Nov 7, 2009

Wal-Mart verses Brookshire Hospitality

As I was perusing ideas during the sermon series “Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations” I ran across an attention-grabbing quotation too painful to share in worship from a book titled Deep and Wide: Hospitality and the Faithful Church:

Within a year of officially joining a congregation, 62% of new members are less active in the church than at the time they joined. Twenty-five percent simply stop coming within the first year of official membership. Evangelism and outreach are important, and growing churches have learned how to practice warm hospitality to new people. But new members don’t continue involvement unless they are thoroughly assimilated (Steve Clapp, Fred Bernhard, and Ed Bontrager: 1 January 2008, no page number given).

Most people say they want to receive a warm welcome, but the truth is that not everyone is a “welcome sponge.” I once watched a family visit a particular church a few times. They complained that people were not friendly. After watching a few Sundays, I could honestly say something like (slightly tongue-in-cheek): “I understand we all want people to be friendly, yet I notice that you folks sit on the back pew, arrive after the announcements, leave during the benediction, wear running shoes, have your car backed into its parking space . . . and leave the motor running—maybe people don’t get the opportunity to be friendly to you.” This happens, of course—but not often.

How is it we want to be welcomed? On my day off I often go to one of two places to buy groceries in Midlothian, Texas. I also notice how they handle customer relations—if we were at church then we might call it hospitality.

At Wal-Mart, after the initial greeting “Welcome to Wal-Mart,” the shopper is pretty much on his or her own. You hope you can find what you are looking for—or you hope you can find an employee who can find it for you. You have the “self-check out” option and then you roll your groceries to your vehicle and head for the exit. “Please put your cart in the cart rack to help us keep our costs to you to a minimum! That’s the Wal-Mart way!” Wal-Mart also specializes in exclamation points! No matter how often I go to Wal-Mart I never get the feeling that anyone knows me—not necessarily a bad thing either! (I also specialize in exclamation points!)!

By contrast, at Brookshire’s—the local-feel grocery store (also a conglomerate—just not as obvious) they are more hands-on with the customer relations. “Self-check out” is not an alternative and generally the store is small enough that people like me can track down someone to help me find the blueberries because someone moved them from last week’s location. The bag-persons insists on transferring your groceries to your vehicle and this way they bring the cart back—in case I wanted to abscond with one to add to my large collection at my house—Ha! Ha! At Brookshire’s you have a passing acquaintance with many of those who work there and know which ones to avoid because of their obvious low tolerance of tomfoolery.

What this has to do with church hospitality is simply this: there are many ways to make people welcome and the best way is to make them feel welcome the way that best makes them feel welcome. That is all—the groceries get eaten in either case. So be it!


Debbie said...

Big-box stores are so impersonal. You better know what you want before you go in because getting someone to assist you is next to impossible. And if you do manage to flag a clerk down, he can only tell you where an item is located. He/She will know nothing about the product specifically.

Tiny boutiques are just the opposite. Clerks hover making one feel uncomfortable. The employees often try too hard to sell you something you don't need or want.

Like most things, the answer is in the middle. I need a store big enough to meet my needs, but small enough to make you feel you belong and that there is someone available if you need help.

Churches are kind of like that.

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