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Wednesday, May 03, 2006

How Far Would You Go To See Through the Eyes of Your Guests?

GlassesKem Meyer has a great post over at her blog about how far you would go to understand your church's visitors.  Kem writes... It’s something that has been consuming me lately. I can't stop seeking new ways to adjust my perspective to see through the eyes of our guests. And, I’m challenged daily about how far I would go to understand the reality of their worldview. I'm even discovering new ways to see through the eyes of my 17 year old [and I think she's really whacked at times]. It really is an exercise in dying to yourself.

I’m inspired by the lengths that the Walt Disney Corporation takes to get this. Just a few highlights.

  • Disney Imagineers have went as far as wearing kneepads and crawling around their parks to experience them from a child’s perspective.
  • Every Disney employee is trained in the art of guestology; learning who the guests are and what they expect when they come to visit. It’s a standard part of every employee’s job. I found a great leadership article about this.
  • Disney guest services teams set up incognito “listening posts” all around the parks to capture candid feedback about guest impressions.

Why aren't these standard practices for the church?
[this is one of the questions that keeps me up at night and gets my heart pounding]

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May 3, 2006 in Outreach and Evangelism | Permalink

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Comments

This is something that also both saddens and frustrates me to no end!
When we have visitors come to our homes, we make a special effort to nice the place up.
My wife always jokes that if we really want to get some house & yard work done, we invite people over! We want the place to look nice. It reflects our attitudes and values. Not only do we want to show that we take pride in what God has given us, we want to make our guests feel welcome and even honored and respected by putting out the extra effort.
I think the church should be/do no less and even more when it comes to guests.
Perhaps that's where the difference is. We take how we are viewed personally. It's MY HOUSE so it reflects on ME. (Can you say, "pride?") I'm sure Disney takes pride in what they do but they also know that it greatly effects the bottom line of the employee and the company.
I truly believe that the way you keep your churches facilities and treat you guests is to some extent, a pretty good reflection of your churches spiritual condition.
Apathetic, selfish, indifferent, whatever...you'll see AND FEEL it!
Ben E

Posted by: Ben E. | May 3, 2006 12:38:18 PM

"Why aren't these standard practices for the church?
[this is one of the questions that keeps me up at night and gets my heart pounding]"

I think it is because we are a church not an amusement park. People who go to Disney want to be entertained and expect that for their money they get just that.

Churches on the other hand are not places of entertainment and people don't put hundreds of dollars out to spend a week there. The desire (we would hope) to come and worship and fellowship with other believers who have become as family. To the visitor they too must be ministered to so they would have that same feel, family.

The comparison is apples and Volkswagens, I hope I don't sound to cynical in my opinion, but the old path is that you welcome the visitors and make them feel as welcome as you can, and try to visit with them after the service and then set up a time to speak with them during the week, away from the church, in their home.

That way they have a personal time of "hi, how are you" and the pastor has a better knowledge of why they choose to visit the church anyway. New to the community, newly weds, new baby in the home, spiritual awakenings, disgruntled church goers, and so on.

I must however say that I did find the article enlightening. ;)

My 2 cents... J

Posted by: Jay Gainer | May 3, 2006 1:01:54 PM

I think there is definitely something to be said for trying to see your church thru the eyes of a visitor.

Simple things like signage, if someone comes to your church after services have begun and everyone has gone inside will they know where to go? Where day care or restrooms are, etc? We know our facilities and may not always think of how a visitor may see them for the first time. I visited a church once where I was greeted very nicely in the parking lot several times, but once I got inside I didn’t know where to go and no one greeted me or directed me anywhere. It was a little odd, and I’m sure they didn’t think things thru from a visitor’s viewpoint.

Esthetics, signage, processes (i.e. nursery and Sunday school sign-in/sign-put), escorts/ushers/greeters, all need to be viewed from a visitor’s perspective. Yes, church is not an amusement park, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn a few things from an amusement part mentality.

IMHO

Posted by: DanielR | May 3, 2006 3:13:35 PM

Hey Jay,

There's only one problem with your scenario... the 'old way' as you call it isn't working nearly as well as it used to. People don't want you to visit them on a Wednesday night. Many people feel invaded these days. And, let's face it; the 'old way' is no more biblical than the 'new way'.

