First Impressions


(click for photo credit)

(click for photo credit)

A few weeks ago, an alert reader alerted me to the fact that they’d never seen a post of this kind on the blog. Sadly, I was not alert enough to jot down the alert reader’s name, and even several seconds minutes worth of inbox searching failed to produce any identifying info so I could give ’em credit.

So alert reader: I apologize.

But the question remains, how do you spot a first time guest? How do you distinguish a seasoned member of your church from one who’s walking in the door for the very first time? Ideally, you’ll simply follow your procedure: have a process that you can use as a tool to identify and greet guests as they arrive.

But what if there’s no process? Or what if there is a process, but your guest missed the signage or the instructions or just wanted to fly under the radar? Here are six things that might help (and yes, these are likely cobbled together from the thoughts of Mark Waltz, Nelson Searcy, and others. This same non-alert person also failed to find specific references in their books).

  1. Heading towards the wrong door / parking spot / building. Seasoned people know the rules: where to park, where to walk, when to get there. If a guest looks lost (and if you have an observant outside team), you can help get them to their destination.
  2. Slowing down as they approach. Seasoned folks confidently maneuver your sidewalks and front doors; guests do not. If they’re slowing their pace, chances are they’re new.
  3. Looking around / looking up. A first timer will try to take it all in. They’re looking for visual cues: signs, banners, and overheads that let them know they’re in the right spot.
  4. Over- or under-dressed. If you’re a casual crowd and a guy shows up in a three piece, he could be a fancy hipster. Or he could be dressing for what he thinks your church expects.
  5. Really late or really early. Let’s err on the “really early” side. Your regulars are probably the ones showing up for an 11:20 service that you don’t have.
  6. Texting. A lot. Sure, this could be the sign of any 12-59 year old in your church. But it could also be the sign of a first time guest who is trying to find the friend they’re meeting there. True story: I once approached a lady who had been texting for 10-15 minutes as she stood in the lobby. She said she was trying to find a friend of a friend who’d invited her. The good news: that friend went to the Summit. The bad news: she was at the wrong campus. My wife invited her to sit with our family and the experience was (partially) saved.

 

There’s gotta be a #7. What would you add? Comment below.

(click for photo credit)

(click for photo credit)

Let’s start by getting one thing straight: the above photo is a piece o’ stock photography I ripped off of the interweb. Anyone in their right mind knows that the first step in drinking a cup of Starbucks is to line it up: the mermaid on the cup sleeve goes over the mermaid on the cup, and the hole in the lid is centered right above the “b” in Starbucks.

Whew. OCD Danny feels better now.

I’m somewhat of a Starbucks fan. I drop by 1-2 times per week, and most of the time my order is of the hot variety. I need the aforementioned cup, sleeve, and lid to keep the sloshes at bay and make sure my coffee stays either in my cup or in my mouth.

And Starbucks is no slouch on their packaging materials. They provide all of the above in copious quantities, including the nifty little “splash stick” in case you’re taking a coffee to a friend or want to keep your order hotter longer.

The only problem is, roughly one out of every four Starbucks lids fails me. There I am, taking a swig of my grande blonde roast, one Splenda and a dash of cream, when a tiny rivulet of coffee escapes from underneath the plastic dome and dribbles down the side of the cup, or worse…on my shirt or pants. It’s not that I missed my mouth (fat chance of that); it’s not that I didn’t properly attach the lid. It’s that the lid and cup don’t quite match up in the “hermetically sealed” arena.

I have no doubt that Starbucks is a quality company (nearly $15 billion in net revenues last year). I have no doubt they put out quality products and provide a quality experience. But I fail to recognize any of that when I’m forced to wear the remnants of my blonde roast on my shirt for a 9 AM meeting. At that moment, I don’t want to drink a beverage from a billion dollar company; I just want a lid that works.

