Our Best Episodes of 2023 (Part 4)
As 2023 comes to a close, we’re revisiting some of our most popular episodes from the year!
This week, we’ll take a look back at one of our most popular episodes from our series on “Mistakes You’re Making in Your Weekend Experience.”
EPISODE REPLAY – 5 MISTAKES YOU’RE MAKING WITH YOUR GUEST SERVICES
In the last 4 years alone, our Unstuck consultants have been on the ground in 250+ churches helping evaluate their in-person Sunday experience—from parking and facilities to the message and production.
After reviewing years of data from these “secret shopper” reports, it’s clear that a positive guest experience is one of the key areas that sets growing, healthy churches apart.
In this popular episode, we’re joined by Chad Hunt, Unstuck ministry consultant and Lead Pastor of Victory Hill Church, for a conversation around creating an intentional guest services experience. We discuss:
- The wrong leadership for your guest services
- Organic vs. intentional hospitality
- Four keys for effective kids ministry
- The importance of low-commitment next steps
This Episode Is Sponsored by Ministry Brands:
You may think you know Ministry Brands, the parent company of industry-leading brands such as ShelbyNext, FellowshipOne, and easyTithe. But wait until you hear about their brand new flagship solution, Ministry Brands Amplify: a cutting-edge all-in-one Church Ops solution helping empower healthy churches, connect, engage, and grow their Ministry while boosting member engagement, allowing church staff and volunteers to focus on their calling.
Empower your Ministry today with this all-in-one Giving, People, Streaming, App Builder, and Website solution. Learn more at ministrybrands.com/unstuckgroup.
Other Episodes in This Series:
- Best of 2023 – Pruning: How Do We Know What to Stop? (Replay) – Episode 325
- Best of 2023 – Are We Healthy Enough to Go Multisite? (Replay) – Episode 326
- Best of 2023 – 7 Reasons Why Large Churches Get Stuck (Replay) – Episode 327
Leader Conversation Guide
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We use #unstuckchurch on Twitter, and we start a real-time conversation each Wednesday morning when the episode drops. You can follow me @tonymorganlive and The Unstuck Group @unstuckgroup. If Facebook is where you spend your time, I’m there, too.
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Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we are exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. In the first 11 months of 2023, The Unstuck Church Podcast has been downloaded nearly 400,000 times. And throughout the month of December, we’re revisiting some of the most listened to episodes of the year. On this week’s podcast, we’re replaying a conversation Tony and Amy had during our July series on the Five Mistakes You’re Making with Your Guest Services. Before we go there, though, if you’re new to the podcast, head over to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast and subscribe to get the episode show notes in your email. When you do, you’re gonna get resources to go along with each week’s episode, including our Leader Conversation Guide, some bonus resources and access to our podcast resource archive. Again, that’s theunstuckgroup.com/podcast to subscribe. And now, before this week’s conversation, here’s Tony.
You may think you know Ministry Brands, the parent company of industry-leading brands such as Shelby Next, Fellowship One and easyTithe but wait until you hear about their brand new flagship solution. It’s called Ministry Brands Amplify, and it’s a cutting-edge, all-in-one church ops solution, which is helping empower healthy churches to connect, engage and grow their ministry while boosting member engagement. And that’s allowing church staff and volunteers to really focus on their calling. Empower your ministry today with this all-in-one giving, people, streaming, app builder and website solution. Learn more at ministrybrands.com/unstuckgroup.
Well, welcome back to The Unstuck Church Podcast. Last week, we launched a new series on mistakes you’re making in your weekend experience. And, Tony, will you catch us up to speed and introduce this week’s topic?
Well, as I mentioned last week, over the last four years, our Unstuck consultants have been on the ground in two, I, I can’t even believe it, more than 250 churches, helping evaluate their in-person Sunday experience. And this is everything from the parking lot and facilities to the message and the worship service itself. And we often see churches of all sizes and denominations making similar mistakes. And so, last week Amy walked us through five common mistakes we see in the area of worship services, but in the coming weeks, we’re gonna be talking about guest services, kids ministry and facilities and then not only talk about the mistakes, but more importantly, talk about some solutions to elevate your weekend experience. So, this week, we’re gonna be focusing on guest services. And, this is gonna be pretty fun, Amy.
