categories: church, customer service
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March 26th, 2007

by Craig Groeschel

35 comments (+ Add)

It Shouldn’t Matter, But… (Part 1)

In the church world, there are a bunch of things that shouldn’t matter, but they often do.

I’ll start with some disclaimers:

  • Our goal is always to communicate Jesus and point people to Him.
  • Our goal is never to become worldly to reach people.
  • Occasionally we must adopt our ways to to communicate Jesus in the world. (The message doesn’t change, but the method has to change.)

Let’s start with the environment of our churches. Environment shouldn’t matter, but it often does.

Here are some observations:

  • Old and rundown shopping strips struggle. New (or updated) shopping strips draw customers.
  • Starbucks thinks environment matters.
  • I prefer the new theater with the big screen and comfortable seats to the old theater with the small screen and uncomfortable seats.
  • To me, a restaurant’s environment is (almost) as important as the quality of the food.

In churches, environment shouldn’t matter. We shouldn’t care. But some people do. (Note: This is NOT an issue in many parts of our country and certainly not around the world.)

No, I don’t think a good environment will change anyone’s life. No, I don’t think it is necessary for a church to be successful. But I do think people are being conditioned to expect quality. As churches, we should do our best with what we have to create spiritually welcoming atmospheres.

Thoughts?

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there are a total of35
  1. Mar 26, 2007 at 6:39 am

    Craig,

    I totally agree. Environment shouldn’t matter…but in most cases here, it does.

    I always try to think about things from the perspective of trying to reach an unchurched person. One of the reasons we use the music we do is because, although it has a great message, it also has some entertainment value in it. You can’t expect an unchurched person to actually worship, because they don’t have a relationship with Christ. They cannot worship who they do not know…so you’ve got to keep their attention long enough for them to experience God’s message for them.

    It’s the same with your environment. If the environment turns them off before they hear the message, we probably won’t get another chance with them.

    In our particular church, we have a quandry right now. We bought an old church building that we’ve been renovating…and we’re still in the process of trying to make it “pretty”. We’ve done everything we can though to make the environment relaxed and inviting. Even though there isn’t paint on most of the walls, you see signs everywhere, pointing you in the right direction. We have greeters, an information spot, a cafe area with free food and beverages, etc, etc. We use the unfinished condition of the building to convey the message that just like our building, we are a work in progress, and that God wants us to grow and transform our lives, just like we’re transforming this building. It’s been a wild ride!

    You can check out the shape of the building when we started at http://www.slcchome.org. I’m going to try and post some current pics later this afternoon, but you can at least see what we started with. It hasn’t been a project for the faint of heart! :)

  2. Mar 26, 2007 at 6:47 am

    Craig - Thanks for your thoughts in this area. I agree that the environment is an important part of the hospitality of a congregation. I think that environment matters particularly in the worship space, but certainly in every area of the physical space in which a community meets - from the parking lot to a children’s area to the bathrooms. Cleanliness, comfort, welcome are all a part of the environment - others?

  3. Mar 26, 2007 at 7:16 am

    Andrew, Thanks for the thoughts!

    Danny, Good luck on the building remodel! We’re always wrestling with the question, “How much do we put into buildings?” We want to put “enough” to make them nice, but never too much!

  4. Mar 26, 2007 at 8:14 am

    Craig, environment can be either a bridge or barrier. You are pointing to the fact that there are expectations and if we fail to meet them we create barriers to people hearing what we have to share.

  5. Mar 26, 2007 at 8:47 am

    Hey Craig,

    I’ve been following Swerve pretty much since it started. This is the first post I felt I should comment on because it hits pretty close to my heart. I agree with you 100% percent that environment does matter. I am huge on customer service. And the passion for great customer service has followed me into ministry. One thing that you said, is something that I have talked about for a long time, is that people have come to expect quality. If every other business treats them like they are glad they are their, and says that with the environment, then why shouldn’t we?

  6. Mar 26, 2007 at 8:48 am

    In a secular environment people expect quality. Why do people go to Joe’s Crab Shack or Olive Garden or Johnny Carino’s (you can put any top brand in there)… They go because of the environment.

