There are a lot of reasons that my children loved going to Cracker Barrel when we were on road trips: food that they recognized, rocking chairs they could sit in, checker boards ready for a quick game, and even a game you could play at the table while waiting for your food. It was as if this place was expecting fidgety guests and was ready for them to do their worst. For my girls, whose first question about a museum was always "Do they have a gift shop?", being able to look at all the chotchkies after they finished their meal was a dream come true. Whoever designed the first Cracker Barrel restaurant was a genius. Everything in that place screams, "Welcome, we’ve been expecting you!" We are invited to come in and rest our travel worn bones for awhile.
Adults love this place just as much. Like a little museum of Americana, customers are awash in nostalgia as they eat pancakes and eggs like their parents used to make. Don’t forget the opportunity to introduce the youngest in the bunch to candies from yesteryear. There was even a time when travelers could buy audiobooks at a reduced rate that previous customers had finished and traded for new literary treasures. What a brilliant service for the road weary traveler. Here were multiple possibilities for diners to engage with each other outside of sharing a quick meal before hitting the road.
What if our church foyers radiated this same intentionality? What would your church’s walkways, entry spaces, parking lots, and fellowship areas look like if everywhere a guest looked they received this message, "Welcome, we’ve been expecting you"? Where might you establish that come sit a spell porch? What if there were rocking chairs or comfortable seating areas, inviting folks to stick around for awhile? Maybe we could replace the Cracker Barrel antique decor with art produced by various congregation members, inviting guests to get a glimpse of who we are outside of the pews. Or, what if we created those little free libraries right in our coffee fellowship where people could leave a book that had recently blessed them for others to take and then grab a new one for themselves?
Cracker Barrel doesn’t just leave the engaging stuff in the lobby. The restaurant’s piece de resistance is the golf tee game which we all know isn’t only for fidgety kids. Who doesn’t remember long conversations about who was the best at this game, Mom or your youngest brother? Once again, they provided one more way for meal companions to engage with each other and make memories.
There are congregations that are trying to do the same thing in their worship space by providing appropriate fidgets to those who need help directing their movements as well as creating open space to move around during worship. In some places age appropriate worship bags are available at each entrance to the sanctuary. Other churches are creating Prayer Stations and Praygrounds for inviting children to engage more fully in worship. Again, like the golf tee games, I believe that these efforts bless more than just the youngest in worship.
I have to be honest. We limited the number of times we would go to Cracker Barrel because we van Milligens are machines when it comes to road trips. 14 hour days are nothing for our family. Gas, food, and bathroom breaks are all well timed to occur simultaneously-no exceptions. The Cracker Barrel always got us off our rhythm because we would slow down too much and enjoy our time together a little too long. I wonder if there is a lesson in that as well?