Chick-fil-A: What Your Church Can Learn II

Chick fil A: What Your Church Can Learn – Part II

What can your local church learn from a chicken store? Apparently, in the case of Chick-fil-A, quite a bit. I thought I was done with this story, but obviously there’s still meat on the bones! (I know. I couldn’t stop myself.)

It seems that there’s no middle ground when Chick-fil-A comes up. People either love them or hate them. And the issue is not the food, which receives consistently great reviews. The issue is the statements that they’ve made about traditional values. The management’s understanding of marriage being between a man and woman, is not exactly winning them friends today. And the fact that they’ve decided to close on Sundays has made them even more controversial.

But whether you agree with them or not, their success in the market and popular culture can’t be argued. They are the most successful fast food restaurant in America by a long shot. They make more sales per store in 6 days than the others do in 7. So, what are they doing?

It begins with the founder, S. Truett Cathy. Last week I wrote of his challenge to the Chick-fil-A board of trustees who were obsessing over getting “ bigger-faster!” His response to them was good advice for his business and even better advice for the local church.  He said, “I am sick and tired of you talking about getting bigger.  What we need to be talking about is getting better! If we get better, our customers will demand that we get bigger!”

I love it! Church ministries and church growth is what I do. I love bigger! But quantity without quality is a disaster in the making. Bringing new believers into some of our churches is like bringing babies into a nasty nursery. They won’t be there long.

But what more can we learn from Chick-fil-A? Let’s begin with the “Core Four” counsel that they give to all employees:

  • Make eye contact– That works at a chicken store or at church. People who make eye contact are usually seen as more reliable, warm, and sociable.
  • Smile – Enough said.
  • Speak enthusiastically – Often it’s not what you say but how you say it. Enthusiastic communication is persuasive communication.
  • Stay connected – Chick-fil-A encourages their sales force to establish relationships with customers. The founder of the church encourages the same.

Great advice. But the core four are only extensions of the 5 Core Values of Chick-fil-A. Here we pick up the key to their success and the best lessons for the local church.

Core Value Number One: Customers First

This is the foundation of good customer service. The customer might not always be right, but the customer is always first. Think of the visitors who leave local churches complaining that no one spoke to them or greeted them. It’s cliché, but you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.

I remember being introduced to a local church when my family was young. While I was in the office with the conference president, preparing to come out, my wife had taken a seat with our babies. A long-time member came down the aisle prepared to sit in her usual seat, only to find my wife and kids “innocently” sitting in her seat.

Two people got embarrassed that day. My wife, when the lady told her that my family was in her seat. And the lady when she later realized that I was the new pastor…and the intruder was the new pastor’s wife….and the kids were the new pastor’s babies! Incidentally, my wife waited for over a year to tell me that story, because I get mad to this day when I think about it!

Core Value Number Two: Personal Excellence

Christians should be recognized for the quality of their work. This should be the case at church, but most importantly, at the workplace. The greatest witness to the power of Christianity in the workplace is an excellent Christian worker. Christians don’t go to work to proselytize or to witness, but they go to work…to work! The excellence of their work should reflect the excellence of their God.

Paul put it this way, “Whatever you do, work at it with all of your heart, as working for the Lord and not for human masters; since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.”

Core Value Number Three: Continuous Improvement

Chick-fil-A calls it continuous improvement, the church calls it sanctification or Christian maturity. In the Christian life, we are either going forward or backward, but we’re always moving. Ellen White reminds us of how important continuous improvement is:

“Our first responsibility toward God and our fellow beings is that of self-development.”

Temperance pg. 137

Core Value Number Four: Working Together

Resources are wasted and talent is squandered when church members don’t work together. In some churches, especially churches of size, the ministries and departments seem to operate as silos. Competition for resources and spots for “special days” can be fierce. Of course, this is a reflection of how little the members understand and own the primary mission of the church.

The church has been uniquely gifted for growth. Ephesians 4:11-16 states that each Christian has at least one gift and when those gifts operate together we are no longer children influenced by every shiny fad or face, but we grow into mature believers. This only happens when the church works together. Chick-fil-A is on point again.

Core Value Number Five: Stewardship

“To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us and to have a positive influence on all who come into contact with Chick-fil-A.” That is the corporate purpose of Chick-fil-A. It should be the stewardship statement of every Christian.

