service

A nice man has just come to read our electricity and gas meters. He made a joke about not outstaying his welcome as he left.

Jesus face-planted as the church made another public statement
Jesus face-planted as the church made another public statement

Yesterday I had a courtesy phone call from the company with whom we have some of the family mobile phone contracts. And the lady with whom I was speaking was courteous.

On Wednesday I took my car to a local garage because the rubber mounts that hold my car’s exhaust pipe on had broken. The kind man replaced them all immediately and without charge.

Those people have put a positive, friendly face (or voice) to their companies. Companies today can appear to be faceless, inhuman money-making entities whose sole purpose is to try to get their hands on as much of our money as possible. That view is reinforced to me by junk mail and those irritating automated phone calls. So when I get to speak with someone human; someone who is polite; someone who is seeking to be helpful; it makes an enormous difference to the way that I view those particular companies. I feel much more favourably inclined towards them. I might not even begrudge spending some of my money with them.

I reckon churches have a considerable amount to learn about good ‘customer service’ and the impact that has on those who receive it. We know that we are supposed to be people who are examples of God’s welcome, love, acceptance, and inclusion. But that is not the message we project all the time.

I visited a church in South London once and sat in the back row with Sally. We seem to have sat in the seat that some older ladies normally sat in because when they arrived they sat either side of us. They may have said ‘hello’ but that has been lost in what happened afterwards. They started talking to each other across us, as if we weren’t there. During the sermon they passed each other sweets across us, not offering us any. We beat a very hasty retreat from there and never went back.

Not exactly a warm welcome.

I fear that the image of the Church as portrayed in the media is giving the same message to our society. Notwithstanding strongly held theological beliefs on both sides of the discussion / debate within churches (this is not a statement about their rightness or wrongness) the general public must surely be getting the (unintended) message from recent debates in churches and responses to recent legislative proposals that if you are gay or a woman you won’t be welcome in church. At best you will be considered a second class citizen.

Can we honestly say that Jesus would be saying that? How many times in the Gospels do we read of him telling someone that they were not welcome or that they were less important than others?

By way of contrast, the positive face of churches goes unreported on the whole. When those who are on the margins of society receive an unconditional, un-judgmental welcome by Christians it is not reported. When the lonely find comfort and love and support in church it doesn’t make headline-grabbing news. Even when someone finds that their life has been transformed by an encounter with Jesus it rarely gets any publicity. But those people will have received good ‘customer service’ and I hope will be as ready to share that with those whom they meet as I am about my recent experiences.

In a recent sermon I said that the only way for churches to be defeated is for us to press the self-destruct button ourselves. We have that capacity, and have demonstrated at least the ability to shoot ourselves in the foot on regular occasions. But we also have the best stories in the world – not ones that will make the headlines, but ones that each one of us can tell as good free samples of Jesus.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Corduroy pillows – they are making headlines!

 

waiting awkwardly

After a brief Christmas hiatus the bloggerel is flowing once again. I hope you had a relaxing and enjoyable Christmas and that if you have braved the sales you have survived relatively unscathed.

shoppingOn Saturday I had the joy of accompanying my wife Sally and our teenage daughter to some clothing stores in Milton Keynes. As the designated hanger around looking uncomfortable/bag holder I had the opportunity of observing how different stores treat their customers. In particular, since we were mainly visiting clothing stores providing garments for women, I was able to observe how they provided for the men who were accompanying the women in their lives.

I won’t name the stores, although I will give you some clues, but there were some big differences between them. In ‘neat and trim floating zoo’* the changing rooms were located at the back of the store, through the lingerie department. I had the joyous task of waiting for my daughter to try on various items of clothing whilst standing conspicuously in the lingerie department, trying hard not to look anywhere in particular. If you have ever seen the episode of Father Ted were priests managed to get themselves lost in the lingerie department of a store you will have some idea of how uncomfortable I was feeling. Thank goodness I don’t wear a dog collar!

Contrast that experience with the experience I had in ‘waterway parachute jump finish.’** In that store they provided a comfortable armchair in a non-embarrassing section of the shop in which I could sit and relax and while away my time.

Now while I appreciate that providing seats for accompanying males takes up valuable shop floor space that could be used for displaying stock, I think that the second shop also understood that attached females often drag males with them on their shopping trips in order that they can “get their opinion” (and then ignore it, or take the wrong way). By providing for the companion and making the shopping experience more positive for them I believe the shop is more likely to get repeat visits from the couples.

It got me wondering whether we place visitors in a similarly uncomfortable position as the first shop placed me. I don’t mean that we display lingerie around our churches, but do we make people feel awkward or conspicuous? We are starting to examine how we welcome people in our church and one of the things that we need constantly to bear in mind is that people are more likely not to come back if they have felt awkward or foolish than if we have made them comfortable and relaxed.

We don’t have any specific answers yet but we’re working on it. Here are a few simple things that we are doing. One thing that I have started doing is making sure that everybody who is participating in the service from the front either introduces themselves or is introduced so that nobody is left wondering who these people are or what they are doing. We try to limit the number of verbal ‘in-house’ notices that we give so that it’s not all for the people in the know. We serve filter coffee rather than instant. If nothing else the smell is welcoming, but people should also be able to receive a decent cup of coffee from us rather than something that might well have been made by Baldrick in Blackadder goes Forth (hot mud – you don’t want to know about the cappuccino!).

Do you do anything in your church that helps people feel welcome and relaxed? Or do you have any ideas could you not yet implemented but which you think would be worth trying? It would be interesting to hear your thoughts.

Be blessed, be a blessing

*Prim ark

** River I land