Be “customer-driven”

When we use the term “customer-driven,” as opposed to “provider-driven,” to describe best practices in church management and program, we aren’t redefining church members as paying customers in a profit-making enterprise.

What we are saying is the needs of constituents should come first, rather than fall in line behind institutional requirements. For example, you should respond to the faith and life questions people are asking and offer programs that respond to their actual needs. Start by meeting people where they are, as Jesus did.

A customer-driven Web site, for example, anticipates the reasons people are visiting your site. Customer-driven signage anticipates the rooms and activities people are likely to seek. A customer-driven sermon intuits the context out of which people are coming and builds a bridge between that context and the Gospel.

To see what customer-centered institutions do, visit one of our newer airports, such as Indianapolis, and look at how they have studied and prepared for traffic flow, personal comfort needs, services, and signage. Or visit a new school and study the placement and content of information and directional guides. Look at how a well-designed shopping mall brings people from many entrances to a central point. Look at where a public library places the books patrons tend to want.

To see whether your congregation is customer-driven or provider-driven, visit your own Web site. Provider-driven Web sites feature photos of the building and clergy, lead with lengthy letters by the senior pastor, treat home page as a bulletin board of unorganized notices, and show signs of infrequent updating.

A customer-driven Web site, by contrast, intuits the customer’s needs and interests and uses those to organize content and graphics. If visitors are asking, “Is there anyone here like me?” the site shows photos of diverse people. If visitors are dealing with traumatic events like a storm or financial crisis, home page displays the church’s response and invites participation.

If you want to reach an audience under age 40 who use the Internet constantly, the look, feel, and functionality of your site needs to compare well with other, popular sites. If your site looks dated — using frames, wordy, long drop-down menus — your entire enterprise will come across as dated.


Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of “Just Wondering, Jesus,” and the founder of the Church Wellness Project.