Yeah, Tony, I’ve, I’ve done enough Secret Shoppers at churches through the years to know that this is a much needed topic of conversation. And to help us with this topic today, we have a special guest joining us.
Yeah, that’s correct. And this really is a special guest. The guest today is Chad Hunt. Chad’s a good friend, but he’s also the lead pastor of Victory Hill Church, which is near Bowling Green, Kentucky. So I think it’s about as close as you can get to the Kentucky-Tennessee border. So, now, you might understand when you hear Chad a little bit of his accent. But Chad has also served on the Unstuck team for many years as one of our ministry consultants. And through that experience, he’s worked with over a hundred churches and done some of these Secret Shopper Experiences where he’s had the opportunity to see firsthand what churches are doing as it relates to guest services. So, needless to say, Chad has visited many churches and, out of that experience, has lots of wisdom to share when it comes to first-time guest experiences. So, with that introduction, here’s my conversation with Chad.
Chad, thanks for joining us for this podcast series. We’re talking about weekend services and some of, some of the key components of a great experience on the weekends for churches. And today, I wanted to talk with you specifically about guest services for a couple of reasons. Number one, you’re at a great church that’s very intentional about guest services, but then secondly, you’re kind of side gig is with The Unstuck Group. You’re one of our, our best ministry consultants. You’ve been with us for years, and because of that, through The Unstuck Process, you’ve done probably more than a hundred I’m guessing (you can correct me if I’m wrong) kind of Secret Shopper Experiences, where you’re going to different churches on Sunday morning. So, first kind of give us your backstory as it relates to your church and The Unstuck Group and the secret shopper experience. And then, like I said, I wanna dive into some specific questions as it relates to guest services today.
Well, Tony, thanks so much for having me on the podcast. And yeah, you’re right. It’s been, I think, actually did a count, and counting the churches that I worked with before Unstuck, I think I’m at 146 of, and that includes coaching as well, so that’s just not on the ground, Secret Shopper Experiences. It has to be close to a hundred cuz I think this is my ninth year with The Unstuck Group. And I’m just so thankful to be a part of a great team.
Well, like I said, Chad, I do wanna talk a little bit about then the specific mistakes that we often see. And I guess partly the conversation today is I want you to confirm, do you see these same mistakes? And then, if so, maybe elaborate on how churches can pivot and maybe rethink how they’re approaching guest services as it relates to these five areas that we’re going to cover and beginning with the lack of leadership. And let me explain that. What I see in many churches is that it feels like either everyone owns it, and because of that, no one owns guest services. Or the second thing that sometimes we see is the worship team owns it. And what we’ve learned when the worship team owns guest services, which kind of intuitively makes sense because it’s all part of the guest experience on Sunday mornings, both outside and inside the auditorium. But what we’ve learned is when the worship team owns it, they’re so focused on the service, the worship service itself, that sometimes, oftentimes, the guest service experience gets neglected. So that’s the first mistake I wanted to kind of talk through is that lack of leadership. What are your thoughts on that?
Yeah, I think you’re exactly right. And I remember something, Tony, you said a long time ago. I’m not sure if you coined this, but I I heard it first from you. And you, you said it: “Hope is not a strategy.” And I think that’s so true when it comes to our hospitality strategy. What I’ve learned in working with churches is most churches count on this organic hospitality. They just kind of hope that it happens versus intentional hospitality. And I think that in order for intentional hospitality to happen, two things have to occur. Number one, as you said, there has to be a leader just for it. And there has to be a team for hospitality. And oftentimes, what we find is that, as you said, no one really owns it. So if someone’s gonna own it, be the leader, that means there’s a job description. There’s, there’s expectations. There’s the right engagement in the right places and the right language and all of those things. And I think most importantly, when I think about the lack of leadership, even those churches that have intentional leadership, where they always drop the ball is what I feel like is the most important opportunity. And that is the post-service hospitality. I tell our church all the time that “On the front end, let’s celebrate. On the backend, let’s conversate.” They’ve went through church. They’ve lived to tell about it, and now maybe they’re open for a conversation. And so that post-service hospitality is a big factor, but none of those things happen if we just hope that it happens through this ooey gooey, organic, you know, hospitality strategy.
