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The Chipotle Ministry Model

Ask anyone who has eaten at one of the hundreds of
Denver-based Chipotle Grill restaurants around the country and they will likely
tell you that he or she is at least a once-a-week, regular customer. Chipotle
combines excellent food, using hormone and antibiotic-free meat raised
humanely, made-to-order service, and a focused menu into a restaurant
experience that causes the queue at each store to often run out the door
(though it moves quickly).

started eating regularly at Chipotle when I was serving on the staff of First
UMC in downtown Colorado Springs, walking downtown every Thursday for lunch at
Chipotle. Tim, one of the managers, was always working the lunch shift that day
and we got to know each other fairly well. Unlike many chains searching for customer
loyalty through rewards cards and the like, Chipotle relies on relationships
built with its regular customers. Tim would often say to me, “You look busy, so
the burrito’s on me today” or comp my drink unexpectedly. He told me that it
was part of the business model—that customers will return because you offer
them great food and a pleasant experience and not just because they have a
punch card in their wallet. 

we moved to Utah, the Chipotle brand was not yet in the state. I emailed their
corporate offices to lobby for a store in Park City or Salt Lake City, and I
always received a prompt, personal reply encouraging me to hang in there and
giving me updates on when they might be coming into the area. Eventually, two
stores opened in the Salt Lake valley and I was in line on opening day at one
of them. Turns out that I was not alone, as there were more than a hundred
people in line.

lines at Chipotle move fast because the line staff work quickly and seem to
enjoy what their doing, which has been universally the case whether I’ve been
at one in Colorado, Utah, or Washington, D.C. The menu is very basic—nothing
other than burritos, tacos, and salads. Unlike many fast-food chains, Chipotle
has stuck to their core menu and have resisted adding things like desserts and
specialty items to the menu. They do one thing and do it very, very well,
illustrating what Jim Collins calls the “hedgehog concept” in his book Good to
Great. A simple hedgehog will beat a clever fox every time because it knows how
to do one thing well—roll into a perfect ball and point its quills in all
directions. Says Collins, “[Hedgehogs] are not stupid. Quite the contrary. They
understand that the essence of profound insight is simplicity… Hedgehogs see
what is essential, and ignore the rest” (91). When a customer walks into a
Chipotle, they know precisely what they are going to get in terms of both
choice and quality, and since the food is made-to-order right in front of them,
they know they can trust the process as well.

insights for the church and for leadership have been apparent to me from the
beginning, but are reinforced every time I go to our local Chipotle (ten miles
away at the moment, but we are close to getting one in Monument, CO, according
to the corporate office). They are:

1. Pay attention to the
customer/regular attendee. No matter how the church may be, knowing someone’s
name and a little of their story makes for repeat visits. Help them feel like
an insider, and provide them with one-on-one attention whenever possible.
Loyalty is based on relationships, not programs.

2. Most churches are trying to do a
little of everything, tacking on and pulling down menu items of program
offerings on a regular basis, trying to get people to connect with their
“product.” Chipotle’s strength is that they have not tried to be McDonald’s or
Wendy’s—companies that are always tweaking their menu and tying their product
in with the latest movies, for example. They have a specialty niche, know their
customers, and execute a few things with excellence. Churches and their leaders
should focus on the “customer base” in their community, asking questions about
needs and opportunities. Instead of competing with other churches and “swapping
sheep,” an effective church will focus on its core competencies and promote
them unapologetically. Every church should be able to specifically fill in the blank of the statement, “We are the church who __________,” and do so with confidence that
they are making a difference for the kingdom.

my last visit to a Chipotle (I went twice this week), I noticed some people I
had seen before. I imagine that visitors to our churches are looking for the
same kind of connection—a place of quality, simplicity, and familiarity—and a
place where, eventually, even the manager knows my name.


Source: Collins, Jim. Good to
Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t
. New York:
HarperCollins, 2001.