Do Churches Have Customers?

by Patricia

 

Businesses understand that it is the customer that buys their product and and ultimately pays their salaries.  The church is beginning to recognize the importance of meeting the needs of visitors, members, volunteers and employees.  These vital customer groups make up the church and without them there is no church.  Congregants fund the church, volunteers run the church and employees facilitate the process.  This is all done to make the environment inviting for visitors.

Within every church body there are people who have needs.  Joe may be the first time visitor who is looking for the right environment for his family.  Sue may be the congregant that shows up week after week and is trying to find her spot.  Steve may be that volunteer who is committed and diligently shows up for his shift.  Or Denise may be that employee who has faithfully served on the church staff and just needs to know that what she does matters.  Each of these people is important to fulfilling the mission of the church.

What does a visitor expect from a church?

1.  Inviting facility

We have become accustomed to nice, comfortable facilities.  Whether it is the mall, hotel or grocery store, we have learned to expect clean, orderly and inviting environments.  It is no different for the church, which is why paying attention to the details is important.  For example, when a visitor drives onto the church parking lot, what do they see?  Is there debris in the flower beds or are the bushes and plants neatly trimmed?  When they walk in the church’s front door, are the windows clouded with fingerprints or are there freshly painted walls and pleasant scents.  All of these subtle details affect the first time experience.

Our church home is similar to our own home in that those nicks on the wall and stains on the carpet become so familiar to us that we tend to overlook them.  However, a visitor sees these things immediately when they walk in the door.  It’s kind of like no one notices when your house is clean, but everyone notices when it is disorderly and dirty.

2.  Friendly People

When a visitor walks through the doors of a church they are searching for something.  Very often these people are at a low point in their lives and they’ve come to realize their need for a church experience.  Other times people are searching for the right church home for their family.  Either case, a visitor will assess a church experience by how welcoming and friendly the people are.  The challenge  is, some people want to be noticed and identified as visitors, and others want to visit without a lot of fanfare.  Striking the balance can be a challenge as well as a training opportunity.

Visitors walk in the doors of churches every day and quickly assess the experience.  Smaller churches may be able to identify visitors quickly and have a plan to welcome them.  Larger churches don’t always have this luxury, so need to create an environment that is welcoming for everyone who walks through the door.

People who are new to a church want to connect with the church family and need help learning how to establish friendships.  Providing an inviting experience, and friendly first time contacts, is what makes people feel welcomed.

What Do Church Members Want?

The congregation is the body of the church.  Each part of the body has a role to play and each member has its own unique needs.  We are all on a personal journey and have specific spiritual developmental needs.  The congregation’s expectations are dependent on the organization’s ability to share the church mission and vision.  When congregants understand where the church is going and buy into the vision, they provide volunteer labor and financial support.  However, there are times when congregants have needs and expectations (sometimes demands) that don’t line up with the vision.  For example, a young couple with small children will have an expectation for the church to offer a great children’s program for their kids. This would line up with most church visions.  But another church member may have an interest in setting up a table in the lobby to sell Girl Scout cookies – which may not line up with the vision. Being able to support those needs that line up with the vision is important – while meeting unreasonable demands is not.

Every church operates by a different guiding mission and vision which affects its focus and priorities.  This means the needs and expectations of members may be different from church to church.  The tricky part of overseeing a church body is the responsibility to stay true to the call and vision for the church.  This is difficult because congregants sometimes have needs that don’t always line up with the vision.  When this happens, congregants may decide to find a church that better meets their needs.  These are very difficult situations, but maintaining focus on the mission has to take priority in order to fulfill God’s purpose for the church.

Are Employees Really Customers?

It may take a paradigm shift to think of employees as a customer group but they are probably the most important customer group any organization has.  Employees facilitate the process of making “church” happen and often with limited resources.  This requires a special calling that is unique to church employees.  Church leadership should recognize the unique aspects of being a church employee and provide the resources and support to ensure a great employee experience. Employees are customers of each other (department-to-department), think of how the IT person supports the church secretary. Employees are also customers of the organization in how well they are compensated, if they have working, up-to-date equipment and how well their work related issues are addressed.  Employees whose needs are met are better equipped to take care of the customers (volunteers, congregants and visitors) that they serve.

How Do We Assess the Customer Experience?

Soliciting customer feedback helps the church learn about the customer perspective and identifies ways to improve the customer experience.  Customer feedback is like any other request for learning what someone thinks, there can be a sting to the answer but reflection on honest feedback can shed light on areas that need to be improved.  The old saying, sometimes the truth hurts is a very true but an important part of any improvement model.  I’ve always told my employees that I can’t fix it if I don’t know it’s broke.  This means leadership can’t make improvements unless they know that the issues exist, and the only way to know that is for the person who is experiencing the process to give an honest perspective.  For example, if an employee in Children’s Ministry is checking families in on a computer that is outdated and not functioning properly, the parent experience will be affected.  Which is why making sure the employee (customer of the church) has good equipment to take care of the parents (customer of the church).

Employee Feedback

Employees are one of a church’s most valuable assets and providing a pleasant, work environment is important to ensuring all customer groups are taken care of.  If employees are lacking the necessary resources – time, equipment, and training – to do their job they will have a difficult time providing the necessary support to their customers.

Volunteer Feedback

Volunteers are the labor engine of a church and having a good understanding of how their needs are being met is important to keeping them engaged and committed to the church and their job responsibilities.  Volunteer feedback provides insight into the volunteer experience and allows the ministry to learn how to improve the process of volunteer recruitment, placement, training and job assignments.

Congregational Feedback

Church members fund the church operation and are an important customer group. Looking at how the church meets its member’s spiritual, social and physical needs is important as long as their needs line up with the mission and vision of the church.  For example, if the church learns that a congregant has concerns about how the church is communicating with its members, this may be an issues that warrants further investigation and some changes.  On the other hand, if another congregant voices concerns about the church not allowing them to use the auditorium for an event that is not church related, a communication to that church member explaining the reasons is appropriate.  Soliciting feedback from church members opens lines of communication and helps to identify issues that may need to be addressed.

There are people all around us and as church leaders we need to understand who they are, what they need from the church and how to make their church experience – whether they are a visitor, congregant, volunteer or employee – one that they will remember and bring their family and friends to experience.

photo by:  dts1013

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