Is the Church like a Car Dealership? Should it be?

So, I have been out of full-time vocational ministry for few minutes now.  While I have been taking some time away to pray and consider what it is that God wants to do with me, I have resolved to taking a “tent making” position selling cars. It has been a fascinating journey to say the least. The car business is an industry full of men with incredible charisma as well as incredible pain. Many of these men are full of disdain for the ideas of God, while some are desperately hoping that God will somehow show up and to rescue them from their circumstance.   And then there are a few others that have found a way to find peace in their circumstance and they strain to walk in the storm with Jesus. But one thing we all have in common: if we come to work and don’t perform, we don’t eat.  It is in this industry that I had an interesting revelation of sorts.

Recently, I attended a conference on “Mastering the Phone” for new and follow up car sales.  I have to say, all I could think  was “Ahhhh the church needs this so bad!! what have we been doing all this time?!” Allow me to explain…  In the car world, there are many ways to buy a car.  First (and the most popular way) is to drive around and look at lots full of cars. When you do this (pull up onto a car lot), the likelihood that you will buy a car is around 17%.  It turns out that this is the hardest way for a salesperson to sell a car (no prior interaction, no establishment of trust or really understanding of need). The second way to buy a car is to research (look around online, call a dealership) and then go in.  If this is the route you take, what ever dealership you end up, the likelihood that you buy increases to 45-50%.  The reason for the increase is that you have done your research, established a little re-pore and feel more comfortable with making a commitment. Or if you have been taken care of in the past and were happy with your last purchase,  you then call your previous salesperson back and share thoughts, hopes and intentions  At that point, the likelihood increases to 70%. It is pretty easy to see by these statistics that owning phone skills is critical to being a successful salesperson and having a successful dealership, overall.

In this “Mastering the Phone” training, the instructor went over all of these imperatives (phone skills, actions and their importance) and then to demonstrate his point about the ineffectiveness of the phone skills in the industry, he proceeded to call around to the surrounding dealerships while he had the phone system piped into the conference room and show us just how horrible sales people were at pre-qualifying clientele.  In addition, no one bothered to offer help in understanding choices in vehicles, or to bring a positive perspective in the potential for treating them well on their perspective trade in.

Not only was I dying because frankly, the sales people were horrible, but I couldn’t help but see similarities in the Church. All the sales guys just hoped that the customers would come in for the big show, then they could get the “ether” (power of the experience going) and sell a car.

So I assume I might be losing some of you already for making the evil comparison of church development, and business development; but please hear me out. When people are coming to church, are we really just wanting to give them the attractional show, or is there something more that we have to provide; the idea of family and community, of care and of support. Normally we give them the big show, ask them to fill out a visitors card, then maybe we offer direction to the visitors center where we give them a free CD or a book. We stuff some brochures with limited ministry information into a gift bag, and then if they are lucky enough to be there during our small groups push, we will give them some of that as well.

After the initial visit, if you are super progressive, you send them a starbucks card in a thank you note and invite them back via email. Maybe after that you will have someone call to check out an orientation class or a new members class. But for the most part that’s it. Oh yeah, there is the stuff in the bulletin that they may look at again if they like the big show. Am I touching a nerve?

So as I listened to this trainer talk about providing the right information on the phone and website (80% of all car buyers look at your web first before they buy) I couldn’t help but think; The Church can do better. It seemed to me that we have been acting like people’s first interaction with the Church is at the service. I couldn’t help but ask; Are we are totally swinging and missing on our initial interaction? We know that most people will check out the web or call first for information before they come in? I had to check my hypothesis, So I decided I will get on-line to the “You’re New” section of some of the prominent churches in the area to see what they had posted there (for those that had them) and then I would give them a call to see how the “first touch” people did.

So here is what I found, most websites seems to be set up for the normal weekly attender. Many have stepped up and have some sort of “Your New” or “First Time” section but when you look at them with a critical eye, really they all say here is what you can expect at the big show. There is no place to interact… Its basically equivalent to the Used Car salesman saying  “Yeee haw! come on down folks we have all sorts of great cars & trucks. We will even have some balloons and coffee for ya. Go ahead and bring your kids we have a little area for them to play too.”

