How to Give Guests What They Want
Circle the ol’ Guest Services block a few times, and you’ll eventually have a fender-bender with the problem of pragmatism: aren’t we simply pandering to the base desires of the people we’re serving?
Because let’s face it: what people want isn’t always what’s best for them. My preteen daughter wants her bedtime adjusted by a teensy-weensy six hours. My fully grown adult son still thinks it’s a crime against humanity that chocolate fudge Pop-Tarts aren’t one of the five major food groups. My brand-new granddaughter will soon think it’s fun to experiment with forks and electric sockets. And as for me, I’ve hit that age where my doctor has started using hurtful phrases like “lower your sodium intake” and “eating Cheetos faster doesn’t count as exercise.”
What we want isn’t always what we need.
And so, when starting with what our guests want, we have to start with Jesus. Because Jesus’ public ministry was filled with people who had a lot of wants they confused with needs.
Lord, I want to see. (Luke 18:41)
Jesus, I want my sons to sit at your right and left hand when you come into your kingdom. (Matthew 20:21)
Good teacher, I want you to tell me what I need to do to gain eternal life. (Mark 10:17)
Sight. Power. Security. Not bad things, but not the main thing.
And in our churches every weekend, it’s the same:
I want a place I can find friends.
I want a church where I can give back to my community.
I want something that will salvage my marriage.
Not bad things. But not the main thing.
What I love about Jesus is that he never ignored the want that people perceived as a need. No, he met them right where they were and he refused to leave them there. Jesus almost always acknowledged the want:
To the blind man, he gave sight to his eyes and insight to his soul.
To James & John’s overprotective mom, he gave a reality check and a lesson in humble servanthood.
To the rich young ruler, he cut to the chase and told him that good enough would never be good enough.
Only one got what he wanted plus what he needed. For the rest, Jesus simply connected the dots. He acknowledged their surface want and moved them along the path to their deepest need.
You see, our guests don’t ultimately need our well-thought-out guest experience. They don’t need our sermons. They don’t need our community outreaches and kids ministry and small groups. Those are not bad things, but they’re not the main thing.
They need Jesus.
We should understand that not all of our guests will respond to Jesus at the same point on the timeline or through the same set of pre-programmed steps that your discipleship team has laid out. Some of us will take longer to move from Point A to Point B. Some will need points C, D, and E and then a review of A and B before they are convinced the gospel is true. Some will go from Point A to Jesus in 40 minutes. Some will have to dabble in the answers to their wants before they realize what they really need.
And while I think that all of our church’s various ministry offerings can serve as a very real catalyst, I believe that one of the biggest challenges churches face is how to meet people where they are.
But as a pastor, ministry leader, or church-goer, you have the responsibility to translate their surface wants into their real need.
They need Jesus.
An earlier version of this post appeared in February 2015.