First Impressions


photo

[Quick note: after I drafted this post last week, I heard from my friend Jason Young, who compiled the mother lode of guest services reading for the summer. You can find that list here or on Jason’s blog (which should be in your bookmarks, anyway). Alrighty, now on to the post…]

It’s that time once again, campers: time to dust off your beach bags and fill ’em with beach reads and head to the beach. Unless you’re like me – a guy who hates the beach – in which case you’ll stay inside out of the sunlight and as close to the air conditioning vent as is humanly possible.

There are plenty of bloggers out there who are offering up a fantastic eclectic mix of summer reads. Trevin Wax published his last week, and it’s been making the rounds quicker than a stomach bug in a first grade classroom.

I thought it might be fun to put out my seven favorite reads from the last year or so, all centered around guest services. And away we go…

Disney U: How Disney University Develops the World’s Most Engaged, Loyal, and Customer-Centric Employees, Doug Lipp. Lipp trained under Van France, the first to implement Cast Member training at Disneyland. Reading this book will inspire you to capture the same kind of magic for your church vols.

The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, Atul Gawande. You will instantly bear the title of “nerd” if you order this book. But you’ll also thank me. Gawande is a Gladwell-esque style writer who uses fantastic stories to illustrate the ingenious importance of a simple checklist. Don’t love it ’til you’ve tried it.

Secret Service: Hidden Systems that Deliver Unforgettable Customer ServiceJohn DiJulius. I’ve never recommended a book on hair salons before. And chances are, you’ve never read one. But DiJulius has captured the essence of his chain’s service with one (paraphrased) statement: “We don’t provide $100 haircuts. We provide $25 haircuts with $100 worth of experience.”

Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, Simon Sinek. Sinek unintentionally explains one of our First Impressions plumblines: the why is more important than the what. Get a grasp on how you help your volunteers know not just what they do, but why they do it.

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration, Ed Catmull. We’re all fans of Pixar movies: whether it’s Toy StoryA Bug’s Life, or that classic kiddie movie about an old man whose wife died and left him to float away in his house, Pixar knows how to tell a story. Learn the method behind their team’s madness.

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell. Some research says that a person will make eleven separate decisions about you within the first seven seconds of contact. How can you use that knee jerk reaction for both your benefit and theirs? Get inside the mind of your guests – and your vols – with the help of a fantastic storyteller.

Why Church Buildings Matter: The Story of Your Space, Tim Cool. Tim walks the reader through what your facility – owned or rented – says about what you value.

What about an eighth? Or a ninth? Got any great guest services reads that need to be on my reading list for the summer? Comment below.

 

Wedding Crashers

Last weekend I attended two weddings in northern Virginia. The first I was invited to: the oldest son of our seminary besties got married, simultaneously taking the best selfie that I’ve ever personally witnessed.

The second was not one that I was necessarily invited to, unless you count “invited” as “I used my spiritual gift of nosiness to watch a wedding go down at the hotel where we were staying.”

I emerged from my hotel room at about 9 AM Sunday, fully expecting to grab a cup of coffee from the hotel lobby and kick back with my Bible to get some literal quiet time. (We were traveling sans three year old, so my wife and sons were exercising their spiritual gifts of sleeping until check out.) But the quiet time never happened. I walked out into the cool Virginia morning to hear the nadaswaram rocking and to see the stage being set for a genuine Hindu wedding.

If you’re like me, you didn’t grow up with genuine Hindu weddings. You grew up with genuine Southern Baptist weddings: elegant soirees with the exact same vows usually officiated by the exact same preacher followed by a reception in the exact same gym decorated with the exact same lattice while you enjoyed the exact same butter mints. 

Oh sure, I knew lots of different couples who got married in lots of different churches, but all the DNA of all the ceremonies were a 99.14% match. In other words: I’m familiar with Southern Baptist weddings. I know how they work. I know what all the traditions and trappings mean (for example: butter mints mean you’re too cheap to spring for a buffet).

But a Hindu wedding? Entirely unfamiliar. That’s why I was pleasantly surprised when 9:55 rolled around and an announcer took the stage, explaining that the wedding would be commencing in five minutes and that she would be serving as an emcee of sorts, explaining what each of the traditions meant as we went along.

And so she did. From the entrance of the groom and the welcome of the bride’s family to the exchanging of garlands to the blessing of the couple by the priest, the emcee broke down every element of the service for the non-Hindu wedding guests and the non-guest / creepy pastor who was hanging out fifty feet away. While I couldn’t stay for the entire ceremony (Hindu weddings go long but my check out time only went till noon), I caught as much as I could, aided greatly in my understanding by the helpful emcee.