I love that. All right, here’s the second mistake. Let me see if you can confirm this for me, as well, because I have stories to share to support this. I’ve seen churches that are friendly, but they’re not welcoming. I’ve actually experienced this as I’ve done some Secret Shoppers in the past, Chad, but has that been your experience as well?
Oh yeah, it has. And you know, and I’m reminded of Gary McIntosh that said that, “Friendliness is the number one reason that people come back to church for a second time.” And so many people just don’t understand that, or at least that they ignore that fact. Friendliness being defined as the number of conversations that people have with someone when they’re in the building. So there was one church in particular that I was engaged with, with their Unstuck Process. And during our strategic planning time, one of the team members informed me they were the friendliest church in their state. I mean, I’m, they’re like, “We are so friendly that you’re gonna be walked in. They’re gonna take you to the coffee bar. They’re gonna, you’re gonna be invited to three or four small groups. So we just want you to be prepared for that.” I’m like, “Okay.” Cuz Tony, I’m sure like you, you’ve heard this before, as well. I’m sure.
Everyone thinks they’re friendly. So, I pull into the guest parking. No one comes to get me. So I finally get out, go in the building. I stand there for about seven minutes cuz I time these things. No one approaches me, even though there’s lots of people in this really nice lobby talking, engaging. Finally, I go to the coffee bar, and the lady at the coffee bar is like, “Oh, so you’re new.” I’m like, “I am.” And she goes, “Well, I have a, a cup just for you, just for guest.” I’m going, “thank you.” And so I get this really nice first-time guest mug, and I go stand back in the same location. And there’s a flat-screen above the worship center that’s a timer for the, for the auditorium to open. And I’m there for 11 minutes. I have this actually in writing. I’m there for 11 minutes and 36 seconds. And not one person, although there’s many people in the room, they do not approach me. And finally the, in my peripheral, I see the coffee bar lady dart into the worship center. And I, what I didn’t know was her husband was part of that planning team that weekend.
And she goes in, and she says to her husband, she said, “There’s a weird guy in the lobby just standing there. We need to call security.” He comes out; he sees me. He’s like, “Oh man, get in here.” Same thing happened in the worship center. When, when the pastor got up and asked people to turn and greet their friends and welcome guests, not one person greet me. So it really comes to this, this principle that it’s very possible to be friendly with each other and not be friendly with others. And, and it feels friendly. It feels warm and fuzzy, but again, without that intentionality, and you know, what I tell our church is do not look for first-time guests. Look for people who you do not know their first name. That is the target. Because once a church gets past a certain size, you can’t recognize guests. Matter of fact, I hope every church gets to a place they can’t recognize guests. It means they’re growing. And so we have to have intentionality about engaging people who we do not know their name. And without that, it can really feel friendly because church people are friendly to each other, but the people we’re trying to reach, the loneliest place for a person to be is in a large room full of Christians talking to their Christian friends. And they feel utterly alone. And that’s really easy for them to make the decision not to return.
Yeah, all right. So a third mistake that we run into many, many times, and I get it, because getting building teams, finding volunteers for all of these necessary roles in guest services on Sunday morning, that, that’s a big task for any church. But it’s just that many churches, when it comes to guest services, don’t have enough people on the team. And even if they do have enough people, many times they’re not obvious because they’re not wearing something, some (I’ll call it a uniform) some, some way to distinguish that team from anybody else in the church. So, what are your thoughts on that, Chad?
