10 Ideas You Can Steal From Guest Focused Companies

It goes without saying that a growing church is a guest focused church, so paying attention to how we can better engage those we are reaching is something that comes with the territory. The church, just like these businesses, isn't watering down what they do. It's just acknowledging their guests and communicating the importance of who they are trying to reach. 


Here are 10 ideas you can steal from guest focused businesses: 

Disney//Embrace your problems. 

Not long after Disneyland opened, Walt decided he wanted to turn the Sleeping Beauty Castle into a walk-through attraction. As he brought the engineers in to begin designing the attraction they came across a mob of feral cats. Walt knew he couldn’t exterminate the problem without an uproar so he embraced his problem. Realizing that feral cats, by nature, avoid humans, they spayed and neutered them and invited them to stay under the agreement that they keep the rodent population at bay. The relationship has worked out well and is still in place to this day. Idea: Make a list of your current top 3 obstacles. Brainstorm how you could turn these problems into opportunities. 

Google//Empower your team. 

Google creates a lot of space for their team members to stay customer focused instead of being micromanaged by rules and policies. They have implemented a number of methods to encourage increased creativity, loyalty and productivity. For example, their cafes encourage people from different teams to interact and exchange ideas; employees are encouraged to directly email any of the company’s leaders; “Google Moderator” is a tool that allows anyone to ask any question at a team meeting and the team to vote on which questions they most want to be answered; “20 Percent” allows employees to spend 20% of their work week on things that interest them most; plus they hold an end of week session where all employees can ask questions directly to the team of executives. Open communication empowers team members to do their best, most informed work. Idea: Get creative with your staff meetings, include key volunteers. Talk more about your church's strategic opportunities with more team members and open "the circle of trust".

Starbucks//Turning eyesores into marketing tools. 

I recently was sitting in my local Starbucks as it was preparing for the holiday season. Just like many other stores, Starbucks transforms its stores during the holiday season and that means more merchandise and more decorations. Most stores don’t have the space to store the extra boxes necessary for this big events so Starbucks does something genius. They place the pile of boxes where customers can see them and then slap a sticker on each box. “Anticipation is half the fun! No peeking till after closing on November 15th.” Even I want to know what’s in those boxes! Idea: Forget the storage room. New shipments coming in for Christmas services? Store them in the lobby with signs creating mysterious anticipation.

Amazon//The empty chair.

Maybe you already implement this idea in your small groups, but this “empty chair” idea is something that Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos, implements in even his boardroom meetings. It’s not just an empty chair, it’s something he periodically points out to remind the team that the empty seat is for their customer, “the most important person in the room.” While I can imagine that it get’s old hearing Bezos talk about the empty chair, the reminder is one that is incredibly important. Idea: Empty chair at every meeting…even the small staff ones. 

Tesla//More than one dashboard.

Tesla has found that engaged teams drive 15% more profitability, are 30% more productive and lead to 62% less safety issues. A big piece of that team engagement is built around data sharing. Tesla created a dashboard to display results from it’s valuable (and anonymous) internal survey that let team members share feedback and concerns. They also provide a deeper dive into the results through the team dashboard. Idea: Do you have a dashboard for your staff and key volunteers? How do they know what the current wins and obstacles are? 

Nordstrom//I’ll solve your problem, even if it isn’t my fault. 

As a church grows and more people become involved it’s easy for the team to pass the blame. Just think of the poor delivery guy who just wants someone to accept a delivery only to have each team member dismiss him because they don’t want to take ownership. Nordstrom decidedly fights against that mentality. Their return policy is the gold standard among department stores. There is no return counter, just approach any sales associate and they will take back any item, anytime, receipt or not. That’s putting the customer first, absolute first. Idea: Every team member is a tour guide. Instead of pointing or saying “You should talk to Jim”, walk each person to the appropriate place or person (whether that’s the delivery man or a first-time guest). 

Sweetwater//Keeping it personal. 

