Last week Merriem and I celebrated our 20th anniversary. We capped the day by visiting a swanky steakhouse here in Durham (not because I’m lavish, but because somebody gave us a gift card). We’d been to this particular place once before. We love the food, we love the atmosphere, we love the ambience.

And we love the staff’s ability to create a great experience based on their knowledge of the menu and their attention to every detail. But on this particular night, our waiter didn’t seem to be able to bring the experience down to an appropriate level.

You see, we’re pretty simple people. Regardless of how much we like the food, that restaurant is outside of our comfort zone. And while I appreciate a waiter who wanted to give us “five star,” I would have settled for 4.2. This particular waiter was stiff, staid, and stoic. He recited the nightly specials with flawless perfection. He was always there in a moment when my water glass neared empty. He was the consummate gentleman, and yet he seemed really uncomfortable in his role. There was a point in the evening where Merriem wanted to say, “Hey, loosen the tie. Lighten up. Give the fancy pants schtick a rest and treat us like we’re in your living room.”

On the other end of the swanky restaurant scale, Chick-fil-A trains their front line employees on a scale called the “Mood Meter.” If a guest walks in the store, it’s the employees job to assess if they’re a 1 (really bad day) or a 10 (just won the lottery). Then the employee has the responsibility to bring them up the meter by one or two notches. If they’re a one, it’s probably inauthentic and unrealistic to try to get them to a ten. But a three? Yeah, a three seems like a realistic goal.

When a guest walks into your church on the weekend, you also have the responsibility to assess and respond. They could be walking out of the worst week of their lives. The chances of you getting them to their Best Life Now™ is not only unlikely, it’s could also be insensitive. That doesn’t mean you don’t encourage them through prayer, the ministry of the word of God, and the truth of the gospel, it simply means that you are sensitively applying the instruction of Romans 12:15. You’re neither ignoring nor downplaying their pain, but you’re meeting them where they are and moving them along the scale to a place of hope.

How’s your ability to appropriately assess, engage, and respond t0 the emotions of your guests?