May 2010


Sunday was a fun day, getting to speak to my favorite group of people on earth* – the peeps at Brier Creek AM.  If you’re interested, you can download the full transcript and listen to the message here. (If it’s not up just yet, give it time…it’s Memorial Day, after all, and our media guy owns a sword.)

Some of you asked about the three passages I mentioned that you can use to pray through in times of difficulty…here they are:

  • When you can’t get past your past: Psalm 51
  • When you think God has forgotten you: Lamentations 3
  • When you’ve forgotten who you are in Christ: Ephesians 2

These are just a few…I suggest recording scriptures as you find them so that you can pray them as needed.

Also, this made it in the bullpen for Sunday’s message, but I found it incredibly helpful.  Check out “Praying Beyond the Sick List” by David Powlison.

*with the possible exception of Starbucks baristas.

I heart flash mobs – especially those that make snooty European bystanders do the awkward Macarena.

Like it? Check out this post.

Call me a pessimist, but I think most American companies have customer service that ranks just above Idi Amin’s summer camps and just below scraping gum off the bottom of your shoe with your bare hand.  Yes, some get it right: Chick-Fil-A and Starbucks are usually at the top of my “attaboy” list.  But for the most part, I burn with customer service loathing with the burn of a thousand suns.

That’s why I was very pleasantly surprised with my interaction with Magazines.com yesterday.  Here’s the backstory:

My father-in-law is a cowboy / farmer / rodeo rider / rancher / all-around-horse-guy from way back.  Part of my rite of passage to earn his daughter’s hand was that I had to pretend to like horses, with all of their stench and sweat and piles of…production.  So usually every year his birthday or Christmas or Father’s Day gift involves some horse-related theme.  There are horse Christmas ornaments, horse gear that we bought from a place called a “tack shop,” horse riding clothing, horse salt and pepper shakers.  You know, the usual.

Last year we ordered a one-year subscription to Equus magazine, which is apparently all about horses.  Or the new Hyundai car.  I’m not sure.

Then over the weekend, we received notification that our one-year subscription had miraculously renewed.  Now, I dig my father-in-law.  But I simply can’t feed his periodical horse habit from here on out.  The first one’s free, pal.  After that, you pay for it.  (And if he ever finds these words on the interwebs, I’ll prepare to be lassoed, hog-tied, and tossed on the back forty.)

Was I looking forward to making the first contact about killing off the horses?  Neigh. I steeled myself for a seven month series of phone calls / formal complaints / legal inquisitions / poisonous spider delivery with the good folks at Magazines.com, because after all, customer service stinks.

Except for this company.

The process was simple: one phone number, easy to find on the front page of their website.  It was quick: they actually answered on the third ring (no voicemail, but a live human).  It was painless: I told Lissa the situation – how I was cutting off the F-I-L, and she told me how sorry she was that had happened and they’d refund my money right away.  The whole process took less than two minutes, and I left the phone call with one big thought:

Those periodical pushers will see me again.

If Magazines.com is that easy to work with, they just won a customer.  Next time I need a mag full of articles about how to deal with hoof rot (or any other number of subjects), they’ve got my business.

Thanks, Lissa.  And thanks to Magazines.com.  You’ve restored my faith in another company’s service.

This morning’s post sponsored by funny boys Rhett & Link.  I have to get back to repairing my brain after last night’s explosion.

Today we wrap up a week’s worth of posts that have hopefully been fun and challenging.  My search for a car is far from over (please please oh please I don’t wanna shop again tomorrow), but my takeaway comparisons on how churches treat guests is taking shape.  Here’s what I’ve come up with: feel free to add, edit, or answer by commenting below.

  • Are you more concerned with your guest’s story or your church’s story? Don’t misunderstand: your church’s story is important.  Even more, what God has done and is doing in your church is important.  It’s vital.  That story will define better than anything whether your church is a good fit for your guest.  However, I believe we’re often guilty of laying the story out before a guest is ready.  If you’re encountering an unbeliever, do they need to know that you’re a multi-site, missional, gospel-centered, semi-reformed, charismatic-with-a-seatbelt congregation?  Or at this stage of the game, do they simply need to know that you care about them?
  • Do you see a soul or do you see a statistic? I’m reminded of the old Saturday morning cartoons where the guys stranded on an island started to imagine each other as big steaks.  Especially in growing churches where lots of guests show up each weekend, it’s easy to see the forest and miss the trees.  Every guest in your church has a story.  Every guest in your church is in the middle of a story.  Are we taking time to find out what it is?
  • Do you focus more on process or on the person? Yep, we need on-ramps.  Yep, we need clearly-defined systems.  But our guests often don’t function that way.  They often don’t fit into our design.  Are you prepared for that?  Do you tailor the experience to fit their needs?
  • Have you learned the appropriate balance between hands-on care and over-the-top stalking? Do you honor your guests both by acknowledging their presence and by acknowledging their comfort level?  Do you make it easy for them to be known and – if they so choose – to remain anonymous?
  • Do you give your guests walk-away power? Do you recognize that it’s God who will change their heart, not you, not your ministry, and not your church?  Do you give the Holy Spirit room to work in them and on them as you care for them?  Are you settled with the fact that while your church is open to everybody, it might not be for everybody?

