(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.


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.

Jesus Hates Religion. He Really Does. (via @FoxNews) Boom diggity. Read it. Remember it. I know I need to.

I think we as Christians have a reputation as conversation stoppers. When we engage people on the other side of an issue, most of the time, the conversation doesn’t end the way we want it to. It gets stopped short or our side of the issue ends up being misrepresented. And that’s largely our fault.  We prefer to be heard, as opposed to actually listening. We want the benefit of the doubt, but we’re reluctant to give it. Instead, we lead with our idea of what’s right and wrong – our belief – instead of leading with love.


First Things First. (via @_Jeff_J, HT @JasonYoungLive) Love this. Let’s not get so caught up in the bells and whistles that we forget the basics.

Second mile service behaviors will not create “wow” experiences if our guests are blinded to them because of the absence of excellence in 1st mile services. We can’t wow our guests if we can’t meet their most basic expectations. It doesn’t matter how many bottles of lotion, packs of mints, or what type of flowers adorn our restrooms if there is no toilet paper or the floor is dirty, or the garbage needs to be emptied (ever found yourself in this situation?). The “wow” simply doesn’t land.


An Octopus Unscrews a Jar from the Inside. (via @LaughingSquid) Welp, I’ll never sleep again. This is horrifying.





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.)

Almost finished with the Strawberry Black Pepper. Next up: Salted Butter Caramel.

Almost finished with the Strawberry Black Pepper. Next up: Salted Butter Caramel.

Haven’s pretty sure she digs the Black Pepper, too.

Yesterday was Father’s Day, which means one thing in our family:

Ice cream for dinner.

Father’s Day Ice Cream Dinner has become somewhat of an annual tradition, because (a) I’m the father and (b) I love ice cream and (c) I rarely win a dinner argument the other 364 days of the year.

But everybody in my family loves ice cream for dinner, and everybody in my family loves going to one of two local Durham ice cream joints: Locopops or The Parlour.

Locopops is on the inexpensive side. The Parlour…is not. You can drop five bucks on two scoops faster than you can say Espresso-Infused Whipped Cream. But you know what? I keep going back and gleefully handing over my money, because both of those shops are way different than my local 31 flavors.

Whether it’s the pint of Vietnamese Coffee at Locopops or the just-tried-it-last-night-for-the-first-time Strawberry Black Pepper at The Parlour (don’t love it till you’ve tried it), they just do it differently. They don’t subscribe to the normal roster of “exotic” flavors like chocolate chip cookie dough or Moose Tracks. Nope. They’re rockin’ Blueberry Buttermilk, Fluffernutter, Mango Chile, Lime Lemongrass, and Corn (yes, as in the vegetable).

When you do things differently, people take notice.

It works the same way in the church. Granted, we should all be dealing in the same “product.” There’s no need to repackage the gospel into a newer and better flavor. You don’t have to fancify it for different palates. The gospel has done pretty well for the last 2000 years, with or without the help of locally grown, pasture raised, antibiotic free ingredients.

But that may be the only place that we should draw the line on “newer and better.” Some of our churches are extremely cutting edge for 1963. We’re satisfied that we greet guests and sing songs the way we did back in our great-great grandparents’ day. We don’t want to change anything because we’re comfortable, regardless of how that impacts the comfort of our guests.

But when we do it differently, people take notice. When we give thought to the guest experience, we position ourselves differently than a lot of churches our guests have visited. When we consider their needs greater than our own, we set ourselves apart from the same old flavors they expect.

I believe that the gospel is offensive, but nothing else should be. I want to see a new lineup of flavors roll out so that people far from Jesus can get closer to him.

How about it? What’s your Strawberry Black Pepper on your menu? Comment below.


(click for photo credit)

(click for photo credit)

The first time my wife and I went to a Broadway show, we saw the value of a good usher in action. From the moment we entered the theater, we were literally ushered to our seats. If you’ve ever experienced Broadway, you know the drill: The usher who scans your ticket points you toward the correct entrance…there is another usher who points you toward the correct aisle, where there is yet another usher who walks you directly to your row and motions to your seats. In that first Broadway experience, we knew that as long as we had our ticket in hand for the ushers to see, they would do all the work. We were along for the ride. That’s usher service. [emphasis mine]

Read the entire original post here.

Shell Station


I snapped this little jewel a few weeks back at the gas station just down the road from my office. In case you can’t tell what the gentleman in the picture is doing, he’s not trying to fish a bird out of the pump header. He’s not seeing how far he can reach with his stick, thereby one-upping his co-worker who currently holds the record with eight feet, two inches.

Nope, he’s taking care of the details while cleaning up around the station. I watched as he took the pole, covered it with a dusting cloth, and proceeded to clean underneath the covering at the top of the pump.

Can I tell you how many times I’ve looked underneath pump coverings? Zero. Not once in my forty 32 years have I ever given the white glove test at a gas station. But this guy has. And his work ethic is such that he believes cleanliness matters…details matter…even where no one else can see.

How does that translate for our churches? Are we taking care of the tiny details when it comes to our facilities?

  • Are we picking up the trash, even when it’s tiny trash? Even when it’s not our trash?
  • Are we keeping our storage areas tidy, so it’s easier for us (or our volunteers) to find items we need?
  • Are we noticing areas that others have long since forgotten to notice?

Seeing my friend go the extra mile did more than just make me appreciate a clean facility. It caused me to appreciate the entire business. If he’s taking care of the details in a spot I’d never think to look, then he’s probably taking care of them in spots where I would. And that probably translates to a greater loyalty on my end.

It’s a sad day for the evangelical church when a gas station attendant cares more about the details than we do. If the cleanliness of a gas pump matters, how much more should we clean up our facilities?

Do the details matter at your church?



[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.