Sweetwater is an audio and video online merchant, a business segment that can very easily be transactional. While they are a growing company (last tracked at 850 employees) they make every interaction feel personal. Immediately after every order, each customer receives a confirmation email with a personal feel. Then one of their sales engineers calls just to see if you had any questions (no up-sell, just checking in). Customers may even get another phone call after they receive an email confirmation that their order has shipped. Idea: Personal follow up with every guest. Even in today's digital leaning society, a phone call can stand out.  

Chick-fil-A//Have a little grace. 

Chick-fil-A employees are taught to sit up and pay attention to the fact that “every life has a story, and often our customers and our employees need a little grace and a little space when you deal with them because they are either experiencing a problem, just finished having a problem, or are about to have one.” That statement couldn’t be more true at church. Idea: Any time a team member starts to complain about a situation or person in the church, remind them that everyone needs "grace and a little space”.

USAA//Leverage Technology

Having worked with a number of banks over my life, USAA stands firmly at the front of the line and I have yet to meet someone that will leave this bank (not something you hear very often about banks).  USAA leads the pack in a very competitive industry by leveraging technology to power customer experiences and foster trust. They use everything from biometric authentication on their mobile app to messaging bots powered by natural language processing and machine learning technology. USAA uses technology to make their customer’s lives easier, not more complicated. Idea: How are you leveraging technology? Most people, in this day and age, expect to be able to do anything digitally that they can do in person. Is that true at your church? Think event registration, giving, and even message notes.

KLM//Easy to reach. 

KLM, a Dutch airline, is pushing the boundaries as they explore using Facebook Messenger to interact with their customers. Using the Facebook app customers can download boarding passes, get updates about delays and even get in touch with a human support rep. Not only does this create a better experience for their customer, but it also gives them a direct line of communication with each of their customers. Idea: Explore using Facebook messenger to interact with your guests. How cool of an experience would it be for someone exploring faith and checking out your church to be able to connect with a real person? 

These 10 companies are examples of customer focus, they aren't just functioning as a business type. Neither should the church. You aren't leading just any old church. You are leading a church in a specific community to unique people and reaching those unique people is your responsibility. 

What other customer focused experiences can you learn from? Who are the companies you most enjoy interacting with and what can you do to make your church the same kind of experience? 

Why Church Stats Aren’t As Bad As You Think

How big is your church? 

The question the single-handedly created a whole new category, the “Pastor Numbers”. 

235 is supposed to round up to 300, right? 

It does in Pastor Numbers. 

If you read that and laughed, that’s awesome. While it’s a sad truth, at least we can laugh about it. If you read that and it makes you crazy, I understand…but don’t let it completely ruin the value of counting. 

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While deep down we know that pastoral ministry is about souls, not stats…but stats can still have some value in our soul seeking endeavor. 

Let’s agree on one thing, the goal of our life’s work is to introduce people to Jesus and teach them what he has taught us. That’s our ultimate objective. 

If you can agree with me on that, then measurements can help us move toward that. 

The Thermometer 

Just like a thermometer, measurements can help us diagnose what’s happening (both good and bad) in our church. It’s easy to be discouraged when less people show up this week then last, but if you are able to look back at the same month in past years you may see that previous years experienced the same trend, giving you a healthy dose of perspective.

It can also help to uncover which ministries are working and which are not any longer. Knowing how things are going helps you assess whether the investment in time, money and volunteer manpower is having the effect you planned. 

The Problem With Feelings

Sometimes your gut is right, sometimes it’s not (it may just be influenced by a one-off conversation). I remember a few season ago, we made a big change to how we advertised our small groups. Most of the long-standing group leaders complained that the new group's catalog was too confusing. Thankfully we reviewed our signup numbers and realized that while it might have felt more confusing to long-standing leaders, we actually had significantly increased the amount of people who signed up for groups. If we had gone only with our “gut” we would have ditched a completely successful marketing tool. 

