Yesterday I walked into our local Office Depot store and was struck with an epiphany. OK, maybe I’m exaggerating a little, but a deep impression was made. One of my best friends is the manager of this store and I go in now and then and say hi. I walked in yesterday and the moment I entered the front doors I was greeted with a smile. I responded with a smile and a brief comment and went on my merry way. The employee didn’t follow me or bother me for the rest of my time there. It was weird…pleasingly weird.
I’ve walked into places, and I know you have too, where the employee greeted you with a mischievous, vulture-like grin and then kind of stayed in whatever area of the store you happened to be in, pretending to stock shelves with no new product in his/her hands. I’d always get the feeling they were watching to see if I would steal or something. I always feel like saying, “I’m a pastor! I’m not going to steal! Go watch the real thieves!” I’m not naive, I know pastors have stolen too, unfortunately. I’m just saying that I know I’m an honest person and I want them to know it and secondly, to stop sniffing me like a Roadhouse Steak scratch-n-sniff sticker.
But I was greeted and left to freely walk the store. I loved it. Some people want constant attention-not me! I want space. There’s nothing worse than getting in my personal space when I’m trying to get in and get out. If I need help, I’ll let you know. Unfortunately some businesses don’t address this issue because it can cause a pretty sour customer experience, depending on what kind of day that customer is having. But Office Depot has got it right when it comes to customer service. They have avoided the extremes of being too involved with the “guest” and being too isolated from the “guest,” which is what they appropriately call their consumers.
If the marketplace is getting this right, why aren’t our churches? If the marketplace is placing great emphasis on the “guest experience,” why aren’t more churches? Do churches not care about the guest’s experience? Whether they offend the guest or not? Why do churches use, “the Holy Spirit will take care of it” as an excuse for a lack of consideration of guests and laziness? When churches don’t address these important issues, they are saying, “we will be who we are, the way we are, and make no apologies for it-even if it offends you.” Shouldn’t we train our volunteers on how to respect an individual’s anonymity and allow them to engage on their terms, when they feel they are ready to take the next step? Absolutely. There’s nothing worse than a church who approaches guests aggressively, as though they’re desperate. It’s like a guy who hasn’t eaten for day spotting a KFC chicken leg by the front doors. A close second, if not worse than the first, is the church that completely ignores and isolates guests. This church has their group, their clique, their club. They will be cordial to you, but you are not and never will be “one of us.”
So what’s the point Pastor Jamie?
The point is this challenge. Take a look at your home church. Really, take a close look…because I’m doing the same with my church. What kind of impression will your church give a first time guest? Is it messy? Will they open their own door? Will they be greeted with a smile? Will they be ignored? Will they feel isolated? Will they feel violated? Is there training on how to engage with visitors on their terms, respecting their anonymity (space)?
“Is this really that important Pastor Jamie?”
I have a question for you? One day when you’ve passed away and the sheep are separated from the goats and let’s say you notice a young man standing with the goats say, “I went to church once, but I was ignored and didn’t fit in, so I never came back.” Or he says, “I tried going to church once, but I was smothered to give my information and to serve, and I wasn’t ready for that, so I never went back.” You then hear one of your family members painfully say, “That’s our grandson.”
I know that’s an extreme example, but make no mistake, it’s a realistic one. Is it really that important? Yes. Are you and I doing all that we can do in order to reach the lost for Jesus Christ. Is it your passion, like it is God’s, that not one should be lost? Does your church engage with guests in an inviting way or a repulsing way? These important questions will be answered by every church because a church will either do nothing in response or will do something in response. What will your church do? What will you do?
Guests should not have to watch a training video like this one on how to fit in at a church.