership development through his training as a Chick-Fil-A™ manager than anywhere else. His statement confirmed that this chain has a lot to teach church planters.
For you Canadians out there, Chick-Fil-A™ is a popular southern fast food restaurant. It’s famous for inventing the original chicken sandwich along with the endearing ‘cows’ campaign. As church planters, here are some lessons we can learn:
1. Strong Welcoming and Enfolding Committee: Yesterday my son and I went to Chick-Fil-A™ for lunch. The rain was pouring like crazy, and as Markie and I were running through the rain from our car, we were welcomed by a Chick-Fil-A™ worker with a massive umbrella willing to walk us the rest of the way to the door. I was in shock. The lady is simply standing at the door with an umbrella in hand willing to risk getting wet in order to serve new costumers. Another example of hospitality that made us feel welcome was the free News and Observer newspapers on the condiments counter, which were available to the public. Yes, it was yet another nice touch of hospitality.
2. Excellent Assimilation Process I use the word assimilation “tongue in cheek”, because I find it such a funny word. Still, when you sit in a Chick-Fil-A™, you can’t help appreciating the ways in which they make you want to belong. During our short lunch yesterday, we were approached a few times with questions of hospitality: “Do you need more ketchup?” “Would you like a refill?” “Can I help you with something?” One server noticed Deacon, my younger son, dropped his pacifier. She came over, picked it up, and gently placed it on the table beside Heather, my wife. After dinner, one server came over and picked up our trash and threw it away for us. I was compelled to leave a tip for such warm hospitality.
3. People of the book Heather and I asked Markie what he liked best about Chick-Fil-A™. His answer did not consist of the indoor playground or the great food. He simply answered, “I get books!” For each kid’s meal, Chick-Fil-A™ gives books to children. Chick-Fil-A goes against the cultural grain and hands out safe, educational, entertaining books. 4. Fun Kids Programming As I already have mentioned, most Chick-Fil-A’s™ restaurants contain a children’s indoor playground. Every Tuesday night from 5:00-7:00, Chick-Fil-A also offers Arts and Craft times for children. They also offer free plastic sheets that stick on to the table so that kids don’t need a plate, or, in Deacon’s case, we can cover the corner of the table that he’s prone to lick at this stage in his life.
5. Great Food! At the end of the day, people don’t go to Chick-Fil-A™ for any of the reasons I listed above. They go for the food. They go to eat a great yet affordable chicken sandwich. Without the food, all the service would be pointless. Simply put, the food is addicting. 6. Great Music! Additionally, Chick-Fil-A™ dubs out the vocals of popular Christian music as their background music! It’s true! We find ourselves humming to a Chris Tomlin song as we eat. Yes, Chick-Fil-A™ franchises are owned by Christians.
7. Effective Outreach Chick-Fil-A created Winshape. The website gives this vision statement: The WinShape Foundation was created by Chick-Fil-A founder, S. Truett Cathy, and his wife, Jeannette, in 1982. The simple vision then, as it is today, was to strengthen families and bring people closer to God and each other. Each ministry within the WinShape Foundation is committed to equipping Christ-centered servant leaders who live life on purpose; with purpose; from children to college students, families, couples, business leaders and others in need around the world. Enough said.
What’s my point? As a church planter, I respect Chick-Fil-A’s™ attempt to open their doors to all types of people to eat their original chicken sandwich. One can learn a million practical tips from church planting conferences, but quality run businesses also have much to teach. No, Chick-Fil-A™ isn’t the church, but the two possess intersecting principles.
See, Christians are a people of the Book, too. The Church also offers food to eat. However, unlike Chick-Fil-A’s™ original chicken sandwich, the food offered at the Lord’s Supper will fill you more than just physically. The type of food and drink Jesus offers points to the spiritual realities of new life, salvation, forgiveness and love. It’s in Christ that we find true fulfillment.
Chick-Fil-A is like a parable whose message tells us how to do church well. We are learning ways to build a church here in North Carolina from a plethora of quality sources.