One of the most important decisions a church will ever make is when they decide who their customer will be.  The day the customer becomes the people already in the seats, the mission is lost.  The real customer needs to be the person not yet in the seats.  Why?  The path to reaching the people not yet in the seats becomes increasingly difficult as you focus exclusively on the needs and interests of the people already in the seats.

Now, in some ways this flies in the face of what is a growing marketplace conviction that it is much more cost effective to invest in satisfying your current customers; that if they’re very satisfied they’ll tell their friends, etc.  And there is more than enough evidence to support that conviction.  An excellent article that supports this idea is Putting the Service-Profit Chain to Work.

So if that’s true, why would you want to make someone not yet in the seats your customer?  Why not simply work at making your current customers very satisfied?  Two reasons:  First, there are literally hundreds of thousands of churches throughout the United States (and to some extent around the world) who have catered to the interests of current customers to disastrous consequences.  In fact, the vast majority of churches are so committed to satisfying the needs of the people already in the seats that they’ve developed a club atmosphere that is very hard to break into.  Any comparison of this mentality with the marketplace notion of developing very satisfied customers would quickly identify the disparity between the two.

The second reason the church must remain focused on people not yet in the seats is a biblical imperative.  It is not about keeping what you already have.  It is about finding what you don’t have.

If you’re a frequent reader of StrategyCentral then you know how often we find a kind of convergence between great business strategy or leadership and the needs of the Church.  So how to explain the divergence in the identification of our real customer?  I believe the divergence stems from a missed conversion.  Not the initial conversion.  I’m talking about the one where you help your customers become as committed to the mission as you are.  And then to turn around and become customer-centered themselves.  Setting their own needs aside and focusing on the needs of others (see Philippians 2:1-4).  And that is a very big challenge.  Can it be done?  Yes.  Is it hard work?  Yes.  Is it worth it?  Yes.

How does it happen?  It comes back to mission.  If your mission is bigger than taking care of what you’ve got, then you’ve got to figure out how to convert your customers into evangelists.

(Thanks to Jim Dethmer for his influence in this area.)

Who Is Your Church’s Customer?