That’s it. For sure, churches and for-profit businesses are not the same. There are significant differences in mission, compensation, administration, and motivation. But there are certain things that the church just ought to do better than a chicken store!

What do you think?

Chick-fil-A: What Your Church Can Learn

Chick-fil-A: What Your Church Could Learn

Since 2010, Chick-fil-A has been the most successful fast food restaurant in America. It leads the fast food industry in sales per store by a large margin. Like most “overnight success stories”, Chick-fil-A labored for more than 20 years before it opened its first store in the Greenbriar Mall in Atlanta. From there the explosion began.

Experts point to a number of reasons for the store’s success. But the unmistakable force behind the popular franchise was the founder, S. Truett Cathy. Born in 1921, he was a picture of hard work and traditional values. (His critics would argue, too traditional.) For more than 50 years he was a Sunday School teacher at the First Baptist Church in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Not unlike a former Sunday School teaching peanut farmer in Plains, Georgia by the name of Jimmy Carter.

When Cathy died in 2014, Chick-fil-A was worth close to 3 billion dollars and he was one of the most generous philanthropists in American history. He was sought out by industries, governments, and universities worldwide for his counsel on business, stewardship and education.

But in the nineties, S. Truett Cathy unintentionally gave some counsel to the local church that’s revolutionary.

After years of explosive growth, Chick-fil-A was facing pressure from a new kid on the block, Boston Market. The newcomer was in most of the same markets as Chick-fil-A and growing by leaps and bounds. Boston Market also announced huge expansion plans for the future. Chick-fil-A’s corporate managers were shaken.

At a regular meeting of the board of trustees, one board member after another expressed concern. “We are still the market leaders but Boston Market is closing fast” they complained. According to Andy Stanley who related this story in his leadership blog in 2013, everyone seemed to be saying the same thing. “We need to get bigger- faster! Bigger-faster! Bigger- Faster!”

S. Truett Cathy, who was usually the quiet presence in the board room, listened until he could take it no more. He pounded the desk until the room got quiet. And then he made this amazing statement.

“I am sick and tired of you talking about getting bigger! What we need to be talking about is getting BETTER! If we get better, our customers will Demand that we get Bigger!!”

Now that’s a word! Not just a word for Chick-fil-A, but a valuable word for the local church. It is important for the church to get bigger. Despite the constant criticism, personal and public evangelism is not a numbers game. When we realize that those “numbers” represent our lost mothers and fathers and sons and daughters, we understand why Christ called the church to be more than faithful. The church must be fruitful. (Luke 13)

But you don’t get bigger by obsessing over size. You get bigger by obsessing over substance. The church has to get better before it gets bigger. Better at what?

Better at the Gospel of Jesus Christ

The gospel is by definition the good news of what Jesus did to restore us to God. Broadly speaking the entire Bible contains the gospel, but not everything Is the gospel. At times, what seems to be missing from the “gospel”, is Jesus. We are fairly comfortable with expressions of the gospel. Things like diet, education, and service. But I sense a need for a more specific understanding of what Jesus did and how that should influence our daily living. I say it often, but it’s impossible to share the gospel if the good news is not good to you.

Better at making disciples

The great commission is to make disciples. Matthew 28. That’s a lot different from making converts. Making baptisms. Our goal is a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ. We have to bring them in, build them up, and then send them back out. It’s a lifetime commitment that demands the full investment of the local church. If the local church is shallow here, as most churches seem to be, then the front door will rarely open and when it does- the back door will swing. In short, they’ll go out as quickly as they come in.

Better at demonstrating love

I love the church. But at times it can be a mean, mad, unforgiving place. We should regularly remind ourselves that it’s our love that distinguishes us as Christians. (John 13:35.) In an earlier blog, “What Do They See When We Say Adventist,” I spoke of a word association game that I’ve played for years across the globe. “What word comes to mind when you hear Adventist?” I’ve never heard love. Clunky game? Sure. Does it illustrate a problem? Sure again.

S. Truett Cathy was right. If we focus on getting better, our customers will demand that we get bigger. The customers of the local church are the non-believers that surround the church building and the church members. That’s great advice from a chicken salesman. It’s probably no coincidence that the corporate purpose statement of Chick-fil-A is:

“To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us, and to have a positive influence on all who come into contact with Chick-fil-A.”

Sounds like a church to me. What do you think?