What does this have to do with the price of chole bhature in Delhi? Quite a lot, actually. I was struck on Sunday morning not only that I was a minority culture, but that I felt like a minority culture. I was an outsider in the truest sense, trying to make heads or tails of traditions that were entirely foreign to me. I was trading my 20 minute wedding ceremony for an all-day affair, my church gym reception with a lavish party, and I didn’t have a clue what any of it meant.

But the emcee did. And she faithfully guided us through the meaning of each element of the service. And so, as an outsider, I was able to feel a little more like an insider.

Every single weekend, someone shows up at your church with the same level of knowledge that I had at a Hindu wedding. They don’t understand communion (“Okay everybody, time to drink the blood and eat the flesh of the man who died for us.”). They don’t understand baptism (“So I went to this church, and they pushed this fully clothed guy under the water for no good reason.”). They definitely don’t understand the offering (“I told you those church people were just after my money.” / “Is it okay if I make change?”).

Churches that plan for their guests and want them to return will provide an emcee of sorts. Churches that want to make outsiders insiders will take frequent moments throughout the service and explain what’s about to happen and why. It doesn’t have to be a theological defense. It doesn’t have to be an extended soapbox. It just needs to convey the value of the moment and the value of the guest.

It’s time to grade your service: how do you address the wedding crashers?

84kb cropped version

…when things get familiar, we tend to get sloppy. We turn inward to our own convenience rather than outward for the sake of our guests. We structure systems around our comfort rather than ease of use for someone who’s new.

That’s why I’d encourage you…every once in a while…to take another look. Arrive at your weekend worship experience with the heart of a pastor and the mind of a critic. Look for things that are incredibly basic to you, but might be incredibly confusing to a guest.

Read the entire post – including six ways to take another look – here.

(click for photo credit)

(click for photo credit)

Way back when I was a bivocational pastor and moonlighted in the business world for about 25 minutes, I attended a few of those events where an inspirational speaker would stand and talk about how he changed his life through motivational excellence and You Can Too.  Usually they were somebody who had gotten so unbelievably excellent at their job that they had shot from the mailroom to middle management to CEO and then blew right out of the building to the ultimate in the business world: Consultant.  The consultants would usually pad their pockets with extra cash by flying around to business people events and help the rest of us morons figure out not only how to have excellence on par with Abraham Lincoln, the Dalai Lama, and Bruce Springsteen, but also how we could file our papers more effectively.  And they usually just charged $199 to get you to be as awesomely excellent as they were, and they even threw in an attractive leatherette portfolio with stars embossed on it.

One of the excellent guys (who actually was better than most of them) talked about the power of active listening.  He had a habit of going into a retail store, and when the cashier would mumble, “How are you today, sir?”  He would smile all bright and cheery and reply, “Your face is on fire!”

Read the entire original post here.

(photo courtesy @AaronJCoalson)

(photo courtesy @AaronJCoalson)

We’re coming off of another incredible Easter weekend at the Summit. 18 services at seven locations, plus two worship events on Good Friday. 169 people who symbolized their faith in Jesus through the act of baptism. Nearly 10,500 people in attendance. Hundreds upon hundreds of faithful volunteers, many serving multiple services over several days. And oh…did I mention that two campuses combined for a first-ever service at Carolina Theatre downtown?

I don’t take any of those things lightly. Lives changed through the gospel is nothing to sneeze at. Our volunteers are my absolute heroes, and there are not many words to express my gratitude to them. Hundreds of first time guests were exposed to the resurrection message of Jesus. God did more than we could have asked or imagined, and we are grateful to him for that.

But there is one aspect of Easter weekend that cannot be missed. It has nothing to do with baptisms or first time guests or volunteers, and yet it has everything to do with that.

Like most churches with multiple services, we made a big push for our regular attendees to attend at a service they normally wouldn’t, to free up seats for those who may be showing up for the first time. At our Brier Creek campus, we asked for people to consider coming on Saturday (same experience, more elbow room) in order to create room on Sunday (a more traditional time for a first time guest to surface).

And boy, did they ever.

We saw 1110 people show up and scoot in for the 4:00 Saturday service. Our previous “high” for that service is 740. Folks, that’s a 50% increase, even by common core math standards. We packed the auditorium, packed the lobby (pictured above), and tossed 100 more into a secondary venue that wasn’t supposed to be used until the following day.

And because of everyone that showed up at a time normally inconvenient to them, we created space that lasted us the rest of the weekend. What we thought would be crowded, wasn’t. Where we didn’t believe we’d have room, we did. The “80% full is full” rule didn’t apply. Not a single guest was turned away, not a single guest was put off by the sardine-like conditions, and I credit that largely to the faithfulness of our regular crowd.