Yeah. And, you know, that reminds me again of something that you mentioned, Tony, in a podcast. That if you wanna know how important uniforms are, put on an orange shirt and go to a Home Depot and see what happens. And I think that’s so true with I think that’s so true with hospitality—that they need to be highly visible, that people need to be able to readily identify them. And, and the other thing I would say, too, especially when we don’t have enough people on the team, it just means that we’re not preparing for our guest well. And one thing that I tell churches, and I even tell our own church, is that we have to prepare for the guests today who aren’t here yet. And I think that’s just a principle of stewardship, but it, it really does two things. When we have people easily identified, when we have intentional hospitality, it does a couple of things. Number one, it teaches our church that we value guests. So the people who are coming, they know we value them, and therefore, they know what a guest experience looks like when we encourage ’em to bring their friends. But also, number two, it really begins to bleed into the culture of the church that we, you know, our culture, the thing that we want to establish at our church is simply this: one invite can change a life. And if we believe that, then we need to be ready for when, for when those friends come. We need to make sure that people are engaged in the right places in the right spaces with the right conversation. That it’s not weird, and that there’s the right steps for those people to take. And so I think that you’re exactly right. That if we don’t lead today like where we know we’re going tomorrow, we’re gonna miss a great opportunity. And man, first-time guests, you got one shot to make them feel welcome. You’ve got one shot to make them understand that we really want you to be here.
Yeah. And so when we’re talking about enough people for the team, think about really beginning in the parking lot. Are there volunteers welcoming guests at the front door? In your lobby space? At the auditorium doors or your sanctuary doors, are there people there to welcome people into the sanctuary? Inside the auditorium, think about ushers inside to help people get to get to their seats or find seats. Assuming you have a help desk or something, someplace for people to get questions answered, especially if they’re first-time guests, and probably many more opportunities beyond that. But we really need to have enough folks in all of these spaces to welcome guests and encourage them not only to, to enjoy the experience, but then to an answer any specific questions that they might, might have. And if you forget what that’s like, I would encourage you to actually go to another church that’s maybe outside your faith tradition and experience that for the first time through a guest eyes, guest eyes because that’ll, that might give you fresh perspective on the intentionality that you at your church have to have, as well. Okay.
Hey, Tony, I remember once when I went to Walmart, and there was a lady at the front door. And she said, “Good morning, how are you?” And I’m said, “I’m fine, how are you?” And she said, “I’m fine.” And it, it dawned on me that she probably really didn’t care how I was, and I didn’t care how. I just wanted to get in and get out. And I’m reminded that while door greeters are important, very important, we need those people opening doors and welcoming people. But the hospitality has to exceed the front door. And what we’ve established at our church, we call ’em weekend ninjas. And so we have people who are identified with shirts. We have people that wear the lanyards, and we have, you know, section hosts and all those things. But we also have ninjas. And these are people that we, we charge that we ask them, we want you to produce radical hospitality. And that’s basically engaging people you don’t know. They’re not wearing a lanyard. They’re not, you know, in other words, it’s not their job or their duty—that we’re just, we’re that friendly. And our weekend ninjas have done an amazing job in creating. The thing I’ve learned about hospitality is it’s contagious. And when people start doing it, even when it, you know, our ninjas and, and the people that are identified, it almost begins to, again, bleed into that culture and becomes this contagious thing that our entire, entire church begins to embrace.
I love that idea, Chad. I wanna be on the ninja team. That sounds like fun.
Yeah. Who don’t wanna be a ninja.
Yeah. Let’s talk about the fourth area, which is not being prepared specifically for young families with kids. In other words, when a family shows up and they have preschoolers, if they have newborns, if they have elementary-aged kids especially, are we prepared for that family when they come in? Because there’s just the, it’s the unex, the unknown obviously is there for the parents, but it’s compounded by the fact that they wanna make sure their kids are gonna be safe. It’s gonna be a secure space, that they’re gonna have fun in that experience, as well. So, give us some, give us some guidance on how to approach how to prepare for young families with kids, Chad.
Yeah, and that’s a, a, a great question. And I, I wanna just say, especially with stuck churches, a lot of the stuck churches that we engage with, especially smaller churches, their number one obstacle is they don’t have any children yet. Or they have very few, and they feel like, well, we really don’t need the nursery. We don’t have. Again, we have to lead today like we’re, we know where we’re going tomorrow. And I think some of the obstacles that really hurts this young-family appeal is, number one, is, I mean, I’ll just say even the decor. I’ve been in children’s ministries, it looks like a hospital or a nursing home. And, you know, there’s no color; there’s nothing appealing to kids there. Nothing looks fun. I think that the four things that really have to be right for kids ministry, you know, the, is number one, and I think this is in order; I could be wrong here. I’m not a children’s pastor. I would be a horrible children’s pastor. But I think in this order is number one, it has to be fun. And that fun is more than just the experience, that’s also the environment.