    We expect excellence. This doesn’t change when new people come as guests to our churches. They are looking for excellence. But the church waters this excellence down with excuses like we just don’t have the money.

    There are plenty of ways to create a modern look without a whole lot of money.

    The flip side to this Craig…I will go to that hole in the wall that doesn’t look as good but the food is great and the service is awesome. And with those two things in place I will tell my friends about it.

    But I do prefer to see a more modern environment done with excellence. I think it is more appealing especially if the food (worship experience) and service (hospitality) are awesome.

  7. Mar 26, 2007 at 8:50 am

    Craig, I’m not actually sure that environment shouldn’t matter. Are you thinking that it shouldn’t matter because we are there to be with God…and that’s all that matters? There seems to be a lot in the Bible about doing what we do with excellence. I’m wondering if part of the issue with tweaking our environment to be better is that it may force churches around us to pay attention to something they’ve grown complacent with and no longer see…like the crack in my windshield. I occasionally notice it, but mostly when my wife’s driving and I’m the one sitting in the passenger seat!

    mark

  8. Mar 26, 2007 at 8:57 am

    We are a theater church so our environment is mostly decided for us. But we have a “First Impressions” team that works very hard to make the theater feel welcoming and functional for service. We are in a constant state of tweak to make the whole weekend experience positive. The halls of the theater become our foyer and we have to look at traffic flow and functionality along with making it pleasing to the eye. Fortunately, we are in a newer theater that is kept very clean and the manager goes out of his way to be helpful to us. So, yes, I agree it shouldn’t matter but depending on your culture, it usually does. Like Kent pointed out, it can be a barrier and there is enough other things in the world to distact people from Jesus, it shouldn’t be the church.

  9. Mar 26, 2007 at 9:12 am

    Craig,

    You’re 1,000,000% right on this one. It’s strange that we as pastors feel we have to apologize when adapting to reach people who are programmed with a consumer mentality. There is a standard and expectation amoung modern seekers whether we like it or not. Excellence is a must! Are nice buildings, cool graphics, high-def screens, and a decked out stage things that appeal to the senses first? Sure they are. Oh, by the way, so are sunsets, mountain ranges, ocean tides, and snowfalls. I haven’t heard God apologize yet.

    Keep up the good work, you guys rock!

    God bless,
    Bryan
    http://www.bryanroberts.typepad.com

  10. Mar 26, 2007 at 9:20 am

    I think environment has a great deal to do with your perspective, what people are accustomed to and who your target audience is. I frequent a burger shop here in town that I like to take friends to when we need to visit about something rather tense or difficult… it’s an old gas station that has been converted into a diner. They have an old single wide trailer bolted to the side of the building for look and feel… the decor is an interesting junk yard feel and the seats are from 1950’s automobiles welded to wheels so that they can move them to cleanup at the end of the day. The minute we sit down the discussion always turns to the decor as we admire the “coolness” of how well they have modeled the “junk yard feel” .. the food is top notch and the owner comes out to visit… as soon as the eating starts I have my guest’s full, relaxed attention and we are able to discuss life, Christ and the road ahead… I would have never thought… until someone took me there… I think environment is everything… as i recall, Christ met me in my own junkyard not to many years ago :-)

  11. 12Kevin
    Mar 26, 2007 at 9:44 am

    Craig, I am a young United Methodist pastor in a very small town church. So, what I experience is very different than what Life Church is doing, for ex.

    I think my church could learn quite a bit from a more consumer oriented perspective… or put another way its about hospitality, welcoming the stranger. Mainline churches are often guilty of doing things the same way, and not being willing to recognize that the people they are supposed to be reaching out to have changed.

    My concern would be, if we are focusing on meeting people where they are at to get them to come to church, how do we communicate that the gospel is about something very different than being a good American, or how do we critique the consumer culture that they are so ensnared in? In other words, how do we help people who profess faith in Christ with their mouths to actually become disciples of Christ, people who do the things he said they should do.

    A crucial first step is having an audience, which Life Church is more effective at than most places I am familiar with. I would be interested in how you understand the church’s role of converting people to the way of Jesus Christ, and away from the baggage they bring with them the first time they visit.

