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Serving Up Success: 5 Evangelism Lessons from Chick-fil-A’s Playbook

I have always loved a challenge.

When I joined Chick-fil-A as a 21-year-old kid, I was the youngest owner and operator the company had ever had in any location, and I inherited a terrible store with rotting salads, nasty chicken, and even nastier coworkers – one poisoned my coffee on my third day of work!

I spent my first year improving the product and hiring better people, and by 1996 our team had won the company’s highest honor, the Symbol of Success award. And then I quit it all, moved to Vegas, and helped plant a church – using many of the same principles.

Christians love Chick-fil-A for its values (and its waffle fries). But many church leaders don’t realize Chick-fil-A actually is driven by biblical evangelism principles to attract new customers and build brand loyalty. By studying their application of evangelism principles to business, we can find best practices for growing our churches.

For example….


When the bulk of Chick-fil-A’s were in malls, sampling small bites of chicken was a main driver of business. And it wasn’t just the taste of great chicken! We would recruit very outgoing relational people to be the main samplers. They were building a relational bridge to people to drive personal engagement.

I don’t recommend you stand outside your church with food skewered on toothpicks. Instead, equip your congregation to invite into relational connections with people in everyday life. In ChurchOS, we talk about the concept of our ONEs – people in our personal relational reach zone who don’t know Jesus yet. Think about challenging your people this week to invite a ONE in their life to coffee or a meal.

Tip: Make sure you are actively being intentional in building personal relational bridges to your ONEs.

Be Our Guest

At Chick-fil-A, we often handed out “chicken invite cards.” These small cards offered a freebie – often a complimentary sandwich – and we encouraged employees and customers to share them with friends as a way to introduce them to Chick-fil-A.

Some churches have traditionally created invite cards, often to a special series or a special weekend. I’m still a fan of this strategy, but these days I encourage people to use their phones for the invite instead. Four weeks out, ask people to pray for someone who needs to hear a specific sermon with you. Three weeks out, challenge people during a service to turn to the person next to them, share who they’re praying for, and pray for each other. Two weeks out, ask everyone to take out their phone and send a text or calendar invite to their person and repeat it one week out.

Tip: Relentlessly work to raise the ONE Aware intentionality of your church people.

The Cows

Everyone recognizes Chick-fil-A as soon as they see the fun black and white spotted cows on a billboard or flyer. Chick-fil-A has great clarity on their brand and it’s a creative anchor that has driven marketing strategies for years. Even those who don’t eat at Chick-fil-A often recognize the iconic cows.

It’s important that the brand of your church speak just as clearly to your community. What does your brand say about your work? Your vision? Your values? In some way, your church brand should communicate that individuals are growing and the community is stronger with your church people a part of it.

Tip: Your brand should pave the way for your church’s people to be more and more relationally engaged with their ONEs.


Training was and is one of the highest values of Chick-fil-A. The company wasn’t content to create great food at a great price; when I was there in the ‘90s they hired Ritz Carlton to revamp the customer service training, and it’s still paying off. Walk into a store today and you will be greeted immediately. Say “Thank you” and even the 15-year-old behind the counter will respond, “My pleasure.”

Of course you should have appropriate training for your staff, but think about “training” all of your people. Consider a series focused on creatively training people to start conversations with their ONEs and challenging them to put it into practice. One church we know does a great job with this in the fall; after a series training people how to interact with their neighbors, they give away kits so each individual or family can be the “anchor” of their neighborhood on Halloween. The kits include cider and hot cocoa, glow necklaces, and a list of ideas (such as grilling hot dogs in the driveway) for how participants can create fun, informal connections with their neighbors on Halloween. The goal is for each person to invite at least one family to dinner or to Christmas Eve services

Tip: We all need regular equipping (multiple times a year) to bring intentionality to ourselves and our church people.

Know Your People

At Chick-fil-A, Truett Cathy used to limit owners and operators to just one store. He wanted us to be pastors to that community – “chicken pastors.” He wanted us to know who lived near our store, what their lives were like, where they worked, and even if they were married and had kids.

At Intentional Churches, we teach that every church should know their ONE, their one “sheep” they would leave the other 99 sheep to find. Mission Church in Ventura, CA named its ONE “Johnny Cash,” and described him as a guy in his late 30s, probably not married but in a relationship, probably bringing some kids, and quite often dealing with addiction issues. This filter shapes how they approach sermons, life group curriculum, the look of their campus, children’s programming, and more. The better you know the people who live in your community and who your church is designed to reach, the more strategic and effective you can be in reaching them.

Tip: Defining an organizational ONE will bring alignment in evaluation of ministry efforts.

Here’s one final tip. As you think about how to practically implement these ideas, take some time in your next leadership team meeting and discuss these two questions.

  • What are we doing to create intentionality in our people to build relationships with ONEs they are already with in everyday life? We call it being ONE Aware.
  • Are we equipping our people with tools, strategies, and training to reach their ONEs? How can we do this more?

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