What’s the “leaky lid” in your ministry? Sure, you can put a sizable chunk of your budget into crafting a quality experience. You can hire the most talented leaders and recruit the most gifted volunteers. You can shuck and jive with the best of them when it comes to playing the numbers game. But one wayward drip can lessen the impact:

  • Maybe it’s a reputation for not returning emails.
  • Perhaps it’s a volunteer who’s a little on the brash side.
  • It could be a facility that’s in poor condition or a strategy that’s outdated or a system that’s broken.

Whatever your leaky lid, that tends to be the things people focus on, whether you want them to or not. How can you plug a leak today?

 

Special thanks to Jason Gaston for the post idea.

I’m currently kicking around Southeast Asia, spending some time with two of our teams who are engaging with locals. If you missed yesterday’s post you can catch up here

Watch your language.

Our mamas teach us that foundational principle from the time we learn to speak: don’t talk back. Don’t use potty language. If you can’t say something nice…

I learned the cultural equivalent of this on Sunday, when I spoke at a local fellowship. I’ve learned the hard way that you don’t write a fresh message for a cross cultural context, so I pulled up what I thought would be an oldie but a goodie and started modifying.

I trimmed. And cut. And hacked and chopped and minced. I cut out every American inside joke and cultural reference I found and wished multiple times that I had a Southeast Asian joke book (1,001 Funnies to Laugh Your Way Through A Language Barrier). But in the end – even after cutting more stuff five minutes before I walked to the front – I learned a valuable lesson:

Familiar to the speaker doesn’t translate to understandable for the hearer.

You see this every weekend in your context: congregational inside jokes, ministry-specific names, obscure theological terms, and an assumption of biblical understanding that’s just not there.

So trim. Cut. Hack, chop, and mince. Do whatever it takes to make the message understandable. Because if they don’t understand it, it’s going to be hard to build on it.

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Over the last few days I’ve been hanging my proverbial hat in Southeast Asia, spending some time with a couple of our different teams who are engaging with local people groups. I’ve traveled a decent amount over the years, but there are certain situations you’re just never totally prepared for:

  • Octopus. The more you chew, the bigger it gets.
  • Seeing a tall white person in a country full of non-tall, non-white people. I’m a white person. I shouldn’t freak out that much. But I do. Oh, I do.
  • “No seriously, where’s the toilet paper. WHERE.IS.THE.TOILET.PAPER?!?”

But one of the common shocks to my system is being in a spot where signs – if they exist at all – simply don’t help. Maybe they’re not in my native language. Maybe they don’t point anywhere in particular. Maybe they’re in my language and point somewhere, but that “somewhere” moved decades ago.

Such was the case last week, when I had an eight hour layover in Istanbul and decided to explore the old city. Nothing helps you stretch your legs and forget a cramped airplane seat more than overpriced tourist baklava and a quick pass of the Hagia Sophia. So I jumped on the metro out of the airport, carefully followed the rail map as well as the advice of a trusted friend, and headed to my transfer point several kilometers away.

Only this was no ordinary transfer point. This was a transfer where I had to get off the train go up the stairs walk across a plaza go into a tunnel go down some stairs walk under a city street maneuver my way through a bazaar go back up some stairs walk across another plaza hang a right hang a left hit another street crossing and discover that I wasn’t looking for a train station at all, but an above ground rail car.

Easy enough, right?

Once I realized that the very friendly and helpful metro janitor didn’t have any ESL classes under his belt (“T Line?” / “Yes!” / “Is it this way?” / “Yes!” / “Or do I go this other way?” / “Yes!” / “We’re not getting anywhere in this conversation, are we?” / “Yes!”) , I figured I was on my own. So I did what all good American males do: I wandered. I crossed streets. Walked through tunnels. Retraced my steps. Read the signs more carefully. Stopped for ice cream. Crossed more streets. Walked the same four city blocks for about 50 minutes until I finally had a flash of insight and figured out exactly what I was supposed to be doing.

