What Churches Can Learn from Chickfila about Reopening

I used to work for Chickfila.

Chickfila was actually 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 Chickfila’s. Needless to say, the company is near and dear to my heart. So much of what I learned about servant leadership was learned in the Chickfila culture.

In early March, a day before the Governor of my state, shut down businesses, I had lunch with a mentor from Chickfila who had actually hired me some 20 years prior. We dined (at a Chickfila 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 the discussion continued on the subject of leading our people through this pandemic, my friend reminded me of a mantra that I had heard so many times during my days at Chickfila.

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

To understand this is to understand what makes Chickfila unique as an organization. Chickfila, 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 Chickfila’s are flourishing. Why? Is it because the 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 Chickfila as they progress towards reopening?

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

This season of ministry is uniquely challenging because of the polarizing opinions within churches, on how this pandemic should be addressed. 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, 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 being used to come to 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 fools 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 critical decisions. Maintaining humility as plans are implemented is key. God is ultimately sovereign and his purposes prevail over our plans.

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

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 generally, it is rare indeed. This means it must be stewarded with a high degree of intentionality. Chickfila 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. This doesn’t mean we should be afraid to make mistakes as we lead through these uncharted territories we are in. We will make mistakes. Let’s just make sure we understand the precious gem (trust) that our flock has entrusted us with as we make these decisions.

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




Chad Williams


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