Published: 2 months ago

Shades Mountain Baptist Church (Birmingham, Alabama)

Each month, we revisit a series of posts called Guest Services Road TripWe’ll travel the country from the comforts of our couches, interviewing leaders who are in the trenches of ministry. Do you have an idea for GSRT destination? Have a leader I need to talk to? Want the inside scoop on churches that seem to be doing this hospitality thing really well? Let’s talk.

Steve Browning is the Minister of Community Engagement at Shades Mountain Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL. He has been a part of the staff for the last four years.

Shades Mountain is a church made up of 2,200 people in their weekly gatherings, but rather than being marked by their numbers when they gather, they count success on how they scatter. “Sending” marks their culture. The people of Shades are living sent in their community, their city, and across the continent and around the world.

Get in touch with Steve via email, or connect with him via Twitter or Facebook.

What are the top three books you’ve read on the topic of guest services and/or volunteerism?

Becoming A Welcoming Church (Thom Rainer), Designed to Lead (Eric Geiger and Kevin Peck), The Ideal Team Player (Patrick Lencioni)

What does your training process look like for your First Impression volunteers?

Each of our First Impression Teams has a Captain responsible for leading and equipping their team. When we recruit a new volunteer onto one of our teams, our first step is to get them connected to the Captain. For a new volunteer, their Captain will be their guide on the first Sunday they serve. Captains model the kind of DNA that we want infused with every volunteer.

In addition, at least one Sunday a year we pull together all our team members to cast vision, do some training around key changes in strategy, and say THANK YOU!

How is your First Impression Team structured? 

We see our First Impression Teams as a great first step for serving at Shades. Most of our volunteers serve one hour, one Sunday a month. This is a doable commitment for almost anyone. Within time, we may move someone to Captain one of our First Impression Teams. We have joyfully released many of our team members to serve in other places in the church as they have grown in experience and desire to lead.

Talk about your assimilation process. What specific steps do you have to move someone from first time guest to follower of Jesus?

From the moment someone pulls into a guest parking spot, we seek to lovingly guide them toward next steps in their spiritual walk. That literally means that we walk them directly from the parking lot to a Welcome Center. Welcome Centers are equipped to get information, guide people around campus, and help them get connected to small groups. Keys leaders in our church follow up with every guest personally inviting them to experience community in a small group or attend our introductory class, Discover Shades.

Is guest services a “silo ministry” in your church? In other words, does your discipleship team, kids team, worship team, missions team, etc. view it as an essential part of their mission?

Yes. Since our church is serious about sending people out into the community to influence others for Christ, we understood that many of those people would come and explore the church that was sending so many to make a difference. Because we are so serious about sending, we have to be intentional about welcoming.

What is one of your best practices / ministry hacks that you’re especially happy with?

We work very hard to recruit people with the gift of hospitality to serve with our First Impression Teams. This has been crucial, because spiritual gifting trumps our best efforts in training. As a church, we invite everyone to assess their spiritual gifting and let the staff know how they are gifted. In doing so, we invite people to serve where they are spiritually empowered to build up the body. It’s a game changer in recruiting, decreasing attrition, and helping people connect with purpose.

We also survey all new members every few months to ask them how we can improve our First Impression efforts. Their insights have led to our most positive changes.

What is a challenge you’re currently facing on your guest services team?

Our church campus is a mass of interconnected buildings sloping down a hillside. With six buildings, multiple floors in each building, and mixed ages in most spaces creating a campus map has been a great challenge. We have criss-crossed the country looking for solutions. We are now in our third campus map iteration in two years. It’s the best we have created to date, but it still has problems.

We have looked at Google Maps for indoor spaces, but the renderings would be more confusing than helpful. Still working on other video solutions.

What has been one of the biggest mistakes you’ve made in leading your team and/or implementing a guest services culture? It’s okay to speak in general terms here.

Our biggest mistake was not valuing the long-tenured service of some of the members of our team. Just before I took on leadership of our First Impression efforts, another leader made some brash changes without consulting his volunteers. The move cost us ten long-tenured volunteers who had tons of ministry insight from manning their doors for decades. We have learned to value longevity while infusing youth.

How do you define success on a weekend…either personally or professionally?

Welcoming people in such a way that their heart would be open to the Gospel. We repeat this vision constantly with our First Impression Teams.

What is an idea you’d like to experiment with or implement over the next six months?

We are going to overhaul our “I’m New” webpage to match our First Impression efforts. This will also enable us to pre-register kids. The real first impression happens online before anyone ever steps on campus.

See all posts in the Guest Services Road Trip series.

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