Irresistible environments that are compelling that, that children want to go to. Number two is, it has to be safe. And while it, it needs to be safe not only for the kids, but the parents need to feel that safety more than anyone else. There needs to be the child check-in. How will you notify me in case that my child needs me? And by the way, if the answer is, we’ll come find you. Horrible answer. We don’t, we need some kind of professional way to notify. And there’s lots of options for that. Thirdly, it needs to be gospel-centered. So while we want ’em to have fun, we want ’em to learn about Jesus. That’s important. And then lastly, it has to be organized. And, you know, if it’s not organized, then I feel sorry for the people that’s serving in children’s ministry. But all of those things really is what creates, at the end of the day, it, it, it creates the opportunity for the, when mom and dad get in the car and when dad looks over his shoulder and says, well kids, what did you think? And either they love it or they hate it, and chances are if they hate it, they’re not coming back. Cuz the old principle is if you win the kids, you win the city. And so kids’ ministry is that important that we need that experience where kids want to come back. Because many parents, whether right or wrong, whatever your beliefs are, many parents will shop churches and determine their church home based on what’s in it for the kids.
Chad, as you were talking about that, I was reminded of a visit to a church years ago, and actually, Emily, my wife, and our kids were with us. And we had checked in the kids into the children’s ministry space, which was seemed great. This my experience at the end of the service, though, it was kind of funny and scary at the same time. As I was picking up my child, I noticed there was a clipboard that was being passed through the checkup line, checkout line with all the parents.
And as I learned, they were asking the parents in the line to sign up to serve in the children’s ministry area. And I’m thinking, oh, goodness. They have no idea who’s in this line. They have no idea who I am. Here I am on my very first Sunday at this church, and they’re asking me to serve in the children’s ministry area. And so, needless to say, I didn’t bring my kids back to that church. But when it comes to communicating great experience for, especially a first-time family and then especially the safety and security, we really need to be thinking about intentional strategies there. And don’t worry, Chad; we’ll be talking about children’s ministry separately with somebody that does that all the time in this series as well. So, but those are great insights that you shared from the perspective of a pastor at a church as well. All right. Last thing, it’s just, and this is, I know, something that your church is very good at. The mistake that we see is asking guests to take big steps. And when I talk about big steps, it’s like if you’re new here, stand up. If, if you’re new here, join our membership. If you’re new here, connect into a group or a serving team or give to the church. Those are big steps to ask someone that’s brand new to the church. I know your church approaches this very differently. So could you walk us through that?
Yeah, so, and you’re right, Tony. One thing that just in my learning and of not only working with churches, but it’s even our own church, is that guests aren’t coming to buy the car. They come in to kick the tires. And too often, churches, their first step is so large or it feels like it’s so much commitment, no one’s gonna take that. And I remember when I first came to our church, we didn’t really have a path. You know, the first step was like a four-week class or something like that. There’s places for classes. I’m not saying you can’t do classes, you can’t do four-week studies or any kind, you know, some kind of a, a process. But on the front end of, of the people we’re trying to reach, they really need low-commitment steps that have low relational requirements. And I’ll tell you the two things that really drive those steps are language and the space. And so for example, you mentioned Tony, you, you used the word membership. For the people we’re trying to reach, the only thing they probably equate to membership is country club or some other common kind of organization where they were a member at some time in their life. They have no idea what that even looks like in the context of the church. And so at our church, what we do is we talk about, hey, if you’re brand new, and so every, by the way, every single week we have a path step. And it’s, it’s actually, it happens consecutively the first, second, third and fourth Sunday of every month. And the first step we have is we call it New to Victory. And this is the language that we have to use that I, I say we have to, the speaking team has to do it. The ones that they’re in-person host is they say, listen, if you’re, you know, if you’re a first-time guest, that’s your strategy. You know, go to the connect corner or guest services. If you’re returning guest, if you’ve been coming for a couple of weeks, a couple of months, never taking the next step, take five minutes and join us at New to Victory—that language “five minutes” is important because they know that we’re probably not gonna try to baptize ’em in five minutes. And they know that it’s gonna be a kind of a standup meeting come and go. So if they can do that and then, then, the second Sunday of every month is Discover Victory. Hey, take 15 minutes, 30,000-foot view of our church. You can ask any question that you like. And by the way, word on the street is we have some ooey, gooey, nutty butter bars or whatever. They always have some kind of treat.
