It's My Pleasure: 6 Lessons For the Church from Chick-fil-A

Upon graduating college in 2013, Chick-fil-A was not the place I envisioned myself landing. Endless amounts of chicken and the growing infatuation for chicken sandwiches seemed less than the bright future anticipated. Thankfully, it was the exact job God planted me in to grow my love for people, not poultry.

While my time with CFA ended after a year and a half, what I gained from the company never will. Forgetting the times I spilt three gallons of sweet tea on the floor and had to remake 150 homemade biscuits, I’ll pass along the valuable lessons learned during my time there.

1. It’s my pleasure! Or is it?

Chick-fil-A is known for having the most caring team members around, workers who take pride and pleasure in what they do. While working at my most recent restaurant, many guests posed the question, “Why is everyone here so nice?!”

Here’s the secret; the hiring process for Chick-fil-A is brutal and hard to get through. Operators only hire the cream of the crop shining through stacks of applications and group interviews. If it’s not going to be their pleasure serving others, then Chick-fil-A is not the company for them. In the words of a former operator, “the paycheck is not the reason they should be applying at this company.”

When considering if a team role within your church is the right fit for you or someone else, take a close look at the reason why. If serving others isn’t the top reason, it’s not a good fit for anyone involved.

2. Stop stocking Polynesian.

The first faces of a Chick-fil-A restaurant are the front counter crew. If someone on the frontline isn’t taking an order, their first trained reaction is to clean and their second is to stock.

Know what America’s favorite dipping sauce is? Most guess Chick-fil-A sauce, but it’s surprisingly Polynesian sauce. With a high demand for the beloved, tangy sweet-and-sour sauce, many on the frontline find themselves keeping occupied and being on task by stocking Polynesian when the lines get low.

Unfortunately, if all eyes stay too long on the task, the guests are ignored.

Where are our eyes in the presence of guests? Is it on the church budget, the worship team set up, the attendance … or on the needs of those we have a moment with? There’s a difference in completing a task and actually doing our job.

3. Treat potential leaders like icebergs.

Ten months into my Chick-fil-A venture, I was transferred from a marketing director to a manager. Initially I fought the change; while being a leader comes natural for me, running a restaurant does not.

Thankfully, my operator and Chick-fil-A as a whole view leaders as icebergs.

The part of an iceberg above the surface makes up only a rough 10 percent of the icy mass. Ninety percent cannot be seen, for the majority of an iceberg is below the water. If people are like icebergs, the 10 percent most look at represents skills and learned habits — like putting together an ice cream machine and counting registers. Those things can be learned! The larger 90 percent represents the conditions of the heart — humility, character, honesty, integrity, etc.

In the church, how often do we base people’s stature and positions on learned skills, a.k.a, the 10 percent? Character and persistence will be what takes a vision farther after volunteers burn out on their own competence and craft.

4. Stick to your values. Change the rest.

Truett Cathy founded Chick-fil-A in 1946 on several values close to his heart.

  1. The restaurant will be closed on Sundays to allow workers to rest and have an available day for worship.
  2. The restaurant will not discount food. Either it’s so remarkable guests will pay full price, or if it’s not full price, we give it away for free.
  3. We work with excellence, “glorify[ing] God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us and to have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A.” (Corporate Purpose Statement)

Compare Chick-fil-A in 2017 to the founding Chick-fil-A, and the only similarities to be found are the starting values. Instead of mall locations, free standers dominate the market. The company’s menu has expanded tremendously. Even Chick-fil-A’s ‘Eat Mor Chikin’ cows only showed up 20+ years ago!

Chick-fil-A knows how to relate to the culture around them while sticking to their initial values.

As a church, we should recognize how to relate to our community's culture without changing what we believe in. It’s very possible to be relevant and original while keeping the true message of the Gospel. Change and timeliness are not the same as compromise, and we should stop viewing the two as such.

5. Offer ‘Core Four’ service and nothing less.

Core Four service is the detailed attentiveness guests should receive when dining at a Chick-fil-A. This service is broken down into an obvious four step check-off list.

  1. Make eye contact.
  2. Share a smile.
  3. Speak enthusiastically
  4. Make a connection.

Anything short of the Core Four is unacceptable. Leaders example these values from the top -- and culture is created as others learn to do the same.

Do we example the culture of our church? Or have we allowed the culture to set itself? Start from scratch and define what the culture will be -- and then live by example. Whether it’s through generosity, service, excellence, or kindness, these must be qualities that are modeled by the leader first. These qualities become even easier when they aren't what we just "do," but rather who we are on the inside.

6. It’s not a mistake — it’s an opportunity.

My first week at Chick-fil-A as a marketing director, my goal was to make a personal connection with one business or organization in town. Just like any new entrepreneur, I set out to shake hands and speak with anyone who was willing to let me give my spiel on Chick-fil-A catering. One woman I spoke with was excited to order with me! So I jotted her down for a delivery of Cinnamon Clusters and called it a day.

To my surprised and unknowing self after cheering for my first order, my operator revealed to me — WE DIDN’T SELL CINNAMON CLUSTERS. The free stander down the road sold them, but us? No.

While I was down and out about my embarrassing move – considering I didn’t even take the time to look at the menu I was marketing — my operator encouraged me; it wasn’t anything to be upset about. It was an opportunity to learn.

Stand in a Chick-fil-A long enough and you’ll pick up on the jargon. Nothing is a mistake. Nothing is a mess up. Everything is an opportunity.

While conviction is a part of the redemption process, condemnation is not. We should do a better job of helping people leave their embarrassment at the door and turning their hard life lessons into opportunities. It’s not about keeping people in their shame; it’s about building them up through the power of the Holy Spirit for a better tomorrow — a better opportunity.