Successful businesses understand that it is the customer that buys their products and services – and ultimately pays their salaries.
But what about the Church? Do churches have customers?
Thriving churches recognize the importance of paying attention to their 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 member 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
For a church to grow, it needs to attract visitors.
These guests show up and assess a church to see if it offers what a visitor might be seeking.
But what exactly does a church visitor expect when they show up?
We live in the US and have become accustomed to nice, comfortable, and attractive 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.
To create inviting environments, we simply need to pay attention to the details.
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 a 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 they 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 are 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 member’s expectations are dependent on the organization’s ability to share the church mission and vision.
Members who understand what the church is trying to achieve will provide volunteer labor and financial support.
However, there are times when members have needs and expectations (sometimes demands) that don’t line up with the vision.
For example, a young couple with small children will expect the church to offer a great children’s program for their kids.
This would line up with most church visions.
Yet 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.
Church leadership needs to be able to support those member needs that line up with the vision – while not meeting unreasonable demands.
Use the Mission and Vision as a Guide
Every church operates by a different guiding mission and vision, which affects its focus and priorities.
The tricky part of overseeing a church body is the responsibility to stay true to the call and vision for the church.
This means the needs and expectations of members may be different from church to church.
This is difficult because members sometimes have needs that don’t always line up with the vision.
When this happens, members may decide to find a church that better meets their needs.
These are complicated situations to maneuver.
However, maintaining a focus on the mission must take priority in order to fulfill God’s purpose for the church.
Volunteers are the labor engine of the church.
This valuable customer group is who makes church happen.
Church leaders must focus on this critical customer group by creating a positive volunteer experience.
Do this so that you can not only retain your volunteers, but you want that positive experience to be used as a tool 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 crucial customer group of any organization.
Employees facilitate the process of making church happen – 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 functioning, 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, members, 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 – “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 the Children’s Ministry is checking families in on a computer that is outdated and not functioning properly, the parent experience will be affected.
This is why making sure the employee (customer of the church) has the proper equipment so that they can 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 customer groups all around us. 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, member, 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?