Let’s start where we left off last week. Members/attenders can’t be both the CHURCH and the CUSTOMER. They are one or the other. Customers are always outside of, not internal to, an organization. Members ARE the church so they are “insiders”, not “outsiders”. However, a church that treats members/attenders as those they need to attract and retain views them as “outsiders”.
When an organization invests the vast majority of its time, energy and money into “insiders”, and thereby largely ignores “outsiders” (its real “customers”), it is by definition internally focused.
Because the Church in America today generally treats “insiders” (members, who ARE the church) as the “customer”, the Church is by definition internally focused.
Internally focused organizations of any kind rarely succeed.
When the Church redefined its “customer”, it ensured its demise. It violated the most critical mistake any organization can make – not focusing on “customers” (i.e. “outsiders”) or investing too heavily in the wrong “customers”.
Why internally focused organizations nearly always fail…
Organizations that retrench into their own confines atrophy until they decide to reconnect with the outside world. A club closes its doors to new members, enjoying the comforts of exclusivity, while its members age. A business restructures into functional silos and the accompanying politics and posturing ensue, causing it to lose sight of evolving customer needs. A charity gets short on funds, diverting more dollars to fundraising and cost cutting, and begins to compromise its original mission. A church wants to grow and tries new ideas to attract and retain members/attenders, believing the best route is to invest in more exciting church services and children’s ministries rather than engaging and serving the community where it planted.
All of those scenarios involve an inordinate degree of focus on “insiders”. None of them lead to long term success because they redirect attention away from “customers” (i.e. “outsiders”).
The temptation to become internally focused is powerful…
Entrepreneurial Life Cycle
- A company begins with a solid understanding of customer needs
- Founder sees an opportunity to provide better products and services
- Those ideals take the company to the top
- But it struggles to manage growth
- Spurring process improvement and restructurings, turning the focus inward
- Becomes more out of touch with customer needs and competitors step in
- Must refocus outside at some point or go bankrupt
Church Life Cycle
- A church plants intentionally in an area to reach that community
- Evaluates the needs of the community and ways to serve
- Starts to grow because of efforts to engage and reach out
- Gets caught up in how to run and grow the church
- Interactions with “outsiders” become more arms-length (e.g. mailers)
- Loses sight of the needs and issues in the community
- Must refocus outside at some point or growth and impact diminishes
The “rallying cry” of the internally focused church…
The most common church growth model in America is Invite-Involve-Invest. It’s been a key catalyst in the shift toward the “member is the customer” mentality:
- INVITE – Encourage direct referrals. Get members and attenders to invite their friends because invited people “stick”. Friends want to spend time with friends.
- INVOLVE – Engage people in deep relationships within the church or entrenched in serving at the church.
- INVEST – Where their money goes, their hearts will go also.
Nearly every aspect of the Invite-Involve-Invest model perpetuates an internally focused church. For example, Invite relegates members to “customer” status, asking them to extend invitations and leave conversions to the “professionals” rather than entrusting members with the responsibility to BE the Church.
Paying the price for internal focus…
Numerous studies show that society clearly sees the Church as internally focused. The consensus view is that churches tend to “take care of their own”. They frequently hear the Church speak out on moral issues, but rarely see it engaging with those outside the “4 walls”. With more talk and less action, no wonder most now view Christians and churches as more judgmental than caring, condemning than compassionate.
When the Church redefined its “customer” and turned to a member-centric, internally-focused model, it:
- Broke a Sacred Trust – Made society (“outsiders”) think the Church stopped caring
- Ignored a Time-Tested Adage – “People don’t care what you know unless they know that you care”
As a result, the number of church goers is on the decline in America. The Church is on the losing end of the key social and moral issues of our day. Clearly, the Church’s impact, influence and perception today are diminishing. Internal focus never works.
Next week, we’ll begin discussing who the “customer” of a church should be – consistent with Biblical mandates and the early church. Later, we’ll also provide a transition plan for migrating your church to an appropriate definition of the “customer” – leading to a far more impactful, vibrant and healthy church.