If those serving guests at your church did this one thing...

My 30th wedding anniversary was last year. I know I don't look old enough to have done anything for 30 years (just roll with it), but this milestone snuck up on me.

As part of Michelle and I's celebration, we were given a gift certificate to go out to a nice dinner and we choose The Red O in Newport Beach. I made the reservation using the Open Table app on my iPhone and when it asked the reason for the reservation, I typed in "My 30th wedding anniversary". I didn't think this would amount to anything as I wasn't dealing directly with the restaurant. 

I was wrong.


When we got there, we walked through a fairly crowded entry room that resembled The Museum of Tequila and gave our name to the host. He caught me off guard by saying, "Happy 30th Anniversary Mr. and Mrs. Curtis. Please follow me". I thought to myself, "I didn't know they actually read the fine print on those online reservation forms" as he cut through the crowd and immediately brought us to our table. 

This table. A table for 8. As we scooted into the plush, sofa side complete with pillows, I asked him if he really wanted to seat the 2 of us at this large table when there was such a crowd. He then removed all of the place settings but 2, and took away all the chairs. "There. A private table for two Mr Curtis". 

The surprises were not over. Our waiter brought us complimentary Champagne to toast our anniversary with. After an incredible meal, we ordered a dessert they were known for, Butter Cake, and the dessert was comped again in honor of our 30 years together.

I had never heard of The Red O before. But as I waddled out of the this restaurant, back through the Tequila Hall of Fame, I thought one thing: I want to go back there for Valentines Day.

As one who envisions, trains and deploys teams of Sherpas to help guests "Climb the Assimilayas" at our church, I am reflecting on what it was about the staff at the Red O that made such an impression on me. I am coming to this conclusion: If we want to help guests trust us and to desire to become a part of our churches, those who serve them must become experts at creating positive, unexpected relational experiences.

Once again: If we want to help guests trust us and desire to become part of our churches, those who serve them must become experts at creating Positive Unexpected Relational Experiences (P.U.R.E.)

I see this dynamic in the New Testament as it chronicles what our Movement looked like in the first century when....

  • A woman came to a well in Samaria and asked a man for water and instead got a surprise relational encounter with the Messiah.
  • A Roman Jailer expected to see an empty cell after an earthquake and instead found two prisoners willing to stay in their cell and share with him news that would forever change he and his family.
  • A paralyzed beggar asked Peter and John for some money and instead received the ability to walk in Jesus Name.

Mark Waltz, in his book First Impressions: Creating Wow Experiences in your Church, discusses the difference between Guest Satisfaction and Guest Engagement. He says, 

A guest can remain rather disconnected from the business or organization and be quite satisfied. Engaged guests have a relationship with the people who make up the organization. 

He goes on to describe the positive unexpected relational experiences that move guests beyond satisfaction to fuller engagement. He calls it "Wowing" them. He also says:

The challenge is to create an environment that allows spontaneous happenings consistent with your desired outcome.

The wait staff did that for me at the Red O. What might that look like at Guest Central at my church? I think it would look something like these 2 incidences where I saw a volunteer bring a guest from satisfaction to engagementI:

Incident 1: A guest asks where our children's ministry is.

Guest Satisfaction: Our volunteer gives her directions with a smile.

Guest engagement: Our volunteer introduces themselves to their child, tells her she is pretty, asks how old she is, and invites mother and daughter on a tour of the room where her program takes place. Introducing her to her teacher while her mom meets the leader of that ministry, the room is incredible and the leaders winsome enough to win mother and daughter over. They will be back next week but the daughter will attend the children's program instead of adult worship and bring a friend with her.

Incident 2: A guest shares that she was moved by the message, confides some of her back story and wants to know how she can sign up to be baptized.

Guest Satisfaction:  Our volunteer has her check the baptism box on her connection card and turns it in for her.

Guest Engagement: Our volunteer calls one of the pastors to see if he can open the baptistry right now after church. Clothing is handed out, a volunteer is asks to jump in and clean/heat up the baptistry. She has a conversation with the pastor to discern her readiness, she confesses her faith and is baptized with our Guest Central volunteer there to hug this tearful guest when she gets out of the water. Another volunteer grabs a bag and puts a new Bible along with an invitation to Next Steps in it and hands it to her when she leaves. One more hug and her first church experience in many years is complete.

What I witnessed in both these instances was a positive unexpected relational experience that caused these 1st time guests to return the following weekend. I experienced that at the Red O and want to return, not just for the food, but for the experience. Imagine what could happen when the Spirit of God leads volunteers who are willing to go off script to go beyond just satisfying guests and begin more fully engaging them!

A restaurant. A well. The Beautiful Gate. A Prison Cell. Guest Central. A Kidside Room. A Baptistry. It can happen anywhere. And when it does, everybody wins.

Share a Wow moment you've seen between a volunteer and a guest at your church:

Have you witnessed an unexpected relational experience with a guest at your church? Share it here. I'll include these stories to stimulate ideas in my next post.

Build into your team by discussing these questions...

  • Have you ever been "wowed" at a restaurant in an unexpected way? What happened that left such an impression on you?
  • Have you designed a guest experience where your team has the freedom to do the unexpected? What have they done? What could they do if you envisioned them?
  • What would you want a guest from your service to say to a co-worker on Monday about their visit to your church?  Are your guest services and worship designed so that conversation will take place? What are three dial turns that could be made to begin moving in that direction within the next 1 to 4 weeks?