July 23, 2018 Tony Morgan

An Open Apology to Churches Everywhere: I Was Wrong.

I’ve Made a Mistake, and My Hope Is That You Will Forgive Me

For years, I’ve been challenging churches to expect first-time guests on Sunday morning.

I’ve written about the importance of making a great first impression. Beginning in the parking lot, I want guests to feel welcomed, and I never want the experience to get in the way of the Gospel message.

And, through the years, I’ve been challenging churches to be aware of their “competition” in their communities.

Of course, the competition isn’t other churches. We’re all on the same mission. Rather it’s other businesses and experiences that are competing with the time and attention of the same people we’re trying to reach.

My concern has been businesses are more intentional about their customer experience than churches. I perceived a gap. I was wrong.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been preparing to move my family from one community to another. Moving is not fun. One of my least favorite aspects of moving is finding new utility and service providers in the new location.

It’s been almost 10 years since I last went through this process, so I was hopeful the transition would be much more seamless. Again, I was wrong.

Here are some examples of what I’ve experienced:

  • I tried to establish a new account with a utility. I had to go to the physical location.
    Fortunately, there was someone there to immediately help me establish the new account. Two hours laters, after several phone calls to corporate offices, someone in Dallas, Texas, was able to help me get my account open. (Thank you, Jason!)
The competition isn’t other churches. We’re all on the same mission. Click To Tweet
  • In another instance, all I wanted to do was talk with someone about the timing of processing an address change.
    I got on the website to find customer support. When I called the number, the phone tree was filled with multiple automated responses, but none of them addressed my question. On top of that, there was no option available to talk with a customer service representative. Instead, I had to drive to one of their physical offices. I talked to two people there, and neither was able to answer my questions, but they did give me the unpublished phone number of a person who could help.

 

  • Another organization required me to submit many levels of personal information before they would open an account.
    Seriously, what did they need with my driver’s license photo, passport, social security number, full application with a handwritten signature and a deposit?

    I really wish I could tell you what I was purchasing, because you would ask, “Why in the world did they need all that information for that service?”

 

  • Things were going well with another service until I received an automated email message indicating there was an issue with my credit report…

    This organization actually had an online form for me to fill out without having to drive to their physical location.

    I called their customer service line and was told, “We ran your credit report, and you have no credit information available.”

    They blamed me and told me to contact the credit reporting company. Mind you, our bank just said they would lend us twice as much as we’re borrowing for our new home, but this business was trying to tell me I had to pay an exorbitant deposit because I had “no credit.”

    After talking with two customer service people, I gave up. Then, the next morning, I finally convinced a third customer service person to re-run the credit check where she confirmed there was no issue.

Like I said above, I have clearly been wrong.

At The Unstuck Group, we’ve done hundreds of “secret shopper” experiences through the years. I don’t recall any of them ever resulting in guest experiences that were this poor.

But, I do think we have a chance to learn from some of these challenging encounters that I’ve had in recent days. Here are some tips that I think may help…

Streamline the Process of Guests Connecting with Your Church for the First Time

1. Don’t make people sign up at a physical location.

This is 2018. Everyone has access to the Internet. If you are asking people to take a first step, make it easy for them to do that online. This is 2018. Everyone has access to the Internet. If you are asking people to take a first step, make it easy for them to do that online. Click To Tweet

2. Don’t publish a phone number if they can’t talk with a real person.

Or, if someone isn’t currently available to talk by phone, let folks know when they can call back or give them the opportunity to leave a message. Then make sure you actually call back. We have to have patience and value the opportunities that we have to encourage people and support people as they take their next steps toward Christ. Click To Tweet

3. Don’t ask for unnecessary information.

Again, because this is 2018, in most cases we don’t need to know someone’s street address.

Instead, we need to know how we can reach them by text message or email. We don’t need to know the birth dates of first-time guests. Only ask for what you need, and then let new people volunteer additional information as appropriate. 

4. Don’t put people on the frontlines of guest services ministries who can’t help new people connect to your church.

You need people who love Jesus and know the first steps that people need to take. Our frontline volunteers shouldn’t have to wait for answers from others in the ministry to help guests take their first steps.

5. Don’t assume the worst of people.

In many of these instances, the businesses are probably overreacting to individuals who don’t pay their bills. They’re taking that out on all of their current and potential customers.

Believe me, I get it. We have churches that don’t pay their bills either. (That’s another article for another day.) Still, we need to believe the best. We can’t demean people because they don’t understand the way we operate.

We have to have patience and value the opportunities that we have to encourage people and support people as they take their next steps toward Christ.


+ RESOURCES


So I was wrong. I freely admit it. I don’t want to leave you completely off the hook though. Let my experiences be a reminder that we need to be sensitive to the first encounters people have with our churches as well.

But, now for the really important question…

Will you forgive me?

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Tony Morgan

Tony Morgan

Tony is the Chief Strategic Officer and founder of The Unstuck Group. For 14 years, Tony served on the senior leadership teams at West Ridge Church (Dallas, GA), NewSpring Church (Anderson, SC) and Granger Community Church (Granger, IN). He's written several books and articles that have been featured with the Willow Creek Association, Catalyst and Pastors.com.