Lay Ministry Blog: Cracker Barrels


As I travel around the Southeast, I often eat, mostly breakfast, at Cracker Barrel restaurants.

Cracker Barrel restaurants have been in business for a long time. Their decoration theme is that of antiques from bygone times. They have old pictures, old work tools, signs and anything that takes the customer back in time to the old way of doing things. The name alone lends itself to an item that was used a long time ago in small country stores. Probably everyone that is reading this blog has stopped and had a meal in a Cracker Barrel.

Cracker Barrel restaurants are located near the exits of interstate highways that crisscross the south. These interstates represent the best and fastest highways in our nation. Millions of cars, trucks, and other vehicles travel the interstates daily, moving from one location to another as fast as possible without stopping for traffic lights and city traffic.

The reason I’m writing this blog with a theme of Cracker Barrel is because of the paradox created from what goes unnoticed by all those interstate travelers. Cracker Barrel restaurants, with their decorations from bygone times, are located where members of our society are moving the fastest they can without a plane or a fast train. People drive down the interstates at 70+ mph and then stop at a Cracker Barrel for meals in a restaurant highlighting the past and inviting you, if you have time, to stay long enough to play a game of checkers or rock in a rocking chair on the porch.

Additionally, a clever marketing strategy exists in Cracker Barrel. The gift stores are located so you have to walk through the store going both to and from the dining area.  The items for sale in the store are food items from the past, gift items related to the past or items related to holidays and sports teams. Even the music playing and the CDs on sale are from artist from days past.

I’m writing this article just before Labor Day – the last holiday of the summer.  Today in the Cracker Barrel gift stores there are not only Halloween items for sale, but also a large Christmas section with many of the latest glitzy and shiny items. Most retailers stay ahead of the seasons, but Cracker Barrel is a step ahead of them. I applaud Cracker Barrel for being successful and appreciate their good breakfast.

I mentioned the word paradox. Let’s see if this word applies to the United Methodist Church.

Think of how our United Methodist Church is similar to Cracker Barrel. Many of our churches are not located on the interstates, but perhaps they should be … but that is a subject for another time.

Many of our churches are stuck in past times with little signs of new life. Many modern people attend our churches, yet are content to be led in worship with old ideas. Many times the people attending, even modern services, are content to just listen and be led by ideas far from keeping up with God’s seasons, let alone being ahead of the seasons.

Think about our church buildings. Many of our churches are locked so tight that any sign of life is squeezed out. Life is only evident an hour or two each week.

I applaud our churches, both large and small, old and new, that have invested in a modern electronic sign or sign which offers messages to passersby. Messages telling people this church is in the business of God wanting to have relationships with all those who pass by and read the sign. Today, even some funeral homes have electronic signs advertising what they do for people both alive or dead. Perhaps, our churches need signs that say “Everyone is Welcome – dead in spirit or alive in spirit. Come in and be fed."

Blessings for a great fall in North Alabama!  It doesn’t matter what time the game is over, I hope you attend church the next morning. God is looking for you!

Steve Lyles
Conference Lay Leader

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