Here’s what we’ve learned over the last several years: mission trumps need, every single time. Many times churches appeal to need: “We need you to come at a time you hate so that we don’t have to turn people away!” “We need you to serve in the nursery or we’ll have to toss babies on the sidewalk!” “We need you to volunteer or this place will go down like the Titanic!”

And while need always has it’s place, it’s not sustainable. People get tired of responding to need after a while, and so…they don’t.

Instead, we prefer to appeal to mission. We asked people to temporarily move to Saturday because it was a missional opportunity to make room for guests. It was a way they could practically, easily serve. Was it a need? Sure it was. But more than that, it was a part of the mission. We say all the time that people are the missionand for that reason, making room for new people was a critical step in the mission.

How about it, church leader? Are you banging the drum of need? Or are you faithfully casting vision for the mission?

 

(click for photo credit)

(click for photo credit)

Pastors: they’re coming.

Easter weekend is one of the two largest church attendance weekends in any calendar year. People attend church with Grandma. Irreligious people come because it’s still the socially acceptable thing to do in some parts of the country. Folks who are normally sporadic in attendance wouldn’t think of skipping church on Easter.

And pastors…well, we pastors don’t generally know what to do with the new-found fullness of our auditoriums. So we freak out. We nervously resort to humor or snarkiness or futile attempts at bridging the gap.

We say things like, “We want to extend a welcome to the poinsettia and lily crowd!” or “Thanks for coming. We’ll see you again at Christmas.” (No seriously, I’ve heard both of these things said by a real pastor to a real congregation.) And while we think it’s cute, or funny, or disarming, it’s really anything but.

What we mean to be appealing is insulting.

What we hope makes a point is really pointless.

Instead of drawing people in, it chases them away. Instead of bringing comfort to the outsider, it just keeps them on the outside. And instead of helping your cause, it’s hurting your church.

I get it. Shoot, I’ve said things like this in the past. But what we have to remember is that any step towards the Church is still a step. It still takes effort. You’re going to have guests this weekend who wrestled with the decision to come, but in the end, they honored you with their presence. So please, don’t insult them with your comments and give them one more reason not to show up the following weekend.

Rather than snarky one-liners, how about grace? How about an easy next step? How about a way to connect to other people, and most importantly, to the cross?

Jesus took those who were on the outside and he brought them in. Regardless of how long it had been, regardless of how far they had wandered, regardless of how far they had to go…the message of Good Friday and Easter Sunday is that new life is available to anyone who asks and the grace of Jesus meets us at the point of our deepest need.

They’re coming. The Holy Spirit is drawing brand new honored guests to your services this weekend. How will you serve them?

(click for photo credit)

(click for photo credit)

A few weeks ago the Franks crew made a stop at a Starbucks.  I love Starbucks like fundamentalists love denim jumpers.  They are all about customizing the experience for the customer and delivering the element of “surprise and delight” as Joseph Michelli mentions in his bestseller The Starbucks ExperienceOur visit that day illustrated that point well.

As my 14 year old Jacob was waiting on his drink, the barista behind the counter took a glance at his baseball jacket.  As he walked away from the cash register, he casually said, “Second baseman, right?”

Both Jacob and I were stunned that he nailed Jacob’s position, so much so that all Jacob could stutter was, “Um…uh…yessir.”

We basked in that moment until he came back with the drink, when he said, “So aren’t you going to ask me how I knew?”

I jumped in, “Well if he won’t, will.  How could you tell?”

 

Read the full original post here

Somebody's gotta launch Lego Church. Might as well be us.

Somebody’s gotta launch Lego Church. Might as well be us.

I spent the last few days in a guest services geek’s dreamland: I was fortunate enough to sit around a table with seventeen of the sharpest church hospitality minds in the country. We came from churches of different backgrounds (from maybe-sorta-traditional to hey-wow-you’re-not-traditional-at-all), churches of different sizes (from really big to good-glory-are-you-a-church-or-the-population-of-Montana), and churches with varying philosophies and approaches to how we do just about everything.

But one thing united us all, and that’s our vision that churches nationwide must step up to reach those who are far from Jesus. In addition to being missional communities who send people out, we have to be attractional communities that welcome people in. It’s not either/or, it’s both/and.

By the time the first sixty minutes of our conversation had elapsed, my brain was full. I picked off enough ideas and “aha!” moments to last me for months (and I’ll share many of those with you in the days to come). Even this morning – a half a day removed from the event – my mind is racing as I try to process some of the things I learned and some of the topics we discussed.

But here’s my first big takeaway: planning is not the same as dreaming. 

