The Key is Broken but it Still Works



Headed home from the north Denver metro area, I made a stop at a convenience store; while there I planned to take advantage of the restroom knowing my return trip to Colorado Springs, with rush hour traffic looming ahead, could create some delays along the route. I turned the doorknob leading to the restroom. Locked!


It was one of those convenience stores that requires the customer to fetch a key. My first impression. “Ugh!” Just then, I heard a nearly undecipherable comment from the clerk standing behind me, “the key is broken but it still works.” My second reaction, “huh?”


It is always heartwarming to approach the counter and ask out loud to have a key to the restroom, don’t you think? In most cases, if I can avoid it, I do. But in this case, I was committed. And besides, there on the counter, I could see the key. It was on a chain attached to a heavy-duty but dinged-up steel bar with the word, “Men’s,” scrawled across it with a magic marker. And yes, the key was definitely broken --- more than half of the business end of it was missing. Gone.


Now what? I sheepishly asked the counter clerk, “is this the key?” afraid that I already knew the answer. In response, I got the same answer as before, “it’s broken but it still works.”


I had my doubts. Frankly, there was not enough of it there to know even which way to insert the key or even if the key (much shorter than usual) would stay in the key slot without falling to the floor. I persevered though and, with a bit of jiggling, turned the key. As promised, it still worked. The door opened.


But, to be clear, functionality of the lock was not the lasting impression of the visit! The broken key was! While it can be said the door was opened by the key, the experience of getting it open was less than satisfactory. Did I have a favorable first impression? Not so much.

So what has this to do with church guest services, you ask. Here it is: churches are prone to offer broken keys (systems and processes) which “work” on the one hand (at least, at some level) but completely confound the guest on the other hand.


Here is a real story told to me by a man who tried connecting to a church via a phone call on a weekday; he got a talking menu that offered something like 8 options none of which were the one he wanted. For him, the experience was unnecessarily delaying, frustrating, disappointing, and alienating. No part of that is good! Sure, the phone system was working but the aggravation resulting from the experience suggests something was askew. Eventually, the caller got through to a human but what stuck in his memory was a broken key.

That is one example. You might want to look over all your technology processes --- technology (and churches often have lots of it) can cast a spell over us and at the same time direct us to unintended outcomes. Remember, it can work and still be broken. E.g., guest follow-up is sometimes relinquished to software that tracks guest attendance and spits out standardized emails and texts in the days and weeks that follow the guest visit. It saves time and staffing and provides a systematic, prompt messaging process to recent guests. Wow! Who wouldn’t want that? A key that works! Unfortunately, the predictable, impersonal, pre-scribed follow-up can appear empty and hollow to the guest. What part of the follow-up will the guest remember? The efficient system or the canned follow-up? Is the key broken?


The solution to broken keys seems simple enough, doesn’t it? Notably, the convenience store should FIX THE KEY. Replace it. Do something. DO NOT hand your valued customer a broken key on the end of a chain and steel bar and expect him to be a happy, repeat customer.


And churches? Value your guests. All systems and processes --- website, signage, parking, entrances, registration, welcome team, facility, follow-up, etc, --- should do more than just work. They should:

· Be sensitive to the needs of the guest.

· Be appealing to the senses

· Be right on time

· Communicate clearly to the guest

· Be simple

· Be pleasant and satisfying

· Demonstrate a warm welcome and sincere appreciation for the guest


No chain. No dinged-up steel bar. No magic marker inscriptions. NO BROKEN KEY!


May your next visit to the convenience store (and church) be a pleasant one!

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