    Sorry, looks like I put my two quarters in, instead of my two cents…

  12. 13Robert
    Mar 26, 2007 at 10:33 am

    I personally believe that everything a church does, teaches. The size of their building, the layout, the use of space, the use of technology. Everything we do shows where our value lies. So for instance, we may preach going into the world, but when we put a coffee shop and gym in our churches we are showing people that we truly value isolation from the world.
    We say often that God should be the first thing in our lives, but many of our houses of worship are in disrepair. What does that truly say we value? Some of our churches were decorated by women (no offense) and thus use lots of pinks, and baby blues which makes manly men feel out of place? What does that say about how we value men? (Incidentally could this be one of the reasons churches are 65% female now) Many of our sanctuaries are not designed to bring focus to the stage, yes the chairs are pointed at the stage, but the lighting in the room is wrong, screen placements are wrong, the color of the sanctuary is WAY to bright. Do we make it to easy for people to concentrate on other things instead of the message being presented?
    I am not saying the environment is the main thing, by any means, but I think often the environment can either enforce the message, disagree with the message, or distract from the message. I think we need to be more intentional about everything within churches today ask of everything we do “What message is this sending…”

  13. 14Steve Waite
    Mar 26, 2007 at 10:46 am

    “As churches, we should do our best with what we have to create spiritually welcoming atmospheres.”

    you couldn’t say it any better than that, Craig! well done!

    steve

  14. Mar 26, 2007 at 10:46 am

    Great questions, Kevin. One way LifeChurch.tv does this is through the paradox of comfort and confrontation. Everything from the traffic directors and cart drivers to the greeters and ushers is designed to disarm guests and make them feel comfortable. Even the music is designed to be both worshipful for the Christ followers in attendance and attention grabbing for the guests who are not. Then comes the confrontation. The Holy Spirit, throught Craig or one of our other fine preaching pastors, then confronts the pre-Christians of their need for Christ. But this also must be done with love and humor, some times even self-deprecating humor. If you want to know more about how Craig does this, check out his messages available online.

    Tom E Snyder
    An over-active member of LC

  15. Mar 26, 2007 at 11:07 am

    Craig,

    I think that the tangible, palpable environment of a church, in and of itself, isn’t what necessarily creates the genuine atmosphere of a church. I think the nice seats and the larger screens, if judged strictly on their own merits, is going to be somewhat meaningless to a person other than, “Wow, that’s a big screen and these are nice seats.” Yet that’s not to say that these things don’t matter. Not at all.

    These things will certainly catch the eye and attract a first visit, like your example of the new shopping centers, however if that is “all there is to offer,” then a one-time visit may be all it ever attracts.

    What ultimately determines the effectiveness of an environment is the role that these things play in making an individual feel as if the church they are visiting/attending actually cares about the person sitting in those nice seats, so they can be comfortable to listen/focus, and looking at the big screen, so that they can clearly see the video or pastor who is delivering the message. But more so, the environment of a church largely depends upon how much they show the person there just how passionate they are about sharing the message of Christ.

    If “environmental” items are separated from that notion of “they do this because they care about the message of Christ and me, the person sitting here,” all of those wonderfully nice things can appear cold, impersonal and even overtly extravagant.

    But if the individual visiting or attending feels that these tools and things are used because the church cares about drawing people closer to Christ and helping draw people to the Church so that can happen no matter what, then the tangible environment can greatly influence the spiritual and emotional environment, that most certainly does and always will matter.

  16. Mar 26, 2007 at 11:21 am

    I can’t tell you how much I’ve wrestled with this thought. I mean, it’s logical to say that if the food is super-amazing, people will come anyway. Maybe so, I’ve been to restaurants that food was great, building was a dump. I know one place in town that I heard was amazing from everyone. Took my wife, average facility, when our food came out, a roach was on the wall… haven’t been back.

    So I think it DOES matter. Is the pastor a great communicator? Can people relate to him? Do the greeters act like they really are excited that you’re there and want to give any information, or do they seem like they are simply filling a need and would rather be somewhere else? Does the room feel comfortable? Do I see others I think I might identify with?