Scoreboards Help With Momentum

Everyone wants to be on a winning team and it’s tough to know if you're winning if you don’t have a scoreboard. Imagine you are talking to your neighbor about your favorite sports team without talking about any sort of stat. What would you say? “My team is the best. They play hard. They practice on Wednesday nights and have games on Sunday mornings. Plus you should see their logo. It’s such a great team.” I don't know about you, but wouldn’t be that impressed. 

But if instead you said, “My team is the best. They have twice as many rushing yards as this time last year. Plus they have sold out the last 3 games.” If you invited your neighbor to join you at the next game, do you think they’d be more likely to join you? 

Numbers can be useless if all we use them for is vanity. But if you choose to harness them to your benefit they can be incredibly helpful. 

Bonus: If you’re looking for a simple (and free) way to start tracking some of your numbers check out ChurchMetrics.com. It’s a simple customizable resource that will help you point to the numbers that matter. Just make sure you enter real numbers in there…not those pastor numbers. 

5 Steps To Get Your Team Excited About the Future

I would bet you have a preferred future. You can see a better future for your church, but getting your team to see the same thing you do can be hard. And when they get it, if they don’t see a plan to get there, their excitement can quickly turn to discouragement. 

They can feel like the team is “behind the eight ball,” like any move forward is blocked. 

Before you know it, a scarcity mentality can creep in. "Yeah, but we don’t have enough leaders to do that." "Yeah, but we don’t have enough money to get there." "Yeah, but we don’t have enough time to get that done."  

Why don’t the get it? 

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Most often, they haven’t had the chance to wrestle with the problem. 

I’m not talking about thinking about the problem. That can happen in an instant. You can point toward a change that needs to happen, and they can think about it in that moment and agree, but they haven’t wrestled. 

Even then, it can feel like there are too many problems that need to be solved (more than you know…everyone has an opinion). And if you don’t approach these problems in a strategic manner it can feel like your team is always pushing uphill. 

So, instead of getting stuck “behind the eight ball,” allow your team to focus on what’s most important and start building some momentum. Easy, early wins to get things moving forward.

Enter the “Eight Ball Challenge”, to help your team wrestle with the problem and make progress toward the future. All while building buy-in and excitement around what the future might hold. 

Step 1// Define the Canvas
It’s easy to see every problem in every area of the church. Take a moment to focus the team on an area, department or program that needs attention. 

Step 2// List All The Issues
Grab a whiteboard and start brainstorming. Ask the team to list every issue, small or large that needs to be addressed in the next few months. Let the list get as long as needed. Write everything down. Even if you think it’s only a personal opinion. 

Step 3// Vote
Ask your team to vote on their top 5 issues. Give them a marker and tell them they have five votes. They can put them all on one issue if they think it’s most important or they can spread them around to up to five issues they think are most important to solve right now. Once everyone has completed their vote, tally the results and highlight the top 5 issues that need to be addressed. Those are going to be the most important focus for the next few months. (Team leader gets veto power and can replace any of the top issues if they see fit)

Step 4// Discuss the Who/What/When
For each of the top 5 issues, discuss WHAT needs to happen to resolve that issue. WHO on the team can run point? How can everyone on the team help address the issue? And WHEN they think it can be resolved. 

Step 5// Review Regularly
Then, as a part of your regular meeting rhythm, review these top 5 issues and their progress. You don’t have to spend a bunch of time on the details, but regularly putting them in front of the team will help drive progress (no one likes to see a project stall…that’s just embarrassing). 


If your team can recognize the most important issues and be able to visualize their resolve, that breeds excitement. Everyone is a part of the solution and the entire team gets excited about the progress. Every early win adds fuel to the fire. 

Soon enough, no one will feel like “behind the eight ball” and problems don’t seem as big because the team begins to believe they have the power and tools to tackle them. 

Go for it, take that eight ball and throw it in the trash. Don’t let it ever get in the way again.