What would happen if we had an about you section for first time visitors? Single, Married, Children, Do they have special needs as far as parking or accessibility? Here are a list of our ministries: what would you like information on the first day? What if we allowed them to sign up to have someone meet them before service, show them how to check in their kids, explain about what might be happening that day, Communion, Special services, Get them a bible if they would like one (Or show them what app on their phone your church is going by) Buy them a cup of coffee and give them a tour, maybe we could even explain the values of small groups and give them some options in attending (maybe even introduce them to small group leaders if you have an area of interaction). You could go so far with this… You could have families sign up to have visitors sit with them or invite them to lunch later.

The possibilities are really endless. If you had people signing up to come in, you could even create the script for your designated integration specialist depending on there circumstance. They might even call and say something like “you know, I understand you might be nervous attending the first time alone and that is 100% normal. What many of our first time guests do to feel more comfortable is to invite a friend, Is there anyone you can think of that you would like to invite, or that you would like me to reach out to for you?

As I called a around the local churches, here is what I found: half had automated recordings. If you are looking for service times and directions please hit #1. The other half were quick and short with sharing service times and directions.

So I have to ask If your receptionist/ministry director/pastor answered the phone and heard someone say, “hey I’m shopping churches and wondered what time you service is this weekend?” What would your “first touch” person say? Would they say ” Our service times are at…” or, would they say

“Wow, you picked a great weekend to come in!”

“With your permission I’d like to ask you a few questions so that I can get you all the information you need to have a fantastic experience?”

Then would they help to assess the needs of the perspective attender and make sure that the right people had their name and information? Would he or she not only be able to answer questions about the mens, women, singles, youth ministries, etc… but be able to effectively promote these groups as well?

Would they say something to the effect:  “It is really important to us as a family that you feel comfortable on your first visit; would you mind sharing some of your likes and dislikes at the previous church(es) you attended?”

Do you see how this changes things? What If you were right in the middle of a capital campaign and the person was complaining about “the other churches just talked about giving money” would the person that answered the phone know how to walk them through your churches financial stewardship responsibilities in a way that was palatable, or maybe even exciting?

Of course, I haven’t even touched on the incredible follow up calls and systems that could be put in place…  Truly, the possibilities are amazing for narrowing some of the cracks that people slip through.  Although the idea of growing the church is attractive, the idea of affecting those that are having a hard time connecting should be so much more attractive.  I believe that we can do much better in gathering the sheep without a shepherd than we have in the past.

At this point you are probably either fully convinced that I should just stick to selling cars (ouch) because God grows the church and there is no place for secular techniques. Or, maybe you are thinking we might just be able to do things better, and in which case, your mind is probably roaring ahead.

If you would like to roar ahead with me, I am going to work on putting together some information to try to help the church  be more effective with their perspective visitors.  I would love your input or at least some people to bounce ideas off of. If you are one of those people comment below and we will connect and see where God takes this.

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3 thoughts on “Is the Church like a Car Dealership? Should it be?

  1. Good points. There are a lot of things about business that the Church can utilize to function and flow better. Great phone skills, knowing what questions to ask, how to properly qualify needs and direct a caller to get them the appropriate information can be boosted by adequate training. But what training resource? Is there “An Idiot’s Guide to Being a Good Receptionist?” Automated phone systems make up for some tight budgets. And don’t get me started on some pastoral staff having voicemails that they never check or respond to. Just have a message saying, “Sorry you missed me, don’t leave a message. If you need immediate assistance dial zero to get the receptionist.” Oh, wait, that puts you back into the automated system and the backhole of trying to speak with a live person. Perhaps the hold music should be “Jesus on the main line, tell Him what you want…”
    On the flip, I’ve talked to live receptionists who do not take ownership of the call for a proper handoff, instead their call screening was simply to know which voicemail box to put you into so no one would call you back.
    Many first impressions of a church to outsiders are through the website. An About Us section with a “What to Expect” or a first timers tab with a welcome video by the pastor can go a long way connecting the prospect, IF there is an adequate call to action such as click here to schedule your first visit.
    Good phone skills should complement all the additional efforts of the volunteer greeters, parking lot helpers, first impressions team, etc.
    Not just a matter of first impressions… Col 3:23, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart as working for the Lord…” Even answering the phone? Col 4:5-6 says, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”

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