If you’re a connoisseur of certain retail and fast-food chains like I am, you no doubt have picked up on some discrepancies over the years. One retail giant will have exceptionally good customer service in one location, and not-so-good service in a location just down the road. One restaurant seems to always be on point with their drive through speed, another in the same chain (and same city) always feels painfully slow.
It’s a bit of a head-scratcher when our favorite places can’t replicate the experience in all of their locations, but in the retail and food industry, it makes sense. After all, each location has its own set of managers and its own particular in-house systems that have been cultivated over time.
And while it may be a head scratcher at our favorite big-box store or burger joint, it can be downright frustrating when those same discrepancies befall a multi-site church. We all know the stories of how the “mothership” seems to get all of the resources, while other campuses can be treated like afterthoughts. It can be off-putting for staff and volunteers, who feel like standards don’t match across the board. It can be off-putting for members, who constantly receive mixed messages about what things are important. And it can be off-putting for guests, who can never pin down what the “true” version of this church really is.
Multi-site balance is important. I don’t mean to imply that every location has to be a cookie-cutter of the original (we have intentional similarities and differences ourselves). Some multi-site churches have chosen to go the route of individual campus expression, and it works for them. But if we’re honest, a lot of multi-sites aren’t different by design, they’re different because they drifted. And by the way, this isn’t just true of multi-site churches. If you are one location with two services, you can feel the same kind of plague of inconsistency.
So how do we ditch the drift and bring some balance? I think there are five ways:
1. Have a central overseer.
We were hovering somewhere around six campuses before we moved to a central staffing model. Prior to that, each ministry head was running the show at the broadcast campus, but also “giving leadership to” the ministry at other campuses. And I put “giving leadership to” in quotes because – at least for me – that was on paper only. It was rare for me to be able to break away from my weekend responsibilities to visit other campuses, and years after the switch to central, we’re still making up for the deficiencies that inattention caused.
Whether your central overseer is full time in that role or splits their time between central and a particular campus doesn’t really matter, at least to a certain extent. What matters is that someone has their eye on standards across the board. Someone needs to see the entire elephant.
2. Have a unified philosophy of guest services.
Your philosophy of ministry should be the same at every campus. Guest services can’t be revered and one location and reviled at another. When that schism comes, it will install a schizophrenic mentality into how we treat our guests and move them from outsiders to insiders. We’ll have a plan at one location and take a pass at another, and that will lead to frustration on behalf of the guest and imbalance on our impact in the neighborhood.
3. Have standard systems for volunteers.
Training materials and best practices should fall in line from one campus to the next. If training and practice stems from philosophy, then the on-boarding material needs to reflect that philosophy. All new volunteers should be immersed in the why behind the what. (You can see a portion of our training here.)
4. Have a common vernacular.
Don’t call it a Welcome Center at one campus and an Information Table at another. Don’t refer to people as guests at one location and visitors at another (in fact, how about we just never use the V-word ever again). Don’t have a Greeting Team at campus A and a First Impressions Team at campuses B and C. Clear language tends to breed clear results.
5. Have some familiar artifacts.
To go back to the fast food analogy, I know that regardless of differences from store to store, some things will be comfortably familiar: the counter and cash register will be the first thing I see when I enter. The menu board will be 99% the same. Restrooms will be at the back and the condiment stand will be in view. Similarly, we should have an “I’ve seen this before” feel for all of our locations, whether permanent or pop-up. Signage, fixtures, kiosks, and colors should usher in a sense of the familiar to staff, volunteers, members, and guests alike.
How do you bring balance to your guest services teams?