And the whole time, I was forced to think about the experience of our guests when they come into our cross cultural context on the weekend. Do our signs mean something? Are they in a common language, or do they point to MSSGs and Xtreme and The Zone and other ministry areas with catchy titles, but no context?

And perhaps most importantly, do we depend on signs as the primary method of wayfinding for our guests, or do we recognize that signs don’t replace people, and stregthen the signs with outwardly-focused, guest-driven volunteers?

Here’s the thing: three hours later I traveled the same route. I took the same trains. I made the same stops and maneuvered the same transfer. Only this time, I did it with an “I’ve been here before” sort of confidence. How much easier would it have been if I’d had a personal guide to get me where they knew I needed to go?

You need a sign. Your guests need a sign. But don’t depend on your signs as the end-all, be-all. Beef ’em up with great people to reduce the anxiety and heighten the experience.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to finish chewing this octopus.

If you lead a ministry, there’s a little something extra that will lavish grace on those you’re reaching. If you manage a team, there’s a way you can interact that will build cohesion. If you’re raising kids, there are tiny touches that will make lifelong memories out of otherwise mundane moments.

The key is to figure out the tiny tweak that will set your specialty apart. Sharon Al-Doost did. If you’ve never heard of Sharon, you should. She’s better known as the Lunch Lady, and every day she sings and jokes her way through the menu on her cafeteria’s phone line. Stop what you’re doing right now and call her: (510) 351-7654.

No seriously. Call her. Now. I’ll wait. And you’ll thank me and add her to your speed dial and call her up every once in a while just to check in.

Read the entire original post.

(click for photo credit)

(click for photo credit)

I work in a church office. And while we have a good number of ladies on our staff, we have a huge amount of dudes. And basic math tells you that lots of dudes = lots of mess. Not to be too judgmental, but there are days when “looks like a frat house” would actually be a nice description of our office’s cleanliness. Messy desks, cluttered bookshelves, bathrooms with bacteria so big you could rope ’em up and ride ’em in a rodeo.

So a few weeks ago, the – ahem – neatniks on our team took some action. We developed a quick and dirty guide (pardon the pun) to keeping things clean around the office.

Why is that important? Is it because we like mandating regulations and ruling with an iron fist, crushing anyone who dares to violate? Well, yes. (Who doesn’t?) But more than that, it’s because we believe that a First Impressions culture has to start with the leaders. And if we can’t pick up after ourselves, we can never expect volunteers to help us keep a clean facility and therefore be ready to welcome company on the weekend.

Maybe your staff culture works the same way. Maybe “culture” doesn’t describe a code as much as bacterial crud. So with that in mind, I present our ten point manifesto, slightly amended for public use.

Enjoy. And keep it clean out there, kids.

Ten Practical Tips to Keep the New Space (and Old Space) Clean: 

1. Pick up the trash. Inside. Outside. Your space. Someone else’s space. If you see a gum wrapper, SummitKids pick up sticker, or discarded copy of People of God, consider it yours and throw it away.

2. Wipe down the sink. When you wash your hands (and you should), spend an extra fifteen seconds wiping up the water. Don’t forget faucet handles and walls that you might have splattered.

3. Be choosy with leftovers. We get it: your meeting participants only drank ¾ of that 2 liter and you want to bless others with it. But ask yourself: will anyone drink the Sam’s Choice Diet Cola in the kitchen? Probably not, because you’re cheap and it’s gross. Pour it out.

4. Turn out the lights. Make Al Gore proud. If you leave a room and you have reason to believe no one will reenter the room within 15 minutes, save some electricity.

5. Return the space as you found it. Scratch that: return it better than you found it. Chairs up, table clean, white board erased.

6. Pick up your packages. UPS, Fed Ex, and USPS delivers daily. As you’re wandering by the front, check the labels and take your stuff where it should go. And even if you didn’t order any stuff, somebody did. And if it looks good to you…

7. Clean the kitchen. Seriously…no one should have to say this, but your mama doesn’t work here. Facilities covers a lot of areas, but washing your dishes is a big NO in every category. If you’re not willing to wash it, don’t use it.

