Thursday, July 03, 2008

Improving the Church Expereince

I thought for a moment that I had sold my principles for a £20 Tesco voucher yesterday morning!

I was ambushed beside the recycling containers by a harmless looking woman. Through one ear I was listening to the satisfying smash of bottles inside the big containers. The other ear was being assailed by a woman telling me that she had not met her quota and could I please give an hour of my time to do her a favour!

The favour was simple enough – walk around the supermarket and give my opinion of the layout of the store and suggest improvements to make the shoppers’ experiences that much more satisfying. The difficult part was in working out which boxes to tick in terms of my attitude towards Tescos. I suspect that I was more unhappy than happy, and if she needed an unhappy person, to balance her cross section of ordinary shoppers, I could be that person. I was assured that they were not interested in the views of the “unhappy” customers, because obviously they are only going to say negative stuff! So why have a box on the form for unhappy people? It seems to me that you need to listen to the views of the unhappy ones too to find out why they are so unhappy!

So we ticked the “mixed” view box in the end.

What am I not happy about? I think it could be the cheap prices. It makes me wonder how they can produce things so cheaply. At whose expense are they making a profit? I also wonder about the small local businesses that cannot compete price-wise and end up closing down. In one of our units on Justice in the World we look at the way big multi-national companies produce things so cheaply and elbow their competitors out of the way. Once the competitors are gone, they can up their prices because they are the only supplier left in town.

Tesco will never be the only supplier in town – but you get my drift.

So it was under some apprehension this morning that I turned up to do my walk about and give my views. It was nice to discover that a colleague from work had also been ambushed by the same woman, and we were in it together. My friend had obviously given it a lot more thought than I had. She was able to rattle of a dozen areas where they could make improvements, starting with the car-park

The lady that took us around asked us plenty of questions about certain sections of the store, the freshness and range of food, the speed through the checkouts, the helpfulness of the staff etc. Many of the questions focussed on the negative things, about what we didn’t like about the store and what could be improved.

Her final questions, after the walkabout and the general discussion, was in interesting one. If Tesco implemented all the changes we had suggested – fresh fish counters, proper butchers, a bigger range of some of the products – would we come more often? Would it make any difference to our shopping habits? Would we spend more?

My honest answer was “No” in the sense that it is where I tend to do the weekly shop anyway. I go often enough, and I already think I spend too much there and I don’t give enough of my business to the smaller independent shops like I could. I don’t want any more reasons to shop at Tescos – or Morrisons, or Sainsburys or Asda.

Coming away from my market research hour in Tescos, I thought about applying their techniques to church setting! What is it about church that you like, or you don’t like? Are the seats too hard, or too soft? Is the décor pleasing to the eye? Are the words projected onto a big screen better than leafing through a hymn book? Talking of hymns, are they outdated? Should it be all modern songs and choruses? Is the sermon too long? Or too irrelevant? Are the congregation welcoming? Or judgemental?

And finally after you have discussed it all – your final questions – “If we made the changes you have suggested, will you come more often?”

The honest answer? Probably not!

Many churches have made changes in they way they do things. I don’t think they have changed to attract people who otherwise wouldn’t come. I think they have changed to find better ways to worship and help people to live holy lives in the world.

In the end though, it is people that need to change. God doesn’t fit himself around people and their routines. It is people that need to dismantle what they do to fit around God.

1 comment:

Mark H said...

Great post! Modern church seems to wrestle so much with consumerism. But if church is the folks and not the building, or even the service, and our inspiration is the discipleship that Jesus demonstrated, then the important attributes are things like acceptance, healing (of all kinds), nurturing, inspiring, challenging, equipping, developing and sending ;-)

I seem to meet people quite often who see through any flim-flam and are seeking genuine friendship and community - and genuine spirituality. People want to know about Jesus and how He relates to our lives. Unfortunately, many of these same people really don't want to "come to church" no matter how much we try to impress upon them that church is not what they're expecting.

So we're challenged to help church "emerge around them" until the time that they feel ready to be part of a community of believers. And even that doesn't mean dragging them across any cultural boundaries that aren't genuine Kingdom Of God culture - in fact it may mean nurturing the expression of Kingdom that is happening around them and their sphere of influence.

Thanks again for an insightful post!