Earlier this week I dropped by Blockbuster to pick up a couple of gift cards.  Here’s how the conversation went down…

Employee #1: What can I get for you, sir?

Me: I just need to get two $5 gift cards, please.

Employee #1: Not a problem, I’ll get those ready for you.

Employee #2 (interrupting the transaction with his own customer to interject in our conversation): You know, sir, we’re running a deal right now where if you buy $50 worth of gift cards, we give you a $5 gift card free.

Me: Ummm…yeah, but I actually just needed the two $5 ones.

Employee #2: Well, it’s a really good deal…I just thought I’d let you know.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that ninth grade math was the best three years of my life.  But even a basic understanding of economics will tell you that spending five times as much as you planned in order to get a good deal…really isn’t.  Besides that, making the jump from ten bucks to fifty bucks just doesn’t make sense, no matter how you slice it.

I think many times, we try to get people to make the same way-too-far jumps in our churches.  True, we’re not hawking gift cards, but rather than giving people a small, measurable, easy next step, we try to shove the whole ball o’wax down their throats…

Church: We’d like you to fill out this guest card so we can have a record of your visit.

Guest: Okay, that sounds good.

Church: And we’re going to need your Social Security number, you need to quote five consecutive scripture verses from Leviticus, employment history, a letter of recommendation from your former church, blood samples, your personal stance on Calvinism, your shoe size, and you have to promise never ever ever to leave this church no matter how psychotic we get or how many splits we have or how many fights break out in business meeting, but we still reserve the right to talk bad about you if you ever wear a Santa sweater with 3-D beard fur.

Guest: Ummmm…why the shoe size?

Church: It’s a secret.

Please understand: giving guests a next step is vitally important.  It’s good for them.  It’s good for you.  It’s good for your organization.  But the key is that your next step must be easy.  Anything that smacks of huge commitment or discomfort or embarrassment or harassment…and your guests will go screaming in the opposite direction.  Or to put it in Blockbuster language: anything that takes them from a ten dollar commitment to a fifty dollar commitment, and you’re going to have problems.

We have a series of next steps that we set up as a goal for all of our guests.  Step one: fill out a guest card.  We put a huge emphasis on that, because your next step is impossible if we don’t know you took the first step.  Step two is a follow up phone call from a pastor or staff member.  This is much lower-key, lower-pressure than it sounds, but it gives an innumerable number of guests in the info they need to move forward.  After that, it’s Starting Point, SummitLIFE, serving on a ministry team, etc.  

One more thought on this: we attempt to give just one step at a time, not a full buffet-style menu.  It’s easier on our guests if they’re not overwhelmed with more info than they need at the moment.  The next step – whatever it might be – is clean cut and neat.  There’s no real room for embarrassment or mistakes, because the opportunity and expectation is perfectly clear.

If you’re new to your church, what’s your next step?

And if you’re a pastor or ministry leader, how easy is it for your guests to take the next step?