8. Report what’s broken. Burned out bulb? Chipped paint? Stopped up sink? You can always go to [internal form] and put in a request.

9. Take out the trash. This is varsity level stuff right here. If you’re at the end of an event or the middle of your work day, don’t assume that someone else will come along behind you to take out overflowing trash. If it’s full, bag it, take it to the dumpster, and replace the bag.

10. Keep your space clean. Having an office is a HIGH privilege at the Summit (ask any intern with a plastic folding desk). If you possess one, keep it presentable. Spending just 5-10 minutes per day straightening up can make a world of difference.

 

Related post: Leaders Pick Up The Trash

 

 

I’m sorry for using such strong language in the title of this post. But sometimes “ain’t” is the only word that will suffice. So I apologize to all of my English teachers from the past, whom must be very disappointed in me.

Editor’s note: “who.”

My English teachers. Pay attention.

A few weeks ago I endured that American tradition, the event that’s as American as apple pie and baseball and beating Ghana to a pulp in the World Cup. That’s right: the DMV.

I love my local DMV, because one visit gives me roughly 14 months of blogging material. It’s like the What Not To Wear of the guest services world. When I go to the DMV I’m exposed to surliness. Excessive rudeness. Confusion, anger, and anxiety. (And that’s just me after standing in line for twenty minutes. The actual DMV employees are much worse.)

But I digress. My plainte de la journée (sorry, French teachers) for this visit centered around signage. Lots of signage. Everywhere-you-look signage. Confusing signage. Too much signage.

Had I taken the time to read it all, I would have known that I was supposed to have No Food or Drinks. I would have realized that DEBIT CARDS ARE NOT ACCEPTED. I would have seen that I needed to go left for Dup. Registration or right for Duplicate Titles (I’m sorry, didn’t you just duplicate that?).

The DMV is a visual wonderland of signs, signs, and more signs. New signs. Old signs. Faded signs. Torn signs. Misspelled signs. Signs with masking tape. Signs with Scotch tape. Signs upon signs upon signs.

Hey DMV: if you’re looking for a sign, I’ll give you one…SIMPLIFY.

Our churches run the same risk. It may be too much signage. It might be too many brochures on the information table. Or too many handouts in the welcome bag. Or too many options on the website, or…or…or…

Too much on the menu doesn’t reduce anxiety, it creates it. I walk into my local DMV and don’t know what to look at first. Because everything screams HEY I’M IMPORTANT LOOK AT ME, nothing is important. And so I still have to wait in line to talk to someone who’s been hired solely on their ability to growl, and direct my question to them.

Take a look around your facility. What do you see when you look at:

  • Your front doors? Is the glass or wood covered in flyers, posters, or outdated event notices?
  • Your guest bag? Do you include easy, understandable, achievable next steps? Or do you try to sign a guest up for a volunteer team on their first visit?
  • Your information table? Is it covered with brochures for kids ministry, women’s ministry, the church softball league, and the local homeschoolers group? Does the material compete for quality (in other words, one brochure is professionally printed while another was designed by a volunteer with five minutes of word processing experience)?
  • Your worship guide? Do the announcements on the guide match what’s being said on stage? Are you shoving every. Last. Thing that you can come up with in there? Do your guests really need to know what’s on the Wednesday night supper menu six weeks from now?
  • Your stage / screen? If you use visual announcements, are they short? Relevant? Engaging? If you use a communicator for announcements, is he/she able to stick to a few main talking points and call for action?

Simplify. If it’s all important, nothing is important.

 

(If you’re looking for a couple of great books that go into fantastic detail on this subject, check out Less Clutter, Less Noise by my friend Kem Meyer, and Dangerous by my buddy Cleve Persinger, et al.)

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