Previously I suggested that churches in America might find their efforts more effective if they adopted some basic practices of profit-seeking businesses. However, one reader (thank you Nevin) quickly pointed out to me that the opposite is also quite true–businesses too can learn quite a bit from churches. Here are a few reasons why it is likewise in the best interest of businesses to become more “churchlike.”
1. Customer Service
Most churches have “greeters,” or a few select extroverts whose duty it is to welcome visitors and answer questions. These people can provide visitors with a powerful first impression, and from the Christian perspective, that impression could be the difference between someone hearing about the path to eternal life or never returning to church again. In other words, it’s an important job in any church.
A business must treat all new customers in similar fashion. An obligatory nod or “Can I help you find anything” doesn’t cut it, either. The eternal destiny of your customers’ souls may not rest in your hands–but you should treat them like it does.
Christians believe in the command to “go and make disciples of all nations.” Discipleship, however, is not a one-time thing. In fact, one’s conversion to Christianity does not mark the end of a church’s role in his or her life, but the beginning. From that point forward, the role of the church is to challenge, grow and encourage the believer in his or her newfound life.
In the same way, whether you are selling a product or service, the sale should not be the end of your relationship with your customer, but the beginning. Apple doesn’t just sell iPhones–they create lifelong “Apple people.” If you’re focused on a single sale as the pinnacle of your relationship with the consumer, you’re missing the bigger picture.
Marketing 101: Start with a good product. Churches often find themselves fighting against assumptions that church is full of stuffy, judgmental and off-pitch old people sitting in rock-hard pews. While some (or all) of these things might be true, the task before the church is to show that there is so much more to church than just songs and pews. The battle of churches today (especially small ones) is finding a way to remain relevant. Music styles, youth groups, and social media are all efforts to meet the ever-evolving needs of the next generation.
This same issue of relevance tends to make or break small businesses. How does a local flooring business or family-owned hardware store reach 21-34 year olds who do all their shopping through Amazon and Walmart? Can Facebook and Instagram make Tom’s Carpet seem like a better option? Small businesses are in trouble if they can’t.
On the other hand, remaining relevant must never go so far as to interfere with the identity of a church. If leadership becomes more focused on making people happy than disciplining, correcting and perfecting them, the church has lost its identity as the bride of Christ and has settled to be mere Sunday morning entertainment.
So too must a business balance its efforts to be relevant with its commitment to its identity. For a business to venture beyond its area of expertise in order to bring in new customers runs the risk of (1) selling a bad product and (2) confusing and alienating the existing customer base. The business that tries too hard to please every customer will be the one that fails to please any at all.
5. Local Commitment
Many churches make it a priority to follow up and connect with visitors after their first time there. Even if first impressions were negative, a friendly phone call, letter or visit with homemade brownies (there’s the home run in my book) can be a game-changing second impression.
One particular business comes to mind regarding this level of commitment to its community. David Ziegler, former chairman of ACE Hardware Corporation, tells of how he writes handwritten notes of gratitude to customers who spend a certain amount at any of his hardware stores. Buy a snowblower, and you will find in your mailbox a personalized note from the owner of your local ACE. Though he may not be sending out plates of brownies, for the man who just bought a new lawn mower it doesn’t matter. The gesture says to him, “Everyone at your local ACE appreciates you, and so do I. Thank you for allowing us to serve you.” That’s something Apple can’t do.
The beauty of Christianity is that its survival does not depend on the abilities of one person in leadership. Christian doctrine preaches that Christ is the vine, and we (as well as our churches) are the branches. Unproductive branches may be cut off, but the vine will never die. The Church is not founded upon people, but upon a Person.
This is a tough goal to apply to a business, but will prove immeasurably valuable if it is attained. Customers need confidence that a product, service or brand will endure through the hardest of times. If a business can build itself not upon the traits of a single person, but upon its brand, it can endure the toughest series of events. Not to solely ride the Apple train, but bravo, Steve Jobs.
Yet another beautiful thing about the Christian faith is how it has endured millennia with what seems like an impossible task for its followers–going “to the ends of the earth.” How has it survived? One, the Bible’s command is crystal clear–take the gospel to everyone (Acts 1:8, Acts 20:24, etc.). That’s the Christian mission. But more importantly, that purpose has significance. The way you motivate someone to do what might seem impossible or fruitless at the time is by showing them the bigger picture, and in Christianity one finds the most compelling picture–a world of lost people that have been redeemed for an eternity with their Creator.
Now I would dare any business to try to beat that vision–but some can come pretty close. What can make a young woman working at a shoe factory get out of bed each morning with a deep feeling that her work for the day will help change the world? Perhaps working for a footwear company that does change the world (e.g. Tom’s Shoes). If you have forgotten or are still looking for your business’s purpose in the world, you will have a hard time motivating anyone to work for you. Find a viable purpose to exist first–the disciples will follow.
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