Lessons from my newspaper

What I learned about the church by canceling my newspaper

By Sam S. Rainer III

The monthly emails from my hometown newspaper finally got to me.

Dear Sam Raimer,

This is a courtesy reminder that your delivery service is scheduled to stop within the next 14 days. To prevent an interruption in your service, please utilize our quick online payment method by clicking on the link below.

They spelled my name wrong, which is forgivable but irritating. Most annoyingly, however, I was already on their payment system—they were charging my credit card monthly. And I was calling every month to prevent them from stopping my subscription. Twilight Zone weird. I thought the print newspaper business was doing everything they could to keep subscribers.

I called again, for the last time. Customer service had no idea what was wrong. I told them to find someone who could help me keep my subscription. They could not help. So I sent out a frustrated tweet while I was on hold. The newspaper Twitterer stepped in and tried to help, but I still went nowhere with customer service. They hung up on me. I called back to another representative. The process for cancelling the paper was easy, simple and quick.

There is much irony in this exchange. Even Twitter couldn’t save the aged print dinosaur.

What are some lessons about the church I learned through this encounter?

Don’t make staying in church a chore. The church should have high expectations of members. Church leaders should hold people accountable. But I wonder how many people are in my own congregation with a desire to get more plugged into the church, but it all seems too unfamiliar, too impersonal, too much of a hassle, or too much of a chore. Like with my newspaper subscription, I think sometimes church may be too complex to keep and too easy to leave.

Invest much in your front line people. Your greeters, follow-up leaders and ushers have a profound influence on how people perceive your church. I enjoyed my newspaper subscription. I read it every day. But after several bad encounters with customer service reps, I got too frustrated to keep it. Likewise, people attending your church may genuinely enjoy the teaching and vision, but if their first point of contact every week leaves them wanting, they may eventually fade away.

Spell names correctly. I was willing to forgive my newspaper for misspelling my name—it happens all the time. But after several attempts to correct it, I began to think their operations staff was incompetent. After all, newspapers are in the business of getting correct information to the public. Church leaders should sweat the little things. Most people forgive occasional mistakes, but they do add up over time. Spell names correctly on form letters. Proofread newsletters for grammatical errors. Have correct times and dates in the worship guide. And keep your website current.

When people initiate contact with you, be gracious—even if they have a complaint. More than anything else, I cancelled my newspaper because the people I talked to were not gracious. I was frustrated. I said things I regret. I’m sure my call will be the one “used for training purposes.” But I called them, and they treated me flippantly. I initiated the contact, desiring to keep my newspaper. Their attitude told me to get lost. If you’re a church leader, you will have people initiate a conversation with you concerning problems in the church. Sometimes they will be right. Sometimes wrong. But always be gracious. Use the opportunity to champion the good in the church. Help them see how God is working.

My newspaper treated me like a subscriber, not a person. They lost me. But God does not have the same desire for his church. After all, we’re in a partnership to reach out and bring in… people. And perhaps sometimes it’s easy to forget that.

Sam S. Rainer III is the president of Rainer Research and senior pastor of First Baptist Church Murray, Murray, KY. [www.rainerresearch.com] [www.fbcmurray.org]


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