Last week was Thanksgiving, the time-honored American holiday where families gather around tables to partake in a sumptuous feast and reflect with gratitude on the blessings of our creator in the previous year.
That time-honored tradition comes, of course, after the other time-honored tradition of mild panic that the house isn’t going to be ready for the aforementioned sumptuous feast.
If you’ve hosted Thanksgiving at your home, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Last week we were scheduled to have fifteen people at our house (a last minute sickness bumped it down to a dozen). But on Wednesday night and much of Thursday, it was all-hands-on-deck to get the place company-ready. We vacuumed. We dusted. We straightened. We cooked. We scrubbed. We fretted.
And by “we” I mean “not quite we.” Because you know as well as I do that there are varying stages of “we” when it comes to preparing a house for the general public. Here’s how the breakdown normally happens:
- Mom. The one who is most emotionally and physically invested in the event. From the stairway to the stuffing, she’s generally the one sweating the details.
- Dad. The one who is still invested, but several degrees less so than Mom. In my house, I definitely don’t know how to call all of the Thanksgiving Day plays, but I can usually run ’em with clear directions.
- The Kids. The ones who “have to do everything around here!” And by “everything” I mean look at the pile of YOUR clothing that has been sitting on the kitchen table since several American fashion cycles ago. Yes. THOSE clothes. Yes. THEY ARE YOURS. Take them to your room. NO THAT IS NOT “EVERYTHING AROUND HERE” WHAT DO YOU PEOPLE THINK WE’VE BEEN DOING ALL DAY WHILE YOU PLAY ON THE TWITTER?!?
- The Guests. These are people who have zero skin in the game; they’re generally just happy to be in your house (and subsequently, didn’t have to clean theirs). They can overlook a dish towel that might not be creased properly, a spot on the silverware, or a side dish that didn’t come out of the oven right on time. They’re there because they enjoy you and your hospitality; not your ability to present a meal and a home that would make HGTV weep with tears of doily-festooned joy.
But let’s go back to the kids, shall we? (Yes. We shall.) I had a bit of a revelation during the Turkey Day Cleaning Fiasco, and it was this: these people don’t own this house. Oh yes, they live there. That’s where their birthday cards show up. That’s the place where they sleep and eat and shower and get free wifi. The parents own the house, and so it is the parents that generally care more about what the house looks like when company comes over. The parents are the ones having a giblet-fueled meltdown over kids that are planted firmly on the couch while the Housecleaning Frenzy is going on around them. The parents may or may not sound a little insane like this person.
What does this have to do with the church?
A lot, actually. Because bit of revelation #2 came shortly thereafter: this is the struggle of a church guest service team.
You have Mom, usually the team director. He or she carries the weight of getting it right. Mom notices every scrap of paper, every flawed system, every guest that threatens to fall through the cracks.
Dad is all too happy to do what he’s told, he just needs clear directions. He may not always see the scrap of paper, but he doesn’t mind picking it up when it’s pointed out.
The Guests are typically just grateful for the hospitality. They may see the scrap of paper, as well, but they’ll be willing to overlook it as long as people are friendly, outgoing, and seem to care about their experience.
Which leaves us with The Kids. The Kids might make up the majority of your congregation (maybe even the majority of your staff team). They don’t see the piece of paper. “What piece of paper?” “That’s not my piece of paper.” “Why should I have to pick up that piece of paper?”
It all comes down to ownership.
One of my dad’s favorite stories stems from the first week that Merriem and I were married. We were moving into our first apartment, and as my father and father-in-law moved from room to room, loading in boxes and assembling our $20 side tables we’d bought from Wal-Mart, I was following right behind them, turning off lights and shutting doors. Dad just laughed (he still does) and mumbled something about how it was different now that I was paying the bills.
So the question: how do you make the kids the owners? How do you build in a sense of responsibility for everyone on the team, whether or not they’re in charge of the team? Better yet: whether or not they’re even on the team? How do you ensure that every scrap of paper, ever empty toilet paper roll, every smudged entry door, every flawed system, every everything is cared for and owned by those who call your church home?
Tune in next post.