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?

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