Prepare for where you want to be, not where you are currently.
Numerous Popeye’s around the country have been shutting down the inside of their stores. Some cite safety concerns for customers who become physically aggressive when the chicken sandwiches run out (first world problems). Some blame being understaffed. My own Popeye’s location in North Kansas City, Missouri posted a sign saying they were closed due to “maintenance”.

The real problem is that although the food is good, Popeye’s has never seemed to value speed or customer service. Even before the chicken sandwich phenomenon, it wasn’t uncommon for me to wait 10 minutes in line and another 15 minutes to get my food. So, when a sudden surge of popularity comes and they have five times as much foot traffic as they normally do, the system they were content with breaks down and isn’t able to scale to the new demand on short notice.

Application: We need to prepare our youth ministries for where we are headed, not where we currently are! I’m in the process of growing the high school ministry at my new church, Restore Community Church in Kansas City, MO. I’ve been recruiting more and more volunteers as I am anticipating increased participation this fall. Some of the volunteers have recently asked if they really need to be there because it seems like I have enough people for what we are currently doing. However, I’m being very intentional about recasting vision that it’s not about where we currently are, it’s about where we are going. Yes, we have more leaders than we need currently, but what happens when we suddenly increase? That’s not the time to train new volunteers. Now is not the time to train new Popeye’s workers.

Keep trying new ideas and expect one of them to be a hit!
Every food place is always introducing new sandwiches, sides, meals, combos, etc. Once upon a time, a new item was always an event. These days, food chains create new items so often that it all sounds like white noise until it’s not. Popeye’s wasn’t ready for the thing they wanted to be a hit, to be a hit. Supplies quickly ran out, the marketing machine wasn’t ready to capitalize on the success, and the stores weren’t ready.

Application: Keep trying new things in your youth ministry and anticipate that something going be a hit! Over the past 15 years I’ve been in youth ministry I can’t tell you how many things I’ve tried to get teens to come or get them excited about Jesus. When something turns out to be a big hit I tend to be surprised as if I wasn’t expecting the event we were pouring so much time, energy, and effort into to be a success. Let’s always be ready for new things we try to actually work!

What’s the long-term strategy?  What are you pointing them to?
Popeye’s didn’t kick off the social media promotion train when the sandwich was a huge hit. That was all spontaneous, and done by random people. The company is trying to play catch-up to capitalize on this momentum they’ve unexpectedly discovered. They have more attention right now than they’ve had in the past decade (I’m guessing.) Free advertising! If they were smart, they would use this opportunity to champion all their other foods and qualities of the restaurant. They haven’t displayed any long-term strategy on how they will keep this momentum. My guess is that this will be a nice flash in the pan for the next month, maybe two. Then people will return to Chick Fil A where they get quick and great service. By the time Popeye’s gets its values, strategy, and everything else together, the world will have moved on to the next thing. Similar to the missed opportunity of Pokémon Go and how Nintendo wasn’t ready for over a year to capitalize on the sudden popularity.

Application: If three times more students suddenly showed up to your ministry next week, would you be ready to point them toward how they can stay connected? Do you have a scalable system in place where everything works regardless of the number of people? Maybe they came because you got your hands on 100 Popeye’s chicken sandwiches? Maybe they came because you did a crazy game? Maybe they came because the message series has been fire and the students actually started to invite their friends? Regardless of the initial why they came, how will you keep them? Are you ready to assimilate three times more kids? Three times more customers? Three times more parents?

Final Thoughts
I’m mad at Popeye’s because I really like their chicken sandwich; but I wait for 30 minutes in the drive-through, the person taking my order sounds annoyed with me, once I got my food and went back to work I discovered they didn’t give me a fork for my red beans and rice, and my soda was completely flat. It’s a tasty sandwich, but I just won’t go back because the system can’t handle the increase in traffic. How many students have felt the same when they’ve come to my ministry? How many students don’t come back because we were content with our current ministry?  Food for thought.


About Theo:

Theo serves as the Multi-Site Youth Pastor at Restore Community Church in Kansas City, Missouri.  He has worked in youth ministry for 15 years in a variety of settings which include church plants, rural, and mega-churches on the East Coast and now Midwest. He received his degree in Youth Ministry from Eastern University in 2008 and has continued to leverage his education with real-world experience. He and his wife Malia are huge gamers and named their kids after video game characters, Zelda & Shepherd (from The Legend of Zelda and Mass Effect Series).  Theo also loves action figures and spends his spare time developing his musical and visual art talents.  Follow him on Instagram @theo_davis