    I’ve sort of watched Life for several years and I’ve been really blessed to see you and your team “throwing yourselves to the wolves” in an effort to reach people for Christ, I really really appreciate that. It’s so refreshing! Thanks for giving away content for free, for trying to create environments that are comfortable for people. Many have stepped through those doors that I personally know and have heard great things. Keep pushing that envelope, stretching, exposing your neck so that some might hear of Christ.

    I think it’s important to realize also how diverse the Church is, and how God allows for differences even of style and approach, and how each church goes about it differently.

    Sorry for the long post!

  17. Mar 26, 2007 at 11:42 am

    Robert, while I agree with many of your points, I don’t agree that putting coffee shops in our churches indicates that we aren’t going out into the world. We certainly should be going out into the world as part of what we are about, however… I believe that we also need to create places for people to hang out, share life and connect… the world is doing this at every coffee shop on the corner and every chat room on the net. We need to strike a balance with helping create these kind of places with a Christ centered influence as well and go out be the that influence in the ones that don’t have it. I like having a place for our visitors to kick up their feet, feel relaxed and connect with us.

  18. 19TR
    Mar 26, 2007 at 12:34 pm

    Environment matters only to the extent that people have access to the Word (in whatever form it takes). Only if it becomes prevents the Gospel from being received (as with the moneychangers in the Temple) does it need to be converted.

  19. Mar 26, 2007 at 12:47 pm

    I’m not even sure we should say SPACE SHOULDN’T MATTER… space forms us. God spent a lot of time being very specific in the Old Testament about what worship space should be like… somehow, if space mattered then it probably matters now.

  20. Mar 26, 2007 at 1:21 pm

    I totally agree with the scheme of these thoughts and ideas, but I would have to argue that in churches, environments SHOULD matter. I do not believe that environment should play as fundamental of a role in our missional approach as doctrine does, but many churches and businesses have shot themselves in the foot due to bad environments.

    For example, outside of my hometown there was a combination KFC/A&W restaurant. The place closed down about 3-years ago but was recently turned into a Mexican restaurant. The food has changed, but the seating, signage and ambiance of A&W is still the same. This could be the most killer Mexican food in the continental United States, but I’m not too interested in trying it because the ‘enviroment’ of the place makes me think it’s a ’shady’ operation.

    I believe our church ‘environment’ should be just as intentional as our programming.

    … (the rest is on my blog)

    http://thedailygaggle.blogspot.com

  21. 22Travis
    Mar 26, 2007 at 1:55 pm

    2 perspectives: Believer vs. Non-believer

    From the believers standpoint they should understand that the church is not their to serve them but to be served by them. The appearance of the building, the style of worship, the quality of programs etc. won’t matter to those who are looking to grow closer to Christ and become a vital part of the church.

    From the non-believers standpoint they are looking for a place to be fed the Word of God. Craig has said over and over that it drives him crazy when people say things like: “this church just doesn’t meet my needs” or “that church doesn’t have what I’m looking for”. And I agree with him that believers should have a more biblical attitude to such things, but non-believers are different in my opinion. In order to be fed and nurished by the Word of God you need to be in a place of peace and comfort. If a non-believer can’t find this environment, they will look elsewhere or stop looking.

    Several years ago my wife & I were trying to get our lives re-centered on Christ and did bounce from church to church. We couldn’t find a church that “met our needs” (but at that point we didn’t even know what our needs were). We did settle down at a church that had a great environment and atmosphere and began to be fed and nourished. Now we are at a place where we understand that we are here to serve the church not the other way around.

    So back to the non-believers viewpoint. Non-believers, or those who have been away from church for a while, ARE church shopping. If we don’t create an environment that makes them want to be there, they won’t be there. They will go elsewhere, or worse, stop shopping. So I guess the question is: Do we create the environment that people want or do we just say “it shouldn’t matter” and hope some other church is shallow enough to create an environment that the people want?