Because you always have to ask the question what’s in it for them. And then lastly is Grow at Victory. And that is where we invite them to look at all the opportunities. And that’s always the third Sunday. And it’s about 30 minutes. And we always have, believe it or not, Tony, on a Sunday, we have a relationship. We have Chick-fil-A in the house on Sunday. And so we’ll tell ’em, Hey, Chick-fil-A is Jesus Chicken is in the house, come to grow. It’s about 30 minutes. You’re gonna learn about all the opportunities. You can kick the tires. You don’t have to buy the car. We want you to find the place that’s right for you. And what I’ve learned about this is so many people at our church, especially when we really first started this about three years ago, people had been in our church for two years. That had never taken a step that took these steps. And when I asked them, Why? You’ve been here two years, and they said, we really never had a step that we felt like we could take. And so the, the idea and the principle is when we think about steps for new people is we have to create steps that are low committal and low relationally enough that they can take it. And every time we can create one step for someone to take, it will give them courage to take a deeper step and finally become connected to the life of the church.
I love that. By the way, Chad, my favorite food incentive in, in recent months: Crumbl Cookies. Do they have Crumbl Cookies where you are?
Oh, we do have Crumbl Cookies. Yes. And you’re right, they will change your life.
I, I will do just about anything for a Crumbl cookie. So if, if you’re a pastor listening, that, that may be the key to church health right there.
Well, if you ever visit our church, I will make sure Crumbl Cookies are in the room so we can get you to take a next step, Tony.
All right. Chad, I really appreciate not only your service to our team, but your service to the kingdom really and what you and your, your church are doing to reach people for Jesus.
So thanks for speaking into these, these mistakes that we’re seeing in other churches related to guest services. Thanks for joining us.
Thanks for having me, Tony.
Well, I always love listening to Chad share his wisdom because he has a gift for taking complicated principles and strategies and capturing the key thoughts in memorable phrases. And by the way, if you ever looked at our customer satisfaction, the churches that engaged with Chad, love him.
Yes, they do.
He’s so good at helping pastors just untangle those things. But, Tony, what stood out to you from that conversation?
Well, one of those phrases, memorable phrases that Chad shared was this one: guests aren’t coming to buy the car; they’re coming to kick the tires.
I love that.
And it’s just good for us to remember that when someone’s coming to visit for the very first time, they’re not ready to make the purchase yet; they’re still just kick, kicking the tires. And because of that, I love, and we’ve talked about this a couple times in recent months, I love how Victory Hill Church is really intentional about these baby steps. And so you talked about low, having low commitment steps available that require low relational connection. And as far as first steps are concerned.
So, we gotta, we gotta encourage these first baby steps, and then later, as people continue to engage with our ministry, we can encourage them to take the bigger steps, which will involve more relational connection then at that point. So I love that. Again, the phrase was, guests aren’t coming to buy the car; they’re coming to kick the tires.
Well, Tony, any other final thoughts before we wrap up today’s conversation?
Well, as Chad and I discussed, we offer a Secret Shopper portion of our Unstuck Process where one of our ministry consultants helps you view your services through the eyes of an unchurched member of your community. And this is just one small part of The Unstuck Process, but pastors often share this perspective from someone with fresh eyes is often transformative. And who knows, if we engage with your church, Chad might be your secret shopper. So if you wanna learn more about what that process looks like, you can, you can do that by going to theunstuckgroup.com. Or let’s just start a conversation, and you can start that conversation at theunstuckgroup.com/start.
Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. At The Unstuck Group, our goal is to help pastors grow healthy churches by guiding them to align vision, strategy, team and action. In everything we do, our priority is to help churches help people meet and follow Jesus. If there’s any way we can serve you in your church, reach out today at theunstuckgroup.com. Next week, we’re back with another episode. So until then, have a great week.