Total Guest Experience (TGE) – at Church! (Part 2)

UpStreetThe Big Idea:  ENGAGEment "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 guests 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.

This is part 2 of TGE on the Honaman blog.

E.N.G.A.G.E. E = Employee Staffing

Bottom Line:  Church employee engagement translates to volunteer engagement and development of new out-of-the box concepts and ideas

Employee Engagement + Volunteer Engagement = Guest Engagement

A simple formula that utilizes a recognizable business leadership concept (employee engagement) - and applies to the Total Guest Experience (TGE) at church. I always find it interesting and fun to identify the cross-overs between faith and the business world and in the successful, growing churches today, investment is being made in new environments and mediums for delivering faith-based messages to believers and those seeking to know more.

Just like in the business world, recruiting, hiring and retaining the "right" staff is crucial to the success of the church environment. Many churches have fixed policies regarding the recruitment and staffing of individuals based on the "policies" of the denomination being served. At the same time, many churches have been able to recruit and hire outside of the "normal church" template yielding more creative, outside-the-box thinking that has driven the growth of mega-churches. Many churches fail to grow (or even prevent shrink) as they hire great people but do not allow them to deploy new programs that engage an ever-changing church clientele. They do not encourage innovation - they encourage status quo. The church leadership is not willing to challenge the "system" thinking, try new programs, and be willing to admit failure if it does not work.

As Jim Collins wrote in his book Good to Great, "Get the right people on the bus ... and in the right seats." One can apply this principle in any business environment.

From a growth perspective, putting the right employees on the team to attract and retain interested and active volunteer leaders to lead programs in church environments is critical to the growth of the church. I believe you can gauge the success of a church based on the number of volunteers and/or percentage of members and non-members serving in volunteer roles within the church. Many churches gauge success on dollars and cents - I would challenge that the volunteer numbers are just as important a measure. Volunteers = engagement = interest in seeing the church and its environments grow = desire to "spread the word" and investing / inviting = increased giving = more engaged listeners and note-takers (aka "life application").

Do you have the right people on the "church" bus?

E.N.G.A.G.E. N = Invest

Bottom Line:  Investments are required to yield lessons learned - positive and negative

We've all heard the saying, "You never know unless you try". The same phrase can be used in the "church" world.

Not all churches have large budgets for praise bands, regular recognition events, Wednesday night dinners, concerts in the gym, and more. At the same time, there are investments - simple and complex - that can be made to sample new programs. To try out new environments. To do more than re-arrange the deck chairs (or pews in the sanctuary / chairs in Sunday School rooms).

Recently, I was discussing strategic program changes at a local church with the head pastor. One comment especially struck me, "We are going to give these new programs a shot and if they don't work, we can always go back to the way we were doing it before. You never learn without trying - and succeeding. Or trying - and failing - and oh by the way, admitting failure."

Point two - investments must always be tied to an overall strategy or it is most likely an investment that is doomed from the start. If there is no overall strategy enabled by investment, the result could be short-term positive but wane longer-term without leadership support and buy-in.

Are your investments limited to bricks-and-mortar? Construction and expansion? What about tweaking and modifying?

E.N.G.A.G.E. G = Gauge the Market

Bottom Line:  The world - your consumers (aka your guests) are changing - are you?

Fact - technology is changing at a rapid pace. Fact - children and young adults are engaging in social media through new electronic mediums. Fact - text messaging, the Internet, online video, real-time content, email and non-traditional communication channels are growing exponentially. Online and home-gaming (e.g. Wii, X-box, etc) are household staples. The list goes on...

The reality is that the mechanism for primary communication in our society is changing and churches are not keeping up. Investing in a technology strategy - and participating in the online social media environment - is becoming mainstream and an aspect of every business. By not participating, you are losing out on an opportunity to engage members of our society that more than ever, need the faith message as part of their life. Without it, the space will quickly be filled by messaging from many other sources.

Do you benchmark your church and communication techniques against other churches? Against industry? Do you have the right "internal" thinking to make decisions in this area?

E.N.G.A.G.E. A = Life Application

Bottom Line:  Life application happens Monday thru Saturday

Over time, I have had the opportunity to experience a number of different church environments. As I think about those environments, I can clearly describe to you key lessons, titles of messages, life-changing advice that I received from three of those environments specifically. My assessment from looking back at the experience in those churches was that it was a combination of the communicator, the music surrounding the message, the environment before / after the service and even during the week at other events, that reinforced the message. The messages were not "fire-hell-and brimstone" - nor were they negative or critical on life or decisions made in life. It was educational. Forceful. Impactful. Meaningul. And at times emotional. Something that made sense and yet, had not considered.

How do you deliver your messages? What supports or enables the delivery of the message? What programs surround the message in family ministries, music and more? What's the bottom line in your message...the one key point? Are you telling stories to talk about yourself or are you telling stories to make a point - something that can be applied?

E.N.G.A.G.E. G = Grow Leaders

Bottom Line:  Leaders grow other future leaders

One of the best signs of leadership is when a leader recruits, hires, mentors, and coaches individuals through an organization and into their own leadership roles. Many leaders fear others that may be smarter, stronger, more powerful communicators, more effective people persons...the reality is that the best leaders, accept and welcome these trade-offs in skill sets and find ways to help others become successful.

The church environment is very similar to the business environment in this regard. The head pastor should be looking to cultivate other future church leaders continuously - providing evaluation, coaching and feedback to make them successful communicators and leaders now and in the future. At the same time, for churches without a "set policy" for replacement or rotation of pastors, the idea of succession planning is key to the long-term viability of the church. There are a number of churches that have grown to immense sizes due to a single pastor or minister - it is important to have a succession plan in place to ensure that these ministerial environments serve now and in the future.

How are future church leaders identified, coached and mentored through the organization? Is this is priority?

E.N.G.A.G.E. E = Appreciate Volunteers

Bottom Line:  Volunteers, like trust, require time to grow and develop and very quickly can be lost

I regularly write thank-you notes - yes, hand-written notes - to my employees, business partners, family and friends. It's a small way to say thank-you or to appreciate performance. Believe it or not, I have received a number of hand-written thank-you notes from staff at my church for work I have done out of sheer passion for giving and serving. How cool is that that they take time to actually write notes??! Actually, it's part of their culture - a small element of strategy and execution that actually starts at the top with the head pastor who regularly writes thank-you notes to volunteers for work they do to make the church a special place. To people that make a lasting first impression. To individuals that give up their time to make a difference for someone else.

There are many ways to appreciate your volunteers and this is just one. There are many other examples of how to appreciate your volunteers but I think the point has been made.

How are you appreciating your volunteers? Is it part of the fabric of your church environment?