3 Things I Learned About Church From The Construction Industry


The housing market in Houston is booming. Over 30,000 new homes are being built per year. Homebuilders are making bank.

I guess that explains why most of them don’t return my calls. I send emails and wait for days. I leave voice messages (because no “live” person answers the phone) and never get a call back. Last week, I finally reached someone and set up an appointment — only to find out they left the office early and missed my appointment. Another one sent someone else to answer my questions—a wonderful woman who had never seen the house I was interested in and didn’t even know what city the neighborhood was located in.

Why aren’t they responsive? Because they don’t need to be. Their houses will sell whether they call me back or not. Business is good, so paying attention to potential customers is not required for them to meet their sales goals for the year.

I’ve spent my entire adult life working in, with, and for churches. So I can’t help but see a parallel to the church world.

1. When times are good, it is easy to get sloppy in meeting the needs of your guests.

When your church is growing, the seats are filled, and there are Sundays when you have standing-room-only, it is easy to become cynical and arrogant. Somebody levels a complaint, and we say or think, “They should just go somewhere else.” A church member grumbles again about the same issue, and it is so easy to dismiss their gripe and express indignation rather than grace.

Phone calls don’t get returned, emails stay unanswered in our inbox, and yet the church continues to grow. Our sloppiness isn’t noticed because everyone is so excited about the numbers. In those seasons, we have what John Maxwell calls “the Big Mo” (momentum), and when you have it, you can almost do no wrong.

But there is a problem when we get sloppy…

2. The damage you do by treating guests poorly in good times is greater than you know.

You won’t even see the damage when things are going well. Your view will be blocked by your success. People who have had a few disappointing experiences with your staff or volunteers will leave quietly but talk loudly. You won’t hear them because the cheers of the crowds will drown them out. But the damage is happening. Trust is eroding. Credibility is fading.

The axiom “what goes up must come down” will eventually come in to play for you as well. It has happened in every housing boom and stock rally. Every musician that produces a hit recording eventually releases a bomb. Every movie producer who consistently puts out gold eventually screens a brick. And every church that was the biggest or fastest-growing or most exciting game in town eventually stops growing. Maybe for a season. Maybe for years.

And when the growth stops, that is when you will wish you had been more responsive. That is when those who have quietly gone out the back door for years will suddenly become vocal. That is when people who have been hurt by your lack of care or concern will begin to speak out of their pain.

In the great recession from which we just emerged, thousands of companies didn’t make it. In my little corner of the world near South Bend, Indiana—where companies were shutting down every day and unemployment approached 22%—the companies that survived were those who had a great foundation of treating people well. They had a solid financial foundation and a reputation for being good to their employees and customers.

3. We should treat people well because it’s right. Not because it will improve our numbers.

Every company changes tactics when it’s not meeting objectives. This is natural. AT&T drops their prices because Verizon is winning. Barnes & Noble changes strategies because Amazon is winning… again.

Responding to reality and making changes is not a bad thing. For example, you might experiment with music style or teaching methods in order to reach a different demographic.

However, the way we treat people should not change whether the church is growing like crazy or has been in decline for years. We should treat our guests with care, dignity, and respect all the time. Excellence should not just be an idea that impacts our music or facility care—it should define how we return calls, answer emails and follow through.

Ultimately, our motive for treating people well shouldn’t be about growing the church (although I would argue that it works). It shouldn’t be about the reputation of our organization (even though it will definitely be improved).

Our underlying motive is found in the words of Jesus from John 13:35: “This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.” (MSG)

How can you begin to improve your relationship with your church body?

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