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Assumption #2: Churches should not treat members as “customers”

Assumption #2: Churches should not treat members as “customers”

Blog Post 3 - Reflection of Church on Building (iStockphoto 2658540_Small)

Quick recap…

We believe we’ve uncovered the root cause for the Church’s decline and its path to revitalization.  It’s actually quite simple.  Yet church consultants, seminaries, books and articles promote a model for running churches that defies the most foundational principle of successful organizations.  In this case, organizational behavior aligns entirely with Biblical mandates.

The Church grew for 1900 years because it understood this single guiding precept.  In fact, it’s only in the past 100 or so years that the church abandoned this principle in favor of an alluring yet fundamentally flawed assumption.

Stay tuned over the next few weeks as we get past some baseline assumptions and reveal this root cause issue.

…and now on to the second assumption (see the last blog post if you missed the first assumption)

Assumption #2:
How an organization deals with people and where it invests the bulk of its time, resources and dollars
determine who it considers to be its “customers”.

Churches today invest the vast majority of their time, resources and dollars
on marketing, facilities, programs and services to attract and retain members/attenders.

Therefore, churches tend to approach members/attenders as if they were the “customer”.

Is the term “customer” relevant for the Church?

The word “customer” should have no relevance to the church.  But most churches today have made the term relevant by how they approach members, attenders and people outside the church.

Let’s compare how companies deal with people versus how churches today typically do so. (By the way, “people” does not refer to employees here – although we’ll look deeper soon at who are the “insiders” and who are the “outsiders” at a company versus a church – because that’s a big part of the issue!)  Companies treat all non-employees as a current or prospective customer – for example, they:

  • Market at “arms length” through advertising and word of mouth
  • Innovate to keep up with evolving customer needs
  • Enhance and expand programs, products and services to better meet market demand
  • Provide excellent service to keep customers happy
  • Take whatever other steps are necessary to increase customer loyalty

Are most modern American churches much different?  Read the list again.  How do churches market today?  Are we innovating more now to provide attractive programs and services?  Are we more bent on retaining people, hoping not to lose them to the church down the road?  There are stark similarities in how companies and churches in America attract and retain people; and stark contrasts with how churches “marketed” and “innovated” during the first 1900 years.

Of course, how churches approach members and attenders also determines whether they feel and act like “customers”.  Evidence abounds that members/attenders are more inclined today to “shop” churches, expect to be “fed”, and complain or go elsewhere when their expectations aren’t met.

Where do churches invest their time, resources and dollars?

Let me further illustrate and substantiate the point.  For most organizations, “customers” are whoever they invest the bulk of their time, resources and dollars attracting and retaining.  Where do churches spend most of their energy, assets and money?:

  1. Time – Nearly 100% of pastor and staff hours are invested in member/attender-related activities. Staff assignments cover youth, singles, small groups, music, technology, etc.  A pastor’s week is consumed with message development, touching base with members, staff meetings, visitations – not to mention funerals, weddings and the occasional crisis.
  2. Resources – Programs, ministries and church assets (buildings, equipment) are almost exclusively dedicated to serving members/attenders. That may seem obvious and appropriate – but that was not the case for the Church’s first 1900 years when churches were the center of town and served as the local food bank, shelter, etc.
  3. Dollars – Likewise, it’s estimated that 97.5% of the average church’s budget today goes to serving members/attenders. Historically, a much smaller percentage of tithes went back to the benefit of those who gave them.

Takeaways and Disclaimers

In summary, churches in America today tend to treat members/attenders as if they were the “customer” (and members/attenders tend to act like customers) because churches:

  1. deal with them similarly to how companies deal with their customers
  2. spend the vast majority of their time, resources and dollars on marketing, facilities, programs and services to attract and retain them

We’re still in the process of laying out our initial assumptions.  Don’t infer that I’m leading to any type of conclusion that churches should ignore members/attenders.  However, as a hint to what’s coming – I will say that our discovery involves reorienting much of how that time with members/attenders is spent.  But we’ll get to that later…

It’s your turn…

If a church realized it was treating and investing in members, regular attenders, visitors, and prospective visitors similarly to how companies deal with customers and prospects, what would or should they change, if anything?  If a church is one of the 93% that is not growing, is the answer to increase marketing and provide better programs and services for members?


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Root cause for the Church's decline & its path to Revitalization

“Any organization not focused on its customers, or focused on the wrong customers, cannot succeed.” – Jim Morgan