Last week as I was on the road with my work, I stopped by a specialty pizza parlor. I was by myself and had my journal in hand, ready to pen some notes about the day while I waited for a personal-sized pizza. This is actually a little out of character for me; I usually grab something extremely simple and fast, usually at a place with large yellow arches. But the town I was visiting had a quaint, old-towne feel to it, and I thought I’d take advantage of the visit to try something local and distinctive rather than predictable and common. So into the small parlor I went and took my seat at one of the first booths along the narrow walkway between kitchen and cash register. The smells were wonderful, and I was more eager than ever to try their pizza. There were a few patrons at other tables. Waiters and waitresses rushed this way and that, all of them walking right by my table.
I sat there for several minutes, and no one stopped by to give me a menu or take my order. I began to wonder if I’d misunderstood the rules: maybe I was supposed to order at the front counter or wait at the door to be seated. I actually left my journal and cell phone on the table for a minute and went back to the front door and checked out the sign. It said, “Please seat yourself.” So I returned to my seat. Waiters and waitresses continued to walk by me like I was invisible. I started staring at them, trying to catch the eye of one of them. A couple of them actually met my eyes with theirs, and kept walking by. One of them stopped at the empty booth beside me and set down a pile of knives and forks and started wrapping them in napkins. He saw me, and I looked at him and raised my eyebrows, and he did nothing but return to his work. I finally got up again and walked to the Host Station and pulled a menu out of the slot where they were kept and took it to my seat. The waiter sorting silverware saw me do this, and said nothing. I read the menu and made my selection. Still, no one waited on me. Other people who had come in after me had taken tables. Waiters were taking them drinks and waitresses were taking their orders, but no one ever asked me about a drink or offered to take my order. After another ten minutes of this, I stood up, took my menu and replaced it in its slot and walked out the door.
Here’s something to think about. I picked that pizza parlor because someone had recommended their pizzas as the best in town. And the quaint shop-like feel of the place, the wonderful aromas, and the cool music were great. But somewhere back in the kitchen is a chef who will never realize that no matter how great his pizza, I’ll never go back there again. And somewhere in a back office, there is a manager who will never know that an unhappy patron never got served and is now talking about her establishment to hundreds of people across the country.
This reminded me of something Claudia Lavy (see last week’s blog) mentioned in her talk at the Leadership Nexus event. In describing the guest experience as an unchurched person first visits a congregation, she said, “the battle is won or lost in your lobby.” You may preach the best sermon since the apostle Paul and your music may match the choruses of the angels, but if someone walks in your front door and is ignored, neglected, rudely treated, pounced upon in an overdone fashion, or welcomed in a mechanical and perfunctory manner, then you will likely never see the visitor return. And like the cook fixing great pizza and the owner managing a great parlor, you may never know why…because it all happens at the front door, in the foyer, along the hallway, and beside the coffee pot.
I’m not suggesting that every usher, greeter, staff member, and volunteer must be perfect. But they must be authentic, hospitable, and attentive. Directed by the right motivations, sustained by the Spirit, attentive in a caring way, we can do this right. We have to look at the guest experience through the eyes of the visitor.
How are we doing with our foyer, entryway, hallway, lobby experience? You might ask someone who has recently become a part of your congregation for some honest feedback about what their first visit was like.
What do you do to form your church’s experience in a more intentional and attentive way ?
Yours in Christ,