  22. 23Robert
    Mar 26, 2007 at 2:08 pm

    Jeff Bull,
    Yeah I see your point and have even in the past argued for coffee shops. I totally think there needs to be a balanced created. We want and have a place where guests feel comfortable and can have a good cup o’ joe, but had to kill the idea of a full service coffee shop because through the week it just creates isolation. We had to many Christ followers who only went to “Christian” bookstores, “Christian” gyms, and “Christian” coffee shops not living their redeemed life in front of non-followers.
    I did not intend for my comments to be taken as there is no good reason to have a coffee shop. I firmly believe in some instances it is fine and good, and would not bad mouth another church for doing one. I was just using it as an example from our values and attempts to flesh that out in our culture/community.
    My main point is that we need to be intentional about everything and typically we in the church world do things simply because; without thought or consideration to the why and the message behind what we do.

  23. Mar 26, 2007 at 2:22 pm

    Craig,
    Thanks for your thoughts on environment of the church. Many people have spoken on environment in the recent days. While I really feel like environemtn means so much… hence I completely redid my office. Our church is also in the midst of several projects which not only are allowing us to be more aesthetically pleasing, but I am not sure that physical environment is everything. For instance, I recently had the opportunity to visit a ‘emerging church’ called Jacob’s Well in Kansas City. While not extremely physically appealing, the poeple completely made the visit! Perhaps our environment is less about the physical space and more about the hospitality and invitation in our personal environments. The church were I am serving is not really all that beautiful, but it definatlely can be appealing when the people are inviting. Still, something about the physical environment struck a chord in me. I like places that are different, places that are appealing, and places that provide meaning. So I definitely think we should place an emportance on environment. Thanks for the thoughts.

  24. Mar 26, 2007 at 4:04 pm

    Robert, thanks for the clarification. I wholeheartedly agree. I too am concerned that too many Christians have pulled themselves out of politics, business, schools etc. We are to be the salt of the earth.. and many out of fear of being “tainted” by the world or even told to do so by their peers and leaders, have removed themselves from the table. I’m all in favor of setting up a table anywhere and everywhere we can. We typically frequent a local Mexican restaurant after service and I love to see the look on the waiter’s face when we secretly ask him to bring us the ticket for another family seated near by… it’s surprising what a little salt can do.. and the conversations that it can start.. oops i realize I’m way off point now…. darn that adult add thing…

  25. Mar 26, 2007 at 4:14 pm

    About a year ago we began to work hard to recreate the atmosphere in our church. First with physical things such as lighting etc in our worship service, than visuals..mood etc.. we also worked hard with the staff to begin to convey philosophy of first impressions to our visitors and a love and concern for volunteers etc. Over the last year there has been a marked change in the entire body as people began to catch on and adopt the new philosophy of being the very best first and continuing impression that we can. The atmosphere from the parking lot to the halls has completely changed. Volunteers are easier to find… visitors tend to stay.. we’ve added a coffee cart and give each guest a gift bag and a free espresso drink as we introduce them to pastors. We added a small bookstore to the foyer 2 weeks ago and there is now a waiting line!!! People have began to catch the sense of concern and care for our visitors.. and it’s transcending the rest of their lives at work and home. I’m now convinced that changing the physical atmosphere can also help change the rest of the atmosphere as people began to catch the vision….. my 2 cents.

  26. Mar 26, 2007 at 8:02 pm

    Our goal in every one of our environments, whether for adults or children, is to create an irresistible environment. I definitely fall on the side that says environment matters. Should it? I don’t know. Should churches have to care about branding and marketing? I guess not. But we’d better care.

    Being a portable church, caring about environments takes on a whole new intentionality. We meet in a large community theatre, and we never know what we will find when we arrive on Sunday mornings. Regardless of what we find, we spend hours creating environments.

    It’s one thing for the staff to care about environments. The great thing is our volunteers have started caring. Sure, some of that caring comes from us casting the vision that it matters. But they have seen their unchurched friends come into our environments and experience life change. Yes, God does the life change!! But their friends are surprised by the quality of the environments and the attention to details. The environments cause their fear to decrease.

    When you see a friend’s life changed, and your friend says it had something to do with the environment, environment matters all of sudden.

  27. Mar 26, 2007 at 9:07 pm

    Environment matters regardless of where you are. We can criticize how churches spend money. Accuse them of using funds irresponsibly. And white-knuckle the old adage, “Waste not want not” to justify never replacing the 1970’s shag carpet.

