Recently, I had the opportunity to visit two different businesses in a community different from the one I live in. One was a musical instrument store, and the other was a hobby shop. Anybody who knows me well can understand that both are the kinds of stores I tend to frequent.
When I walked into the music store, I was in the place perhaps thirty seconds when I was greeted in a friendly way by a fellow who turned out to be the manager. He told me his name, and asked me mine as he shook my hand. With his disarming demeanour, it was easy for me to tell him exactly why I had come into the store. Like a good salesman, he took me into a separate room to show me a high-end version of what I was looking for. When I said that I was impressed but unable to spend what that unit would demand, he completely understood and escorted me to another area of the store to show me a unit that was well-priced and, while not as good as the first unit he showed me, would serve me well. He took the time to demonstrate it, and answered my somewhat amateurish questions without missing a beat. When my wife came in, he even made a joke with her that we all laughed at. All the staff in this store handled customers the same way.
Needless to say, I made a purchase there. I had seen other units in other stores, but the service I received at that point in time was what made me buy there. And because of that experience, I will shop there again, even though it’s not exactly handy to my home.
By contrast, when I walked into the hobby shop, I was ignored – despite the fact that I was one of two customers in the store and there were three people working there. Since I had come all the way to the place, however, I browsed for a few minutes. A stock person spoke to me when I spoke to him, and he opened a locked cabinet to allow me to examine more carefully something that had caught my eye. I picked up something I needed, and when I went to check out, I waited for ten minutes. (Remember, the help-to-customer ratio was 3:2!) When I produced my ‘loyalty club’ card, which I assumed would save me 7 percent on cash purchases such as the one I was making, I was told that because I had not spent a sufficient amount of money in the store in the past year, they could not honour the 7 percent discount. And the clerk was in no way apologetic about this.
I walked out of that hobby shop – in which I had spent quite a lot of money over the course of several years – having decided it is unlikely I will ever spend money there again.
Do you see the contrast between those two businesses? Both sell things that musicians and hobbyists need. Neither holds a monopoly in its field. These are tough economic times. Every business should be grateful to have customers at all! So why was one so encouraging and the other so ignorant?
Personality will have something to do with it, to be sure, but I think the key is that the music shop staff refused the temptation to take customers for granted.
Lest you think this is merely a consumer rant, let me apply this to the Christian life. When I was inducted as pastor in an earlier church, the preacher at the induction asked this question of the church: Who is the customer, and who is the sales person?
Many church people assume that the customer is the church member, and the sales person is the preacher. Wrong.
The customer is the newcomer to the church, and the sales person is the church member. This has always been true, but in these days when many churches are in a state of decline, it is more true than ever.
The apostle Paul wrote, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5.20a, NIV). Paul was writing about himself, but he was encouraging all believers to be ambassadors, to be ‘in sales’ for the gospel. Churches where the people believe that they have no responsibility to care for guests don’t grow, because their guests often have experiences at church like I had in the hobby shop. Churches where the people know they have a hand in caring for guests will grow, because their guests will feel cared for and will want to come back.
Of course, the Holy Spirit plays the major role in church growth, but, oddly enough, the Spirit chooses to work through God’s people. Thanks to you, and God working through you, your church can be more like the music store than the hobby shop. That’s my prayer for you!