I love the fact that I serve at a church that places such a priority on guests.  I’m still amazed that I get to work on this part of our church’s ministry in a full-time capacity.  I’m thrilled to have a team of guest advocates that truly love people and want to see them move towards a relationship with Christ.  But I’m more convinced than ever that we have to constantly check our systems to make sure that we’re serving people, not our process.

This week we’re asking this question: do churches treat guests the way car lots treat customers?  Catch up on earlier posts here, here, and here.

Dan was the first car salesman we met on our Saturday quest, and looking back on it, we should’ve quit while we were ahead.  He didn’t have the biggest lot or the broadest inventory.  There was no fancy showroom and no cafe’.  His pants were a little tight and his tie was a little short and his personality was a little goofy, but Dan seemed to be a genuinely nice guy.

Dan was pretty far removed from our age bracket, but he tried to connect with our kids because he had grandkids their age.  Because of extensive conversations with his daughter-in-law, he knew what it was like to be a “mom chauffeur” and what kind of vehicle we needed to be steered towards.  When we wanted to see a model that he didn’t have on the lot, he walked us over to his personal ride – that same model – and let us poke and prod around it for a while.

And when it was time to leave and he realized he wasn’t going to make a sale that day, there was no pressure.  He thanked us for stopping by, handed us his card, and told us when we were ready to buy, he’d love to earn our business.

And you know what?  I’ll probably give him a shot.

Dan wasn’t a newly-hired sales guy or a random employee.  He owned the place.  I don’t know if it was that position or simply years of experience that made him easy to work with, but he gained my respect.  Never once did he drool over a potential sale.  Never once did he suck up and act like he’d known us all his life.  Never once did he get pushy and try to get us in his cubicle.  He simply cared for us, listened to us, and let us know where to find him when we were ready for the next step.

I think churches who love their guests get this principle.  I think they realize that we’ll win people with kindness before we’ll win them with aggression.  (By the way, if you didn’t read Sara’s horror story in the comment section earlier this week, do it now.)  I believe that we must instigate a revolution when it comes to how we pursue the people God sends our way.  There’s a definite balance between reaching people (the way the Gospel commands) and suffocating people (the way we often do).

As we wrap up the series tomorrow, I’ll throw out a few takeaway questions from this week’s posts.  Meanwhile, I’d love to hear about your experience – at the Summit or somewhere else.  Comment below!

This week we’re asking this question: do churches treat guests the way car lots treat customers?  Catch up on earlier posts here and here.

From the first moment, I knew George was going to give me trouble.

It was our own fault, really.  We foolishly assumed we were pulling up at the dealership at closing time on Saturday.  “This won’t be a problem,” I thought. “Any self-respecting car dealer will want to get home to their families or review the day’s sales or go out for dinner or renew their soul-selling contract with the Prince of Darkness or whatever it is they do to unwind.”

I was wrong.

Our plan was to peek in a few car windows, look at a few prices, and be on our merry way.  George had a different plan, a plan called Let Me Get You Into The Showroom No Matter What It Takes, followed by plan B, which he called Please Please Please Please OH PLEASE Let Me Have Your Phone Number.

I’m not generally known as a person who likes confrontation.  But at this moment, George’s aggressive nature and my fed-uppitiness with the car shopping process combined into a bad mix.  Here’s how it went down:

George: “Let me get a little information from you.”

Me: “Actually, we’re not anywhere close to making a purchase.  We just wanted to look at a few cars to get some ideas.”

George: “That’s fine, sir.  Just leave Mom and the children here and we’ll walk over to get a little information.”

Me: “Umm…yep, I don’t really need to give you any information today.”

