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What can churches learn from hospitality field?

By Jeff Springer

Know your target, put metrics in place, and push the envelope are just a few lessons.

Seven years ago after completing a 40-year career in the hotel business, I began a second career in ministry. Once an acquaintance asked me, “What can the hospitality business teach churches?” I didn’t have a quick answer at the time. After some thinking, however, here is my short answer: “A lot.” Here are a few, in more detail:

Define your niche
The hospitality business is very clear about its product niche: budget, limited service, long-term stay, luxury. Ministry, on the other hand, is often broadly – and loosely – defined.  Almost anything that says “We help others” can be seen as ministry. Ministries need to be clear and intentional about whom they are serving.

In the hospitality business, a brand name like Marriott, for example, can stretch up a market niche to Ritz-Carlton and go down a market niche to Courtyard by Marriott. But the Marriott brand doesn’t help you as a budget hotel because the Marriott buyer is not looking for a budget hotel.

In ministry we need the same understanding. We need to be clear about our mission, vision and values. We need clarity on our target market. A church leadership team should be asking, “Who are we really trying to reach?”

Measure results
People in the hospitality business expect to be held accountable to “the bottom line.” There are daily reviews of sales, food cost and hotel occupancy. There are weekly inventory counts. There are monthly reviews of profits and losses, comparing numbers against the current budget and the previous year’s experience.

Church leaders sometimes feel threatened when asked about the validity or success of their ministry. We take our ministry, as well as people’s reactions to it, too personally. We say (sometimes aloud, sometimes to ourselves), “You don’t have any right to ask me about my ministry effectiveness. I am working really hard.”  Bill Parcells, the NFL coach, said, “You don’t get credit for trying hard.” I don’t believe that, but I also don’t believe that trying hard is the only issue to consider. Results are important.

I believe in metrics for ministry, but not just to count the easy things such as bucks, bodies and buildings. We need to hold ourselves accountable to the metrics that show what is really happening in our ministries. How do we measure life change, transformation and spiritual growth? These are hard questions, but I know from working with churches that they can be properly answered. We can put proper metrics in place.

Tap your potential
In my early years in the hospitality business, I don’t think I was so quick to accept limitations. If there was a good idea or a good plan, I was quick to go after it. Yet in ministry, it seems we easily accept the thinking that “We can’t do that; we just don’t have the resources.”

We easily accept being below our budget, when in reality we simply have not done the necessary fundraising work. We need to live within the boundaries that God places on us, but we also need to realize that those boundaries come from a big God and are not self-imposed.

Pick up the pace
The pace of ministry is often slower and more purposeful than most corporate jobs. In many cases, ministry work is also lighter or at least less defined. Sometimes this can result in laziness, procrastination, mediocrity and passivity. I find at times an attitude in ministry that says, “Tomorrow is OK. Next week will be just fine.” In ministry, it is also too easy to spiritualize work efforts and justify things by saying, “I am doing the Lord’s work.”

The corporate world operates at a much faster pace, often motivated by the bottom line. It is easy to be out of balance in either direction. We ought not to be workaholics, and we ought not to be lazy. We serve the most important mission in the world: to advance the gospel of Jesus Christ into the nations. Some of us need to pick up the pace. My experience in the hospitality business was that we were running flat out most of the time for a purpose that was good, even important, but not as important as advancing God’s good news.

Other lessons come to mind, such as concerning customer service, employee training, and the concept of hospitality. What might the hotel business tell the church about those?

Jeff Springer, Miami, FL, is in the Church Discipleship Ministry, Florida Regional Director, for The Navigators. www.navigators.org

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