So in our part of the country, school starts tomorrow and church "starts" next weekend. Effectively what that means is thousands of people will try church for the first time in Central Ontario this month.
There’s a lot at stake. Can you imagine the courage it takes to walk into a church for the first time in years, or decades? Can you imagine the internal angst some face as they wonder whether to risk going into a strange place full of people they mostly don’t know (or trust) to explore a God they’re not sure is there? I feel that every time someone new steps into Connexus. And we can blow that first encounter before we know it if we’re not careful.
Over the last month I’ve had enough poor customer service experiences to reflect back on what we can do better in church to welcome a guest. First impressions count. And I know church attenders are not "customers", but in reality, there are some similarities. Here are some ways I’d love to be treated as a guest.
- It’s not about your needs, but my needs. Two days ago I walked into a shoe store and the only two employees were so deeply engrossed in conversation I thought I’d never be able to get a question in. Sometimes Christians are so engaged with each other that they forget to engage new people.
- Anticipate what I want. Body language 101 can tell you whether a guest has a simple question, wants a warm welcome, or simply wants to find out where her two year old goes. Determine early on what kind of information/experience the guest is seeking and meet that need. No less, nor more.
- Be warm. Some guests don’t want chit chat. Some do. But in either case, a smile and an authentic openness can go a long way to making a guest see that they’ve hooked up with quality people.
- Take me there. Don’t point to Aisle 16 "somewhere near the back". Take me there. Show me. If I’ve asked, it’s because I really want to find what I’m looking for. I almost pointed someone to Xtreme yesterday, but instead, I corrected myself mid stream and walked them to the entrance. Much better.
- Take an interest in my story. The best service people always engage people with basic questions "Where are you from? How did you hear about us?" They can surf off those questions to take a genuine interest in the guest’s story.
Churches tend to either smother people or be cold and anonymous, but if we can hit even a few of the notes above, I wonder how many more people might decide their first experience of church was a great one.
What do you think? What are your stories? What’s the worst that has happened to you? The best? What principles do you think we should follow/avoid when interacting with people?