Yesterday, on my way home from Indianapolis, I stopped in Lafayette for some supper. Wanting to eat somewhere that I couldn’t eat at home, I headed toward Chick-fil-a (which, by the way, would be a fine addition to the restaurants already in Portage, but I digress...). It was one of the most unique experiences I’ve had eating in a fast food restaurant, and it occurred to me that the church could learn a thing or two from Chick-fil-a. (In all fairness, I do not know if the way the employees treated their customers is unique to that location or is company policy, but my guess would be it’s company policy.) So what did I learn from Chick-fil-a?
1. Treat everyone who walks through the door as important. When I entered the restaurant, I was immediately noticed, welcomed and invited to place my order. I didn’t have to wait at the counter for someone to finally quit what they were doing and notice me. No, there was more than one person at the counter, waiting on me. They were intentionally expecting visitors, or customers in this case. In some places, and in some churches, it seems as if visitors are an intrusion to what is already going on. But at this Chick-fil-a, customers/visitors were expected. As soon as I walked in, I was greeted with great politeness and great sincerity. “Hello, sir. How can we help you?” In how many churches does our radical hospitality start as soon as someone enters the building—or better yet, as soon as they step onto the property?
2. Talk to people; don’t ignore them. When I was seated with my meal, I noticed two people who were assigned solely to the dining room. In yesterday’s case, it was two young ladies. Their job, as best as I could tell, was to clean the tables as quickly as possible (how many places have you been where that seems to be the lowest priority?) and to talk to customers, especially those who were sitting alone, like me. One young lady talked to a disabled vet who sat behind me, exhibiting extreme compassion and extreme gratitude for his service to the country. She showed an interest in what I was reading, and did not overstay her welcome. But she was excellent at talking to people about whatever she could pick up was going on in their lives. It wasn’t about her; it was about you. We need people who are willing to do that in the church, who don’t let guests sit by themselves for long before they at least show an interest in their lives, who learn how to make the art of conversation move beyond “Nice weather we’re having” and who do not talk about themselves. The guest is what matters, because if we don’t connect with them, how will we ever introduce them to Christ? I will, most likely, never see that young lady again, but in that moment, it felt as if I was the most important thing happening. How can we make the guests in our church feel the same way?
3. Go above and beyond when it comes to customer service. Not only did these young ladies chat for a few moments with customers, they also came table to table and offered to fill up your drinks. They weren’t doing it for tips; it was an act of kindness. Again, in how many fast food restaurants does this happen? Most of them are self-serve, and I would have been fine with that. But this restaurant and these young ladies went above and beyond the call of duty. They were willing to do what other places don’t do. The same is true of churches who practice radical hospitality. Does it take too much effort for us to offer to fill up a guest’s coffee cup so they don’t have to do it? Does it take much effort for us to even guide them to the coffee pot and help them get their first cup? It’s not always obvious in our churches where the coffee is, and most guests will likely not ask (especially if they are men!). How about offering to help that family with children find the nursery rather than relying on our signage to point them there? Or sitting with a guest and helping them understand the order of worship (you CAN sit somewhere other than where you normally sit--it’s okay!)? In order to practical radical hospitality, it takes more than a smile and a greeting at the door. And in everything they did, when I thanked them, every single employee responded, “It’s my pleasure.” And I think it really was. We’re called to go above and beyond.
4. Take a day of rest. This is nothing new for Chick-fil-a, and it IS company policy, that every store is closed on Sundays. Fighting against American commercialism, the company refuses to open and work on what might be one of the busiest days for eating out, and they’ve managed to still be financially successful. It was the founder’s belief that families and individuals needed a day of rest for soul, spirit and body. And where did he get that idea? From the Bible, because God said the same thing, long before Chick-fil-a was around. We need a day of rest, and the world will go on without us just fine. One day in seven, that’s the Biblical model. A day to rest, re-create and reconnect with our souls. A day to worship and celebrate God’s provision. Each of us needs that if we’re going to survive and thrive.
The church has much to learn from this chicken restaurant and it’s not just about the menu items...although, I’d be quite happy if the church started offering waffle fries...