Plastic hellos

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20130520-143241.jpg I recently stayed in one of those commercial, chain hotels, and it got me thinking about my experience and what was good and bad in it.

So here are four positives:

Helpful. The staff were on duty the whole time, and were attentive and efficient. They knew the answers to my questions, and pre-emptied several of them with the opening welcome speech (see below)

Cheerful. There was a ready smile from the waitress, the cleaner, the concierge – these were people who knew their jobs and what their roles meant to customers

Predictable. I don’t know how often I’ve used that chain, but it was easy to slip into the groove. There were no nasty surprises and no hidden extras.

And I couldn’t get lost if I tried. The signs and information were well designed and crystal clear.

So you might think I’d be saying, get your welcome team to be like this. Which I might, if it weren’t for the three negatives:

It was scripted and inauthentic. I had the welcome chat about the room and keys – and so did the person after me, and the one after that. Whoever was on the desk delivered the same information. For all the smiles and helpfulness, I never encountered the real person behind the desk. Churches don’t behave like that, do we?

It was bland and non-indigenous. I was in a vibrant and beautiful place, with loads going on and a distinctive local flavour – none of which came through. This was a corporate identity with no sense of locality, and I could have been saying in any of this chain’s hotels. Is our church corporate and bland-brand, or does it have a local feel?

I liked it because itfocussed on me and my needs. That’s the point of hotels. But it’s not (or shouldn’t be) the point of church. God and his word come first, along with the needs of his people and my opportunity to love and serve. I’m not at the centre.

Compare that with a Christian conference centre I also stayed at recently. It had recently had a spruce up, and much of it did reflect the quality of a pleasant business venue. But the Christian staff were happy to chat, and do more than just serve the coffee. I got the impression that they did think what they were doing was their ministry.

Even in that setting, my needs as a guest were less important than their loving service of God.

Lessons for the welcome team:

Efficiency and helpfulness are fake, if we don’t see this as a chance to love and serve each other. The gospel informs how we run the welcome.

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