I plan a lot of things: from weekend volunteer teams to training opportunities to large scale events, planning runs in my blood. I love it. I love wrestling a spreadsheet under my control, ticking every little item off my to do list, and seeing it all come together at the end of the day. And the insidious nature of planning the work and working the plan is this: you feel like you’ve accomplished something.

But planning isn’t the same as dreaming. Executing a plan doesn’t mean you’ve created an experience. I can plan an event down to precise detail but never see the experience change from one time to the next. So if I never take time to dream, my plans will never really evolve into something better.

When it comes to guest services, I’m prone to take the easiest, cheapest, simplest, pragmatic-ist way out. I want it to be replicable across eight campuses. I want it to be simple for our staff and volunteer teams to understand. I dumb down the plans in the name of simplicity. But creativity is not the enemy of simplicity.

Here’s what I learned this week: sometimes you need to just dream. Forget the practical nature of what you do. Forget the budgetary constraints. Forget your lack of volunteers. Yesterday eighteen of us spent a couple of hours simply dreaming: “What if we could implement this?” “What if we had a blank check?” “What if we had an unlimited staff or a bottomless pool of volunteers or 27 hours in a day?”

When we get to the end of the “What if?” road, we know there will still be some limitations there. We’ll never have unlimited cash or the millions of volunteers we hope for. But the great thing about dreaming is that it knocks the ceiling off of some of our preconceived notions. When we get out of the world of spreadsheets and checklists and start staring into the blue sky of creativity, we see new things evolve. New initiatives arise. New values emerge. And sometimes those new insights may indeed mean just adding a couple of volunteers here or a couple hundred bucks there. But that small tweak is the thing that raises the bar and helps us truly create an experience that captures the imaginations of our guests and points them to the truths of the gospel.

So how about it, guest services friends? Ministry friends? Leader friends? Are you planning or are you dreaming?

 

To find out more about what we’ve been up to the last few days, check out a couple of posts by our fearless leader Bob Adams here and here.

 

(photo credit: Brian Fleming Photography)

(photo credit: Brian Fleming Photography)

My adopted hometown of Durham, North Carolina is known for a lot of things: we’re the City of Medicine. We’re historically a tobacco town (because smoking and medicine go great together). We’re the home of Duke basketball. And we have a grilled cheese food truck (your move, Charlotte).

But one of Durham’s best attractions is our own Durham Bulls baseball team. I’ll be honest: I’m not a baseball fan, but I’m a huge Durham Bulls fan. Our church has partnered with their organization to host a couple of large scale events in the park. I love their staff, I love the organization, I love the park.

That’s why I was so excited to see them come to the end of a recent 20 million dollar renovation. The goal was for them to finish prior to opening day last Thursday, but that’s not exactly what happened. While the game went on as planned, there were hiccups across the board: concessions weren’t up to par. Construction wasn’t finished. Credit card machines were down. Their pets’ heads were falling off.

As an event guy, I get it. I appreciate it. Stuff happens, and sometimes that stuff is out of your control. Durham faced an insane winter that kept construction from happening on time. And by the way: I’m glad to know we’re not the only ones who see deadlines flash past us no matter how hard we work. It happens to the best folks out there.

On opening night, I genuinely felt bad for the Bulls’ organization as I saw the critics take to Twitter to highlight their first world problems: You ran out of fresh-squeezed lemonade! I had to stand in a line longer than the foot-long corn dog I was standing in line to buy! Your credit card machines wouldn’t allow me to go into debt for a beer!

But I digress. I was thrilled to see the way that the Bulls’ General Manager Mike Birling handled the situation. The following day, Birling sent an email to all ticket holders. He didn’t spin it, he didn’t defend it, he just owned up to the fail and told fans what he was going to do to make things right.

Screen Shot 2014-04-08 at 6.51.13 AM

So what do you do when your good systems go bad? When your good plans go awry? When your good intentions get kicked to the curb? How do you handle a guest services fail?

You can ignore it. You can chalk it up to “just one of those things.” You can tell people to suck it up and stop being consumers. Or you can take a cue from Mike Birling: own it. Apologize for it. And tell what you’re doing to fix it.

That’s one way to hit it out of the park.

For those of us in ministry world, we hear that statement too many times. “I’m just a volunteer.” That statement can mean a lot of things: This job isn’t that big of a deal…I don’t have any real authority…What does it matter?…I don’t want to do that.

But however deep you dig, the statement is still wrong. You’re never just a volunteer. You’re way more than that:

So before you soft sell your service as a volunteer, remember: you’re never “just” anything. You’re an ambassador for the kingdom. A part of the royal priesthood. A living, breathing, functioning part of the body of Christ.

« Previous PageNext Page »