Five essentials to achieve excellent guest services

Coffee shops, stores and restaurants provide a welcoming experience, but churches should set the standard.

By Lamar Slay

I enjoy going to Starbucks because I know I will be greeted by a barista who is going to make me coffee exactly the way I like it. I like to shop at Wal-Mart because I know I am going to be welcomed by a smiling face and made to feel like I made the right choice in shopping there. At my favorite restaurant, a hostess takes me to my table and then sends someone to wait on my every need.

These are examples of great service and everyone appreciates it. Great service makes people want to return to a coffee shop, store or their favorite restaurant. It’s time that churches understand the necessity of outstanding service. People who visit our worship services should leave feeling served and have a desire to return.

Our competition is not the church down the street, be it small or mega, it is the coffee shop, the restaurant, and the big-box store that all put major emphasis on serving their guest. A church’s guest services should work harder than any non-Kingdom entity and set the standard for excellence. Here are five essentials for achieving excellence with your guest services.

Essentials to achieve excellence

1. Clearly established policies and procedures: It’s amazing how few churches have taken the time to actually think through and write out policies and procedures for their volunteers. How can we expect our volunteers to be effective in carrying out their responsibilities if they do not know what is expected of them? If a baby is crying in a worship service and an usher is called on to deal with the situation, how can he respond if he or she has not been trained in the church’s policy concerning children in the worship services?

A church will spend thousands of dollars and hundreds of staff hours in preparing for what is arguably the most important hour or hours of the week in the life of the church, the weekend worship. These efforts can be totally destroyed because an usher has not been properly trained in how to enforce the church’s policy dealing with a disturbance in the worship service.

Recently, shootings in churches have drawn front-page coverage month after month. Every church needs clear guidelines for their volunteers for crisis situations and emergencies. It is not a matter of “if” a crisis is going to occur, the question is when. Churches need to be prepared. The first step in having guest services that operate with excellence is to have clear expectations of your volunteers.

2. Lay leadership and ownership: We all know that everything rises or falls on leadership and nowhere is it more evident than with volunteers. It is essential that the right leaders be put in place to lead the volunteers. There are people in our churches who lead multimillion dollar companies and all we ask of them is to hand out bulletins. This leads to them being uncommitted and inconsistent in carrying out their responsibilities and creativity is stifled.

As our consultants work with church leaders to help them develop their guest services, one of the barriers we have to overcome is to dispel the belief that “longevity a leader makes.” There are times when you have to replace an ineffective leader if you are going to achieve excellence. Every leader is asked to mentor a person to take his or her place. In a growing church you can never have too many leaders.

3. Vision-based service: If volunteers are recruited to a need, they will burn out. If they respond because the pastor asked them to serve, they will fade. If they serve because they understand all believers should serve, they will tire. But if volunteers serve because they have caught the vision of reaching the unchurched for Christ, they will excel.

People who understand the vision of their church are willing to commit their lives to the accomplishment of that vision.

Every volunteer is a vital link for the vision of the church. The parker, greeter, coffee server, usher, worship leader and senior pastor are all links in that chain.

If a young father whose wife has encouraged him to attend with her can’t find a parking place or where his child’s class meets, it may be all he needs to not return. While we can’t expect perfection, we can expect a commitment to excellence.

4. Volunteers who are highly committed:
We often make the mistake of thinking that if we ask less often, people will volunteer more; the opposite is true. Today, people are looking for something to which they can be highly committed. They are looking for an organization that says, “We are looking for men and women who are willing to make a high commitment to a cause greater than themselves.” At Fellowship Church Grapevine, where I oversaw the parkers and ushers, we found that the more we asked of our volunteers, the more committed they became. We told our volunteers that if they could not treat this job as though we were paying them a million dollars a year, then it probably was not for them.

Fellowship’s Christmas services are incredible. Often there are eight or more services and thousands hear the Gospel presented in the most creative way you can imagine. Recruiting volunteers was always a challenge. One year at our training session in September, I challenged our parkers and ushers to look at the Christmas services a little differently.

I told them that every year our church led a mission trip to South America and that it was a great trip. It cost about $2,500, took about two weeks, and required them to take off work. I encouraged each of them all to go. However, I then informed them about another opportunity that we had to be a part of sharing Christ with more than 25,000 people without taking off work, spending any money and never leaving home.

I asked them to look at our Christmas services as an “in-town mission trip.” I challenged them to attend one of the services with their families and then to work as many of the other services as possible. From that point on we always had plenty of parkers and ushers. Many of our volunteers worked most of the services.

5. A simplified scheduling process:
One of the greatest battles a church faces is scheduling. At Fellowship we had almost every team on a different schedule. Ushers worked every other weekend, parkers worked every third weekend and the hospitality team had their own schedule. This resulted in many families coming in two or even three cars to accommodate everyone’s schedule and never being able to worship together.

A and B teams

We developed an A and B schedule. The A team worked the first and the third weekends and the B team worked the second and fourth weekends. Each team worked two Sundays in a row, twice a year to deal with the fifth Sunday months. This reduced the number of cars on the crowded lots, allowed families to worship together and eliminated the confusion as to “what weekend do I work?”

The volunteers planned their vacations; they could look at the calendar a year ahead and know when they were scheduled to work. The A and B scheduling also helped with recruiting. It is much easier to recruit volunteers to work two times a month on a set schedule. It also helps to eliminate burnout.

Your guest service teams are vital to the growth of your church. Once there is a clear purpose and vision set by your church that volunteers can commit to, they can provide outstanding service. If done with excellence, your guests will look forward
to their return trip.

Lamar Slay is president of Partners in Church Consulting, Southlake, TX.  []


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