George: “Oh no, no personal information.  Just a little bit about how you found us.  You see, we’re doing some new advertising and…”

Me: (intentionally audible sigh) “Sure.”

We go through the normal routine.  How did you find out about us?  What kind of car are you looking for?  How much money do you have lining your pockets at this very moment?  Are those fillings in your teeth REAL SILVER?!?  And then…

George: “Okay, what’s the best way to reach you?”

Me: “Excusez-moi?” (I always get French when I’m surprised and offended.)

George: “Your phone number?  What’s the best phone number?”

Me: “George, if you just needed marketing information, why does that include my phone number?”

George: “Um, well…you know, if a car comes in you’d be interested in…”

Me: “I told you, I’m not making a purchase any time soon.  And you did say I didn’t have to give any personal information.”

George: “But you see, sir…”

Me: “Please hand me that very sharp letter opener and point me towards your jugular vein.”

Alright, so I didn’t exactly say that.  But I thought it. And by golly, George didn’t get my phone number.  (Score one for the non-confrontational guy.)

But then, we went through the managerial dance.  You know the one: where George’s manager pops over just to say hi.  And then George’s manager’s manager comes by to see if you good folks are being taken care of.  And then George’s manager’s manager’s 11th grade biology teacher just happens to be in the neighborhood and tells me that he was the best grasshopper-dissecter in the school’s history.

And then I left.

I left, with George still holding on to his forms without my personal information.  I left, with George’s manager still trying to hand us car brochures.  I left, with Coldplay blaring in the showroom and the stench of pushy salespeople still strong in my nostrils.

And it was at that moment – that very moment – when I realized why most people get so freaked out about attending our churches.  It was at that moment when I realized why so many men are hard to engage at our first time guest tent.  They’ve been burned before.  They’ve been harassed with phone calls and unannounced visits and form letters asking them to give to the capital campaign.  They gave out personal information, that information was abused, and they emotionally divorced themselves from the process.

At the Summit, we’ve tried very hard to walk the fine line of follow up.  What we do is engage in a follow up phone call or email just to say “Thanks for attending, how was your experience, do you have any questions?”  What we realize is that different people receive that contact in different ways.  The vast majority appreciate it.  We’ve had hundreds of comments where people say, “Wow, in a church this big, I never expected you to notice I was there.”  In my opinion, that’s a strong win.

However, there are also people that don’t want follow up.  Those are the folks that choose to remain anonymous, and those are the ones where we have to acknowledge their preference and respect their wishes.  No nagging questions.  No forced paperwork.  No guilt.

Or at least we hope.

Maybe, like George, we’re blind to our own idiosyncrasies.  Maybe we’re more interested in assimilating you than serving you.  Maybe we care more about our process than about your personality.  That’s why we’re asking the million-dollar question every day this week: What has your experience been?

Comment below.

Miss yesterday’s post?  Catch up here. Go on.  I’ll wait.

This week we’re asking this question: do churches treat guests the way car lots treat customers?  It’s going to be a no holds barred, honest look at the way we interact with new people.

During Saturday’s AgonyFest known as Looking for Cars, we met a guy that I’ll call Frank, because that is his real name.  Frank took one look at our boys and decided that their names should hereinafter be “Sport” or “Precious Cargo.”  (i.e., “What grade are you in, Sport?” or “Mom, I know you’re concerned about your Precious Cargo, so here’s a nice feature…”)

Frank was knowledgeable about the cars on his lot.  Scratch that.  Frank was extremely knowledgeable about the cars on his lot.  Scratch that. I get the feeling that Frank had more knowledge of the cars on his lot than his kids at home (who I think were all named “Sport”).

Frank’s knowledge was too lofty for a mere mortal to understand.  He talked about safety ratings, crash test results, manufacturer’s rebates, catalytic converters, crumple zones, industry standards, power train warranties, and cup holders (I got that part).  One simple question from one of us would elicit a flurry of comparison notes, this-is-why-we’re-better-than-the-other-guys-spiel, and more car talk goodies than Click and Clack.

I immediately realized that Frank knew a lot about cars.  But he didn’t know much about us. Don’t get me wrong: I didn’t expect Frank to take me out to coffee and pick apart my life story.  But he spent so much time telling us about his product that he forgot to engage our preference.  For example, it would have been helpful if he had asked – even once – if we were interested in new or used (answer: used.  Sticker shock doesn’t begin to describe what I experienced.  Hey pal…I’m buying a car, not a vital organ.)

I absolutely believe that Frank was a nice guy.  But I think he was a guy who was more comfortable with a canned script than customized service.