I'm of the opinion that I can learn things from a little bit of everywhere. What let's Disney make a great first impression can also help my church do the same. Let's face it, everything we do in the church comes from either another church's idea or something we saw somewhere else (in a business or family settin). It works, so we adapt. There's nothing wrong with that as long as it doesn't violate scripture. In fact, a big hats off to those who are using ideas to that their ministry have an even greater impact!

Todd

Posted by: Todd Rhoades | May 3, 2006 3:22:47 PM

It goes to the level of expectation that the people outside of the chruch have. They expect to be able to find the bath rooms and know where essential services are. They expect the child care to easy to find and to be a place they are comfortable with. We have become so accustomed to how things are we simply do not see the problems or barriers. We get used to the odd faucets that don't work or where we keep the coffee. We may not be an amusement park, but we shouldn't be dungeon either.

Posted by: Kent | May 3, 2006 4:59:04 PM

Jay,

I disagree that the church and Disneyland are apples and Volkswagons in regard to what each is (or should be) trying to communicate to visitors. We may be miles away from Disney on WHY we want to send a message of friendliness and welcome, but WHAT is try to communicate to guests is very similar.

I believe that a visitor, especially one who is completely unchurched, should come onto our campuses and actually experience just a bit of what it is like to be part of the community of faith. Too often however, they observe a bunch of people who seem to know and enjoy one another, but have no real interest in them. A few years back we started putting short self-addressed and stamped surveys in our visitor bags, asking visitors to rate their experience at our church (from first impression to sermon). One question was “Did anyone greet you, ask your name or offer theirs, talk to you about the church, invite you to a class or activity?” Now, if you’d asked our church members if we were a friendly place, they would have answered the question with a resounding YES! But when we bothered to ask visitors the question, they responded with an equally resounding NO. A few commented that the only people who spoke to them were “those whose job it is to be friendly” (ushers and greeters). BTW – this was the only area that consistently got a low score from visitors.

We should learn from Disney, although it is $$ that motivates them, because they would never allow themselves to be perceived as unfriendly. In our case, since eternities are at stake, isn’t it good to learn from any organization that has figured out how to build a friendly and welcoming culture?

Also - I’m not sure you meant to infer that knowing about visitors was the pastor’s job [. . . the pastor has a better knowledge of why they choose to visit the church anyway], but in case that IS how you see the responsibility for enfolding shaking out . . . then I disagree with that also. In my opinion, THE BODY is responsible for learning about and enfolding newcomers, not the pastor. This is why it needs to be built into the cultural DNA. This is also why it is important to have tools (like those used by Disney) to regularly evaluate how well we’re doing at this. Fallen people will always naturally gravitate toward caring for insiders ahead of outsiders.

My opinion, for what its worth,

Wendi

Posted by: Wendi | May 3, 2006 5:08:04 PM

I have been doing a lot of reading on Celtic Christianity. What struck me about the ancient Christians in their monastic communities was the importance of hospitality. A special greeter was assigned to the gate to greet everyone who passed by and those who entered. He would then take any visitor or guest to the Abbot [pastor] for introduction. All guests ate with the Abbot, were introduced to everyone, and stayed in the best rooms amd ate the best food. This was about 500 - 800 A.D. Paul mentions that hospitality is one of the key qualifies of a pastor (1 Tim 3 and Titus 1).

Our culture is very quality conscious. So too must the church be. We can learn from Disney and it is not a new idea to be focused on guests.

Posted by: Dan Moore | May 3, 2006 7:05:22 PM

I often just think of it like I do when I welcome people into my home. I want them to feel comfortable and relaxed so that we can have some quality time together.

When people come to my church, I want them to feel comfortable and relaxed so they can hear what is being said. If they struggle to find the restrooms or the nursery or the sanctuary--their anxiety goes up and it takes longer for them to settle in and hear the message.

We are not Disney, but we are to welcome people. The article, for us in the church, is not about Disney, but reminding ourselves that we need to look through the eyes of a visitor.

Posted by: eric | May 4, 2006 6:57:42 AM

Wendi, is it possible that the reason people weren't being greeted and introduced in your church had to do with the size of the church? The congregation I'm a part of is fairly sizeable and so I have no real way of knowing if that new face next to me is actually new, or if they've actually been attending for a long period of time.
I think size factors into this. Certainly we are called to be hospitable, but I've felt uncomfortable (and unwelcome!) when (well-meaning) people at church have tried to make me feel welcome as if I were new, even though I've been attending for 3 years!
The trick then is to be welcoming without being overbearing. I personally enjoy a little anonymity when visiting churches...

