Businesses spend exorbitant amounts of monies on customer service. In addition, they spend hours training employees from the frontline to executive level staff on the importance of living out their organization’s mission, vision, and values.  These organizations know that if they do not hear the voice of the customer, and then deliver quality services or products to the customer, they will not be in business long.

Churches spend almost no money on customer service. Many churches do not train members or staff on how to live out vision, mission, or values. As a result, people often walk through our doors never speaking to anyone or never being spoken to. Surely, we have nice websites and great brochures, but can you imagine walking into an Apple store and having no one speak to you and no products to interact with.

You might argue, “Customer service” and “church” do not belong in the same sentence. How can they since churches do not have customers? I agree churches do not have “customers” in the classic sense. That doesn’t mean we should reject basic customer service principles that can help us serve the needs of visitors, guests, and those within our communities effectively.

Some questions to consider:

Phone conversations and interfacing:

  • Have you ever trained your staff on how to properly use a telephone?
  • Do they know how to meet the needs of callers?
  • Do they understand basic phone etiquette?
  • Do they take messages properly, transfer calls successfully, and respond promptly?

Correspondence and email:

  • Does your staff know how to properly format business documents and email?
  • Have you provided training on the difference between a memorandum and a business letter?
  • Do they know how to properly file sensitive information and set up retention schedules on employee and/or member related documents?

Visiting Worship Services:

  • Do you greet both members and guests as they arrive?
  • Are those who walk through your doors for the first time left to find their own way?
  • Do you provide first time guests with a takeaway of any kind?
  • Do you have an e-newsletter that provides details about upcoming events, sermon series, service opportunities, etc.?
  • Do you take the initiative on “next steps” or do you leave initiative in the hands of visitors and guests?

What I describe above is not intended as “do these things and grow” advice. I simply offer those questions as a means of introspection.

Excellent customer service demands that organizations understand the needs of their customers and identify how products and services meet those needs. Growing organizations carefully and consistently scrutinize both as a means of remaining engaged and relevant.

Our “customers” are difficult to identify. Secularism, anti-institutionalism, pluralism, and many more “isms” contribute to a populace that is largely uninterested. We cannot pretend the many “isms” we face as communities of faith do not exist, nor should we lose heart. Additionally, we must not vilify our culture nor should we assume no one is interested in anything we have to say. Many may indeed have no conscious awareness of a need for God, but that does not mean all do.

Our “product” is easy to identify. God is love. Ironically and in many ways, we have made such a simple “product” so very complex. We say we love each other, but we divide over things we disagree on. We say we want to reach out, but we spend vast amounts of time reaching in. Perhaps it is time for us to take a deep breath and ruthlessly scrutinize not so much what we are “selling” but how we package and deliver it.

Many churches do not train members or staff how to live out vision, mission, or values
One of the most important aspects of practicing excellent customer service is making the conscious choice to do so. We don’t just talk about making people feel welcome — we actually welcome them. We encourage and pray for them. We have our antennae up and consciously look for new faces and do everything we can to help them connect within community. We pause when we offer, “religious speak” and explain what may sound like a foreign language to the uninitiated. Additional possibilities are many and vary based on context.

I don’t expect to see the phrase “we’re about great customer service” popping up on church websites as a result of this article. But I do hope leaderships will embrace the concept in practical and spiritual terms and equip staff and members to confidently and enthusiastically meet the needs of those within their circles of influence.

Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward (Mark 9:41 NIV)

This is part of an ongoing series of message by a group known as Interim Ministry Partners: Phil, Greg, Mark, and Tim. Check out their website. Their focus is to help churches move from transition to transformation. Follow along the next several weeks as they share insight into becoming a "Yes! Church"!

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