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?