Last week produced an odd experience for me…I ate at Chick-Fil-A three times in the same day. Before you assume it is an unhealthy desire for an incredible chicken sandwich (it is), please know that there are no Chick-Fil-A’s within thirty-five minutes of where I live and each of the Chick-Fil-A’s I stopped at were over thirty-five minutes apart. These particular stops left with some unique observations and thoughts.
Stop One: Breakfast chicken may not sound good to you, but there is something right about a bagel that includes egg, fried chicken, and cheese. The experience was a good one. The store was at best half-full, but the people were inviting, the store was clean, and they made a good effort to learn my name…plus the coffee was hot and that is always a winner.
Stop Two: This Chick-Fil-A was hopping. It was dinner time and the place was packed. There were people directing cars in the parking lot, there were extra workers behind the counter, the place was clean, and there was an efficiency that said they were expecting our arrival. In fact, I had barely ordered and turned around to find the group I was sitting with and one of the workers came up to me with my tray of goodness (there was a piping hot Chick-Fil-A Chicken Sandwich and hot waffle fries…everyone should serve hot waffle fries) and looked at me and said Aaron, this is for you. She had watched me order and knew my name. In a sea of faces she knew who she was looking for (the reality probably is that she had done the same for dozens of others, but one always feels special when someone remembers your name).
Stop Three: I had never stopped at Chick-Fil-A three times in one day, but this seemed like a good day to set a record. Plus, the long lines at the last one had led to me skipping going back up for a milkshake. Two hours later in the car I was still thinking about that milkshake…so I stopped at a Chick-Fil-A. It was nearing closing time and my experience was quite different than the other two events. The place was a little dirty, the workers were not all that diligent, and there were insider conversations behind the counter that I felt like my presence had interrupted. There were people there working, but they were not really wanting or ready for new people to show up. The milkshake was good, but the experience was not what I normally see in a Chick-Fil-A. If it was my only experience I may or may not go back (it was not my only experience and I believe it to be an anomaly).
So, what do these three experiences have to do with the church? Local churches produce all three of these experiences every week. Our church has modeled all three at times. The first “church” is the one that is ready, eager, clean, and expecting your arrival. It may not be packed, but they are determined that you will have a great experience and will leave known.
The second “church” is large, but the size is not a deterrent. They are ready for you, their efficiency is a big part of their effectiveness. You feel welcomed even in the large group. Their intentionality and thought to detail help you want to return.
The third “church” is too many of our churches. It is a little cluttered or dirty. There are clusters of conversation in which the new person is not invited. The service includes all kinds of insider language that the new person does not understand. There is not really an expectation for new people to come and many of the people are not thinking about them any way. One of the biggest problems in this church is if you ask the people in the church, they believe they are really friendly…and to those there, they may be
The first two of these models help further the work of the church. The third is a part of the decline in the church. Hospitality should be a mark of the church. The truth is that should extend beyond a weekend gathering, but for many people it is the first experience of a local church. Let’s learn from the good models of Chick-Fil-A…let’s learn names, be gracious, get prepared, think of others first.