Total Guest Experience (TGE) – at Church! (Part 1)

"Lasting First Impressions!" In a "seeker-friendly" church environment, this is absolutely critical. Many churches fail to make the investment in the environments, programs, staff and volunteers necessary to attract, engage and retain a vibrant, energetic Christian population. The Total Guest Experience (TGE) is a crucial principle for a successful church - and to the success of engaging that guest in programs, volunteer opportunities, small groups, and much more. The guest experience - positive or negative - often influences individuals to stay or go. To return or move on. To get involved or passively attend. To make their faith and beliefs part of their everyday life. To move beyond attending church on Christmas and Easter. The concept of Total Guest Experience goes beyond Ushers handing out programs at a door and collecting offering in shiny brass plates. It is a strategy for engagement and growth - and one that should not be taken lightly in building an active church population. Any person attending a church service or function for the first time, is most likely to meet a member of a guest experience team first before meeting any other church member, staff member or other guests. The volunteers in the parking lot parking cars and at the entrances greeting guests are the church's outward first impression. Once inside, the guest experience expands to the environments, music, programming and content. The concept of guest experience doesn't stop on Sundays. It is part of the active, ongoing conversation developed with members and guests through email, direct mail, small groups, and other events established and supported by the organization.

What does it take?

Strategy. First and foremost - the commitment and desire to make the guest the top priority starts at the foundation of the church organization. As a core principle or strategy, the TGE concept must be documented, communicated and emphasized by the church leadership.

Environments. The Total Guest Experience starts with people, continues with environments, music and message, and ends with people and targeted, meaningful communication. Furthermore, the TGE requires follow-up and encouraged involvement in programs and environments as church is much more than Sundays. Environments on "Sundays" as well as other days of the week in homes and communities, must be engaging, open, exciting and interesting.

Relevant and Applicable Message Content. As part of the TGE, the content delivered through church mediums (online and in-person) must be relevant, applicable and targeted. Relevant content (via the Sunday "Message" as well as through online, video, social media and direct mail) is content that would apply to our day-to-day lives now and in the future. Applicable content is content that one can use to assist in decision-making or to modify behavior. Targeted content is content that has been customized to appeal to a specific population of members and guests. The challenge in content delivery is balance in these three areas and yet together, they contribute to the TGE.

Energy. Volunteer leaders feed on the energy and enthusiasm of other leaders. The best leaders will leave if they feel that they are not being challenged, are not being appreciated, can not make a significant impact, are performing monotonous volunteer tasks (get bored) and / or feel that they are not making a difference. I recently attended a discussion on Guest Services at a growing church and the speaker talked about "injecting energy" (via new volunteers) into their Guest Services program. My observation from numerous experiences is that "the word gets out" very quickly if volunteer leaders are passionate about the difference they are making in the TGE space at their church. They can't help but talk about it - and invite their friends and colleagues to get involved. Energy is contagious and when Energy + Environments + Relevant Content come together, you have "It". And oh by the way, the volunteers need the supporting tools and staff to create a consistent, memorable experience. The staff must ensure that they are consistently looking at their guest services talent to identify and engage leaders that fit the TGE skill set - that are truly passionate about service, leading others, and naturally see the big picture of guest experience in a growing and changing environment - and are able to coach and mentor others.

Reset Regularly. Finally and most importantly, it is important to re-evaluate and reassess programs regularly. The best time to re-evaluate, change and improve is when things are going well. When all is perfect. This is a key to service excellence. And oh by the way, change is never easy and yet, the best organizations are those that are willing to make changes, evaluate their effectiveness and be willing to change again if the desired outcome is not achieved.

Why do I care? Because I have been a part of excellent guest service (or outreach) programs - and those that do not truly engage. Programs that are too internally-focused and those that are 100% focused on making the guest experience amazing and powerful. Organizations that have lost focus on the guest, the environments, the music, the message and the experience - and those that are consistently offering engaging, applicable and targeted content. Organizations that are stagnant / contracting and organizations that are growing. These are just a few of my observations.