I’ve had my share of struggles with the authority that oversees billing for Highway 407. (The 407 is a toll highway that serves somewhat as a bypass north of Toronto.) A few years ago, their bill collectors harassed me, thinking I had not paid my bill (when the balance they kept sending me by mail was “$0.00”). As it turns out, they were after a distant cousin of mine, whose name happened to be right below mine in the telephone book. Last year, they charged CBS for the van, and me for the trailer I was pulling. (That one never did get resolved to our satisfaction.) Now, the folks at the 407 think that, for some reason, my personal vehicle is attached to the account for the transponder that sits in the Bible Society van. We’ve tried and tried and tried, and we just can’t get these folks to understand the circumstances. We want to pay our bills; we just don’t want to pay anyone else’s!
Mindful that the fruit of the Spirit is patience (Galatians 5.22), the folks in Accounting and I have tried to make the best of this situation, but in the end, it’s left me wanting to avoid the use of the 407, even under the most dire circumstances.
There are several lessons to be had from such experiences, I suppose – you know, don’t try to sneak into heaven on someone else’s coat-tails, don’t make assumptions about one person based on another, etc., etc. But then I got thinking from a ‘marketing’ perspective. One of the things that the 407 authority does poorly (in my experience, and some others’) is customer service. They keep their highway in good shape, they send you your bills promptly, and they make it easy for you to pay – but when they make a mistake in their favour, they’re not so quick to help. Any marketer will tell you that customer service is crucial to increasing business.
This is true for the church, and for individual Christ-followers. One of my favourite Bible passages is Acts 2.42-47. It gives the perfect snapshot of what life in the early church was really like. And one of the things that strikes me every time I read it is this simple phrase that Luke uses to describe the church: “…enjoying the goodwill of all the people” (Acts 2.47a).
If the people of God, collectively as the church and individually as believers, are going to have an impact on society, it is crucial that we enjoy the goodwill of all the people (or at least a goodly number of them!). Good “church marketing” involves having a good reputation in the community that you serve. A congregation can have the best programs and the best preaching and the best overall ministry, but if its reputation in the community is that it doesn’t care passionately about people – especially people who aren’t yet part of the church, or it doesn’t want to serve the neighbourhood, then its cause is lost.
Scripture gives us all kinds of ways to solicit the community’s goodwill, and ultimately, it’s about reaching out beyond ourselves, living out the Word. As Irish evangelist Gypsy Smith once said, “There are five gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and the Christian: and many people will not read the first four.” My prayer is that you, and the church you call family, will experience the goodwill of the community around you as you live out the Word.