We pulled into the parking lot and my daughter read the sign out loud “Newcomers, turn on your flashers.” Parking lot attendants directed newcomers’ cars to the parking spots closest to the doors of the church.
And as I held my girls’ hands to walk them into church, parents of younger children loaded them into wagons — provided and pulled by ushers of the church.
Our entire visit to Newspring Church reminded me of the lessons from Chip Bell’s new book, 9 1/2 Principles of Innovative Service.
From sign-in to the kids’ program, where an attendant wrote down all my girls’ pertinent information then entered them into a computer system that returned printed labels, for me and them, to ensure their safety during church to the ladies’ room, where each sink had its own bottle of fragrant lotion, volunteers at Newspring treated my family and me like royalty.
My girls left church with gift bags containing information about the kids’ programs, a colorful lollipop, and a plastic Newspring cup that turned color when the temperature of the contents changed.
My parents and I visited the Green Room, a meet and greet room for visitors with special snacks — cucumber water and berry lemonade along with packaged energy bars, fruit, and cheesecake square — not your mama’s church refreshment table! At each table in the green room, volunteers greeted newcomers with gift bags and gathered contact information.
At a well-stocked information booth, volunteers offered earplugs for visitors to the church unaccustomed to the loud music.
Chip Bell says: “Boldly summon customers on a journey to collective joy much like a child welcoming a close friend to a tree house filled with secrets.”
As a visitor at Newspring Church, the attention to detail astounded me. Even after the service, the attention to detail continued as my daughters and I each received personalized notes in the mail. My note even referenced a comment I made about our visit to the church! Sherry, who wrote to me, remembered we were visiting from out of town and expressed her desire that we return to the church the next time we visited the area.
The innovative service we received at Newspring Church made me feel valued and special, from the moment we pulled into the parking lot.
I encourage you to buy and read Chip Bell’s new book, 9 1/2 Principles of Innovative Service, for insight and inspiration about the principles organizations can use to create experiences that will cause customers to swoon, smile, and sing your praises.
I am the founder/CEO of the Weaving Influence team, the author of Reach: Creating the Biggest Possible Audience for Your Message, Book, or Cause, and the host of the Book Marketing Action Podcast. I’m a wife and mom of three kids, and I enjoy running, reading, writing, coffee, and dark chocolate.
This is a great example! Thank you, Becky! What better place to practice innovation than the house of the Lord–a place of service, spirit and community.
Thanks for posting this. It’s success is thought provoking.
Obviously we can and should make people who attend our churches feel welcomed. Hospitality should be a maturing gift in our congregations, and it makes kingdom-sense to welcome strangers. I love Life Together!
Here comes the rub. As a pastor, there’s a tension between creating a church that’s filled with people who enjoy being the one served, who enjoy being doted over, who enjoy it being all about them and their family–and creating a church that has attracted and kept people who know it’s not all about them.
I am not interested in a false dichotomy between hospitality and God-centered worship. I hope I’ve made that clear.
But I’m struggling with how we as a (small but growing) church put so much energy into hospitality and all the support and teaching and resources that we pour into that–and what happens? I have a very busy, difficult to maintain program that attracts people who are busy and difficult to maintain who seem to think that church is all about them.
Maybe larger churches can have a minister of assimilation and minister of hospitality and minister of discipleship and minister of turning selfish cultural Christians into something else.
But for smaller churches who struggle to maintain some sense of spiritual direction that is separate from the cultural direction of the moment with a little Bible verse attached, for a church that is trying to communicate some sense that Christianity is about God and his glory and renown, this feels overwhelming and creates tension. I know that where we should be putting our emphasis is God, his message, his sacraments, his people.
Let me put this in a snarky way if you don’t mind. Why not just go ahead and give this family backrubs and pedicures while you are at it? If this level of hospitality is the goal and this is what it takes to make some families feel welcome, then why not just hand them fistfuls of 20’s at the front door. Surely that would be better and they’d write even more glowing reports on their visit.
You can respond to either or neither. It’s just plain hard being a pastor when the morning email tells me that the bar has to be set this high or else.
Thanks for the comment. I appreciate your thoughtful response.
First, let me say that I didn’t intend my post in any way to be prescriptive. I was not saying all churches should be like NewSpring or that the only way to be welcoming to newcomers is to greet parents and their children at their car with wagons and send them home with gift bags.
I was only saying “Wow, we visited a church, and boy, did they go out of their way to welcome us.”
In the late 90s, my husband and I planted a church. He was the only staff member for the five years we served, and I worked full time outside of our home. My idea of great service/hospitality was to do my best to remember our guests’ names from week to week. I would greet each Sunday morning and each afternoon, I would work to remember all the people I met. What I wanted more than anything was to help those guests know they mattered to me (and especially to God.) I spent my Sunday afternoons handwriting notes, and praying that people would be comfortable coming back to hear more about God.
Serving in a church is hard, and serving in a small church has its own challenges. I pray that you will be blessed in your service this week and in all the days of your ministry!