    But what would ministry look like in another country? Where is the money invested? It’s invested in systems and tools that allow the ministry to communicate to the lost within that culture. Environment matters. And the environment looks different depending upon the culture in which the ministry exists.

    So our buildings are clean, polished and chalked full of high tech equipment to create an experience that will grab the attention of our audience. Because that is the culture in which we live.

    Jason, I agree that the occasional ‘hole in the wall’ has it’s own appeal. The magic is creating the same appeal of the ‘mom & pop’ establishment with the fancy strip mall. That would be remarkable.

  28. 29James Mathews
    Mar 26, 2007 at 10:39 pm

    Trinity: Father-Son-HolySpirt / Human: Mind-Body-Spirit

    Our worship is a ’sweet fragrance’ to the Father. Excellent. Intimate. It’s emotional.

    Connecting the emotion of an unbeliever with Excellence - engages the mind. The mind brings along body and spirit.

    Mind-Body-Spirit comes to church that smells of excellence. Holy Spirit convicts. Son Redeems. World is saved. That is very cool - what a responsibility!

    Philippians 4:8-10 Whatever is true, noble, lovely, admirable ……Whatever is excellent.

    Keyword: Whatever.

    Do ‘whatever’. Just do it….with excellence and purpose.

  29. 30Danny
    Mar 27, 2007 at 7:18 am

    Wow is enviroment important. A lot of people think this is a new idea but if history serves me correctly there was this Russian Tzar that was totally taken by enviroment.

    The story goes like this he sent out ambassadors to all the known world to check out the various religions and when they came to the Catholic Orthodox church they felt as though they found a slice of heaven and because of that an entire country was changed and became a Christian nation until the Tzars fell around 1900 AD.

    I don’t remember them saying that they were one bit worried about their doctrine, the only thing that influenced them was what they could see with their physical eyes. I think there was a story even in the Bible about the very same thing with the Queen of Sheba?

    I would say for most non believers and for many believers enviroment is big? Is it big to God now that is a huge debate.

  30. Mar 27, 2007 at 8:42 am

    We wrestle with this every week because we meet in a school…it’s institutional look and feel make it hard to overcome people’s pre-conceived notions. We used to meet in a brand new movie theater and were growing like gang-busters but were forced to switch with ridiculous rent raises and changing of building availability…in the move to the school we lost close to 35-40% of our people.

    Yes…venue change was a fickle thing to leave a church over but environment has become an invaluable commodity…part of the experience people are looking for. I think we underestimate the tone (as Craig says) the impact of the environment.

    It reminds me of Malcolm Gladwell’s point in “Tipping Point” about the Theory of Broken Windows. People observe their surrounding and the prevailing attitude toward buildings and environments become contagious. I think buildings often reflect the nature of the congregation inside and that is what is even more contagious.

  31. Mar 27, 2007 at 10:36 am

    This topic makes me think about how important the environment surrounding the house of God has been all through history. In the Old Testament the authors go through painstaking detailed descriptions of the incredible lavish detail taken in the creation of the temple. In mid-evil times hundreds of years were taken to construct massive stone cathedrals, many of which are still some of the most magnificent structures in the world. Many of our church buildings today use technology to produce that wow factor, but I wonder if we should take a look at making the buildings themselves a little more remarkable, while being good stewards of course.

  32. Mar 27, 2007 at 8:50 pm

    I am learning to

    think big
    communicate on timing
    major on the minors
    Make sure we capture those who enter Parkway no matter what

    And giving away I-pods in service doesn’t hurt…

  33. Mar 28, 2007 at 9:12 am

    [...] In the first post he talks about how environment, things like the quality, style, comfort, and up-to-dateness of a church building and the use of modern technology, shouldn’t matter. In churches, environment shouldn’t matter. We shouldn’t care. But some people do. . . . [...]

  34. Apr 2, 2007 at 9:41 pm

    What creates the environment?

    I believe it’s not just the physical premises, but also the presence of the people and most importantly the presence of God.

    You can have a fancy building and people can still feel uncomfortable or even rejected. I believe it is the love that we emanate (and God’s love through His people) which creates the most desirable environment.