Is that the story of your church?  Is that the story of our church?

Are we more excited about giving guests the 47-minute history lesson of what God’s done at the Summit than to find out their story?

Are we answering questions they haven’t asked because it’s the questions we think they should be asking?

Do we take every guest through a pre-packaged script because that’s how we’ve been trained, or do we listen for cues that help us provide individual ministry?

Not all of these things are inherently bad.  I believe it’s helpful to have a process, to have some standard talking points, and to have some clear on-ramps to involvement.  But when we do so in a one-size-fits-all manner, we risk alienating many of the people that God sends our way.

So now the question: what’s been your experience?  At your church?  At the Summit Church?  Let’s open up a dialogue, Sport, because the comment box is a nice feature.

My wife and I are about to replace her vehicle.  Not immediately, as in I-need-you-to-tell-me-about-the-sweet-deal-on-your-ride replacement, but eventually, as in we’re-going-to-talk-about-it-for-the-next-eight-months-and-then-maybe-make-a-decision replacement.

Which is why I was horrified on Saturday when she suggested that we go look at a few cars, “Just to get an idea.”  She also wanted to take our three boys, which translates to 14 in looking-at-cars numbers.

You need to understand that one of the most stressful things in my life is looking at cars.  I don’t know cars, so I’m an easy mark.  Car salesman can smell me coming a mile away.  I also don’t know how to say no, which they can also detect.  I would rather have a root canal by somebody with no gloves who didn’t wash his hands while being beaten with a golf club while listening to the soundtrack from Titanic than to look at cars.

But I digress.

Saturday was a bad day.  I was nagged, cajoled, manipulated, pushed, and maneuvered into making a decision.  And it was somewhere after the second car lot but before the 23rd that my wife asked the question, “Is this the way we treat guests at church?”

To which I replied: “Let’s focus.  This has nothing to do with church or my job.  YOU made me look at cars today.  (It was the woman you gave me, Lord.)”

But again, I digress.

This week, we’re going to take a few days and look at Car Lot Church.  Specifically, I’ll be sharing the stories of Frank, George, and Dan, the three salesmen who tortured helped me on my Saturday journey.  And along the way, I want to hear your story.  How has church felt less like a church and more like a car lot?  Get your comments ready, because the conversation begins tomorrow.

Don’t make me bring my manager out of the back.

In the last post, I opened up a can of community apathy about your church.  The average unchurched person doesn’t care how much time you put into the naming of your newest ministry project, or how much money you spent on the slick flyer that was mailed to their house and then promptly thrown away with the rest of the unsolicited junk mail.  It’s not that they have a personal vendetta against you, it’s just that you’re not on their radar.  If they’re not looking for a church (and many aren’t), you’re one more white noise advertisement in a world of solicitors.

The post sparked a bit of interest, and maybe a little more than a passing desire to find a corner where you can lay in the fetal position and mourn your job security.  After all, churches are in the people-reaching business.  If we can’t reach people, then we might need to resort to business meetings where we argue about meaningless things.

[pause for dramatic irony]

But here’s what I’ve noticed: the catalyst for someone caring about your church is often misunderstood.  I grew up in a day of cold calls and canned presentations.  When my youth group went on a mission trip to serve another church, our M.O. was often to knock on doors and invite people to come.

And they rarely did.

Oh sure, there was the occasional conversation.  The infrequent positive response.  But overall, there was no response.  Not positive.  Not negative.  Just…absent.

Here’s what I’ve discovered: most people who will attend your church will do so not because of a flyer, a marquee, or a newspaper ad.  They’ll do it because of relationship.  They’ll do it because a member of your church lent a hand, gave some money, bought some groceries, spoke a kind word, or personally shared the gospel.

And because they trust your people, they might try your church.

The people in your church are the best commercial for your church.  I’m incredibly grateful for our folks at the Summit who live what they believe in the community.  They serve without expectation of return.  They give generously when they know of a need.  They seek to bless others without an agenda.

And often times, that is the catalyst.

People crave authenticity.  They need to know that someone out there is real.  They need to see that we walk what we talk, we practice what we preach, and we live what we believe.  We can either tell someone we’re Christ-followers, or we can act like it.  I don’t mean a Francis of Assisi approach of sharing-the-gospel-without-words; I’m talking about living every day loving those whom Christ loved.  Giving as Jesus gave to the church.  Doing as Jesus did for the church.

And when the church cares about people, people will care about the church.

Next Page »