What Churches Can Learn From Chick-fil-A Reopening

by Chad Williams June 8, 2020

Chick-Fil-A was my first job. Before entering vocational ministry, I spent a little over 10 years working for the company. Starting in a local store, I eventually moved on to a role as a Grand Opening Coordinator. What does a  “Grand Opening Coordinator” do? Well, I planted Chick-Fil-A’s. Needless to say, the company is near and dear to my heart. So much of what I learned about servant leadership was in the Chick-Fil-A culture.

In early March, a day before the Governor of my state shut down businesses, I had lunch with a mentor from Chick-Fil-A who hired me some 20 years prior. We dined (at a Chick-Fil-A of course) with a couple of mutual ministry friends. Among other things, we discussed the impending shutdown and what that may look like for churches and businesses in our community. As we discussed leading our people through this pandemic, my friend reminded me of a mantra that I had heard so many times during my days at Chick-Fil-A.

“Trust, not chicken, is the most important thing we offer.”

To understand this is to understand what makes Chick-Fil-A unique as an organization. Chick-Fil-A understands that what makes people return is not a product but a relationship. And relationships are established by creating and cultivating trust over long periods of time. While many quick-service restaurants are struggling with sales during this pandemic, many Chick-Fil-A’s are flourishing. Why? Is it because their stores are cleaner and safer? Maybe. More than likely, it is because customers remember their stores have always been cleaner. Their procedures and commitment to “operational excellence” have established a level of credibility that their customers are leaning into during these uncertain times.

What can churches learn from Chick-Fil-A as they progress towards reopening?

1. Focus on establishing trust in the people who lead rather than consensus in the plans they implement.

This season of ministry is uniquely challenging because of the polarizing opinions within churches on how we should address this pandemic. Early on in this season of “leading-while-shut-down” I made a note to myself: “Everyone will not agree with the plan. Build trust in the people who lead rather than the plan they implement.” The goal of trust-building leadership in times such as these is to be transparent with those you lead and about how decisions are being made.  Most sensible people will be ok with decisions they disagree with if those decisions are not immoral and were arrived at thoughtfully or prayerfully.

Communicate to the church or business you lead about the processes used to make decisions about when to reopen and what it should look like. Attempting to get everyone to agree on timelines, next steps, and social-distancing policies is a fool’s errand. It is hard to build unity around preferences and particularities. Instead, build trust and unity by working to communicate where you are in the process of reopening and how you came to those decisions. Maintaining humility as plans are implemented is key. God is ultimately sovereign and his purposes prevail over our plans.

Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails. -Proverbs 19:21 

2. Trust in leadership is built over time but can be lost in an instant.

Trust is precious. In a world increasingly skeptical of leadership, trust is rare indeed. This means it must be stewarded with a high degree of intentionality. Chick-Fil-A understands this principle. When you are dealing with the health and safety of an individual the stakes are raised even higher. As leaders, we must feel the full weight of decisions that may compromise the safety of those under our care. This means we must commit ourselves to the highest standards of excellence as we think through reopening. Get input from other churches. Ask for more opinions from medical professionals. Be thorough and thoughtful as you plan.

As we lead well, may we point our churches towards the only leader who is wise trustworthy and true.