Posted by: Daniel | May 4, 2006 12:48:10 PM

It's hard to walk into a familiar place and "pretend" you don't know it. If you've been at your church for a while, visit another church. In fact, visit several others. Certainly you want to be able to find the bathrooms and the nursery, but also ask yourself questions like, How easy is it to be anonymous if you want to be? How easy is it to fit in if you want to?

Wendi's comment is poignant: "[Disney] would never allow themselves to be perceived as unfriendly." Too often, we in the church allow ourselves to be perceived as unfriendly simply because we don't do what is necessary to find out what the perception of us is. Whether you do the kinds of things Disney does (training, listening posts, etc. - kind of makes me feel like Big Brother is watching!) or you learn from other churches...for heaven's sake do SOMETHING!

Posted by: Randy Ehle | May 4, 2006 1:17:14 PM

Todd and Wendi,

Thanks for your opinions. I do, however, hold to my opinion that I can be right too.

Posted by: Jay Gainer | May 4, 2006 1:26:29 PM

Daniel - I think that we use the size thing as an excuse. Sometimes people say "if I ask someone if they're new and they've been here 3 years we'll both be embarrassed." My response is, "then don't ask if they're new!!!" If it were part of our DNA to introduce ourselves to people we don't know, we'll stumble onto the newcomers and meet some new "old-timers" along the way. And people who want to stay a bit obscure will let us know pretty quickly by the way they respond to our “friendliness”.

I’ve visited very small churches where it was obvious that I was new and no one spoke to me. I’ve also visited very large churches where I could have attended invisibly for years and yet was engaged in conversation by regulars. I think it’s more of a cultural issue than a size issue. If perception of warmth and friendliness is genuine a core value (not just a stated value written in the weekly bulletin) – then a church will, as Randy suggests . . . DO SOMETHING!!

Wendi

Posted by: Wendi | May 4, 2006 1:49:12 PM

Well here goes nothing.... I get alot of critism about how I go about it. I will visit them and go to they're home upon request. I see they're poor living conditions, I see the drunks, etc. etc....

I set and talk to them about everything except for the bible. This is what I call "LET'M RANT AND RAVE SESSION" I simply just let them talk and complain to me without me saying a word. I listen to they're hurts, concerns, gripe's and so on.

Then I will go to the church, and set there in the pew and think about a church full of these people who are just like this person I spent the day with. Then I set there and think of what they came there to hear and what God wants to say to them.

Then I bath it prayer, then I allow the Lord to use me as his mouth piece and to let the words I say be His words.

Posted by: Clairvoyant 1 | May 4, 2006 6:33:57 PM

Daniel,

Don't ask, "Are you new?" Ask questions like, "How long have you been attending? I haven't had the opportunity to meet you."

This way, if they are new, they can say, "This is my first time," or if they are regulars they can tell you how long.

Posted by: eric | May 4, 2006 9:54:30 PM

A few years ago we visited a church in a small but rapidly growning town. This area's also a major weekend "gettaway" location so there's tremendous potential for both long & short term connection.
On the first Sunday we attended, except for the "good morning" by a door greeter, we got NOTHING! No church literature or information. No offer to assist us to a seat and when it was all over, not the first smile or handshake. We're talking about a small, tight knit town so we're pretty sure our being visitors was obvious.
Being in the ministry, I thought the pastor would surely want to know about this almost total lack of hospitality especially in light of the potential in the area.
I wrote a very friendly letter telling of our experience. He responded and we set a time to come by his office. (We were living in a very remote area so it was easier for us to come to him.)
When we came in we immediatly ran into the associate pastor who never smiled, never asked our name, just brushed right past our whole family and out the door.
When we sat down to talk to the pastor, we realized in less than 5 minutes the meeting was clearly over. I mean he was staring at the back wall and then out the window and bored with the whole thing. We were absolutley stunned! How could a church act this way? Especially the pastors!
We have A LOT of work to do at our church but I'm pretty confident and even a little proud of one thing, regardless of how you're dressed or skin color or whatever, you will feel welcomed!
Now if we can get the funky smell out of the back restrooms, we'll be cooking!!!
God Bless
Ben E

Posted by: Ben E | May 5, 2006 12:14:37 AM

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