Successful businesses understand that it is the customer that buys their products and services – and ultimately pays their salaries.
The church is beginning to recognize the importance of paying attention to its core customers – which are its visitors, members, volunteers and employees.
These vital customer groups make up the church, and without them, there is no church.
Members fund the church, volunteers are the labor of the church and employees facilitate the process. And all of this is done to create an environment that is 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.
4 Important Church Customer Groups
What do visitors expect?
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.
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.
2. Church Members
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 members understand what the church is trying to achieve, 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.
Volunteers are the engine of the church. They make church happen which is why it is important to focus on this critical customer group by creating a positive volunteer experience. You want to do this so that you can not only retain your volunteers but you want that positive experience to be used to recruit more volunteers.
The more volunteers you have the easier it is for everyone. As the saying goes, “many hands make light work.”
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?
Customer feedback is like any other request for learning what someone thinks, there can be a sting to the answer. However, 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).
Soliciting feedback from church members, volunteers and employees 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.
Do you solicit feedback from any of these groups?
photo by: Josh
Article originally posted October, 2012, updated July, 2015.