Lunch at our new Sonic reminded me of one of the things that I love most about ministry as well as one of the things I find most frustrating.
Today was the opening day for our local Sonic which lead to a nice break in the day for the family. We drove to our neighboring town not knowing quite what to expect – things could be quiet or, more likely, they would be massively chaotic.
When we arrived, the neighboring parking lot (owned by the vacant superstore) was set up with cones, signs, flags and people. I wondered what was going on – perhaps some sort of driving school. As we pulled in, we discovered it was a staging area for all the people that wanted to eat at Sonic. Someone had come up with a great plan to minimize the frustration that would surround the opening – and best of all, it worked.
We had a short wait for a car stall, pulled in, and ordered when we were ready. The food arrived quickly and without problem (okay, Teri’s burger had cheese that we had asked not to have and I don’t understand why tomatoes can’t be ripe anymore anywhere). We were not at all disappointed. It wasn’t spectacular, after all it was Sonic, but it was nice to have something different.
As we ate, I watched the parade of new customers and appreciated the work that had gone into the staging area. Like I said, it was a great concept. Observing systems and seeing where they could be better is one of the things I enjoy most about my work. I love observing our programs and learning how they are helping people – and making sure that they are doing what they are designed to do.
Just like the staging area, our best planned programs have will either work well or fail based on the people leading the program. At Sonic, the staging area was a great idea, but it came close to failing. Despite clear signage there was some confusion because the people were somewhat lackluster in their implementation. The man letting everyone know what to expect waited until you were almost past him before getting you to stop using a hand motion that was in itself confusing; kid of a stop and go motion all rolled into one. Once stopped he was able to quickly explain to the drivers what was happening; but more than one person by-passed him because his purpose wasn’t clear.
Vital people need to understand why they are vital.
I don’t think he understood how important it was that he relay the news that he had. We stopped and listened and our experience went very well – others were most likely frustrated.
After leaving the first stop, we followed the signs and began to get in the “car stall” line when we were again suddenly halted, asked where we wanted to go and handed a menu. No confusion here, just an annoyance at having to stop abruptly again. It was nice to get a menu while we waited; it gave us something to do and sped up customer turnover for them. The downside is that we needed to be “flagged down” because the menu lady was too busy talking to her friend.
Leaders need to focus on those they are serving.
Sometimes the people at church can become your closest friends and if you only see them once a week, it’s really tempting to focus on them. Guest notice; so do those that the leaders are serving. We don’t want those in our ministry feeling like they’re an afterthought. It’s important to give our leaders places outside their normal ministry to connect with one another so that when they are serving, they can focus on serving. I don’t think we’ll every get away from “leader fests” but if we can minimize them, those we’re serving will have a better experience.
Clearly, the person that was on the walkie-talkie waiting to alert us of our opening was a manager. He was very attentive, concerned for our experience, and assured us of a short wait. As soon as the call came, he sent us onward and alerted someone on the other end of our impending arrival. Sadly, the person at the other end wasn’t well trained or didn’t understand his task. We was to far up the path to lead us to open stalls or even help us feel like we knew where to go – the system totally broke down when we reached the actual Sonic parking lot. However, because they were well prepared, this one breakdown was minor and we figured things out on our own.
Training is one of the most important things we can do.
When someone doesn’t understand what they are supposed to be doing, a natural tendancy is to “fake it until you make it.” In a well designed system, this doesn’t work, it simply adds confusion. Worse, it’s frustrating to the leader who quickly begins to see his position as worthless. Not everyone needs to spend hours training, but everyone must experience some training. Further, supervisors need to evaluate so they can see who understands and who does not.
Key leaders need to be in key places.
It might seem simple to you that you can’t lead someone to a room if you are at the wrong end of the hall way or that you can’t lead an “up front” game if you are not up front. But, just because it seems obvious to you doesn’t mean it’s obvious. We each lead and learn in a number of different ways. It’s better to double check to make sure that everyone understands the plan and knows where they are supposed to be.
Good preparation is a key to success.
Despite some people not giving their all or not knowing what was going on, our trip to Sonic was one of the most pleasant fast food experiences I’ve ever had because they were ready. They prepared for things that many people may not have thought about and I’m sure the preparation wasn’t just in the parking lot since it only took a few minutes for us to get warm fresh food.
Of course, we can’t foresee everything that may stand in the way of a successful event or program but we can be diligent in our research and planning. Sonic expected that opening day would bring people and they planned what to do about it. Likewise, consider the ups and downs of your event. What is more than 100 people show? What f it’s only 10? If we plan well, either could be successful.
Lastly, it’s important to have some sort of network with other ministry leaders so that you can learn from their successes and their mistakes. I’m sure our local Sonic wasn’t the first store to have a rush at opening and the staging area likely wasn’t a new idea. However, it’s probable that they were the only store that had a vacant parking lot right next to it. They borrowed an idea from elsewhere and customized it to their context. We can to, but not if we’re operating solo.
Revisited: This was originally written in August of 2009 for a different platform.