Who Sits in the Pew?


Customer, Clients, Seekers & Shareholders

Author Unknown

There’s an old joke that states: “There are two types of people in the world: those who divide the world into two types, and those who don’t.”

Humans have long classified the things of the world. Even the first verse of Genesis states, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. ” Two classifications: heaven and earth.

The ancient Jews classified that animal kingdom as consisting of those that flew in the air, crawled on the ground and swam in the sea. Under Moses, animals were further delineated as clean and unclean.

The practice of classification continues in church life today. We speak of the clergy and the laity, churched and unchurched, saved and unsaved.

Each Sunday we unconsciously classify the congregation. We see regular attenders and visitors, adults and children, old and young, male and female. Unfortunately, most of our classifications are ineffectual and occasionally misleading.

A proper classification system can be extremely helpful in understanding the dynamics of church life. The following is a useful, although different, method of viewing those who will sit in church this Sunday.

CUSTOMERS. There are some who will object to the application of this term to the congregation. “After all,” they say, “businesses have customers, and we are not a business.

If “business” means an organization that exists to make money, then the point is well taken. But if we mean an entity that provides a service, then churches are definitely a business.

Odd as it sounds, your church has customers. Take a close look at the word “customer.” The root word is “custom. ” A customer is, therefore, one who, by custom, avails himself of the organization’s services. That organization can be a profit making corporation or a church .

A customer is a repeat user of a product or service. In church life a customer is one who attends regularly. They may attend weekly or only on holidays, but when they think of church, yours is one that comes to mind. Even the most infrequent attenders will often consider themselves a part of your church. This is often revealed when the occasional attender needs a wedding, funeral, or counseling.

The customer’s view of the church is uncomplicated. For them church is a place to go to receive something. Church is the place to fill a social or family need, or to overcome discouragement and fear.

Customers are primarily receivers of the church’s services. While they appreciate the church and may support it financially, they seldom move beyond cursory involvement. They arrive, listen, and leave.

This sounds like a negative description, but it’s not. Customers often have limited involvement simply because they are unaware of the opportunities before them, or because they simply don’t know how to get involved.

Like everyone, customers have needs. Their needs are as varied as their ages and backgrounds. Their needs are the average person’s needs: love, forgiveness, acceptance, friendship, duty and purpose.

Loyalty becomes the driving force for many customers. They come to your church because their past needs have been met, and because they know that the church can provide help for their future needs. They leave the church when they feel the church has been disloyal to them, or is no longer effective.

Customers are a vital part of your church and comprise the bulk of your worshipers. Often they can be led to a greater level of involvement.

SEEKERS. Seekers often arrive at church with heavily burdened hearts. Their marriages are strained, or perhaps a loved one has recently died. They come looking for help, often uncertain of what they need or want.

They come investigating the church to see if there is something beneficial and benevolent. These are lonely, concerned, hurt, frightened, uncertain, life transitional, and downcast people. They are Jesus’ lost sheep.

Seekers come to church for the same reason the sick go to hospitals. And like the sick in hospitals, they often leave once made well.

Seekers become customers when they grow beyond their present felt need to understand their great spiritual need. This requires a church that has balanced preaching and programs designed to increase awareness of the spiritual life.

CLIENT. The term client is often confused with the term customer. While they are often used interchangeably there is, at least for our purposes, a significant difference. A customer is an actual user; client refers to one for whom the institution was created. A client is part of the organization’s clientele.

A malpractice attorney’s clientele consists of those who feel they have a grievance against their doctor. This attorney will refuse real estate cases because it’s outside his special focus.

Similarly, churches have a clientele. Some arrive at their clientele passively, others by decision.

Churches that understand their clientele – those they can best reach – succeed. The questions are: Who is your client? What does he or she do, think, feel, and want? How do you reach them? How do you speak to them? What makes them different from others?

In general terms , every church exists to reach the lost and then disciple them in the faith. But the unchurched are not all the same. There is a vast difference between an unchurched person in highly populated, upper-income, Orange County, California and the inner-city poor of New York City.

Foreign missionaries faithfully prepare themselves for their ministry by learning the culture and language of the people they are called to reach, and so should the contemporary church.

Your clientele is the target group for your church. This is not an exclusionary practice, it is a prayerfully planned effort to understand the church’s community and effectively reach it. It means knowing their dreams and needs and presenting the Gospel in a way that they will understand.

SHAREHOLDER. Shareholders are the backbone of the local church. They are the ones who have invested in the existence and mission of the church. They have contributed time, money and effort to make the church what it is. They share the vision of the church. They come to the meetings, teach the Sunday School, work with the youth, paint the trim, collect the offering and sweep the floors.

Churches exist because the shareholders have heard and responded to the call of God. God uses the shareholder to reach the clientele and satisfy the customer.

There are seldom enough shareholders in a church. And those few need to be ministered to in a special way. It is important for your church leadership to be free with thanks and praise, both private and public.

Where customers are primarily users of church services, shareholders are primarily providers of ministry, and no church can operate without them.

COLLEAGUES. Colleagues are partners of equal standing. In church life they comprise the paid staff. They are the most visible people in the church and receive their position and power from the shareholders.

Colleagues are the ones that customers associate with the church and with ministry. They are the ones who set the tone and tenor of church outreach and inreach. They sound the call, lead and protect the flock, and speak for the church. They are simultaneously ambassadors to the community, counselors to the hurting, administrators and stewards of church resources, prophets, and protectors.

Colleagues stand shoulder to shoulder to advance the church. Without their leadership church effectiveness would decline.

Successful churches have colleagues who work together with a high level of trust. They know that interdependence advances their work; independence hinders it.

Who are your colleagues, customers, clients, and shareholders? Every church has them. And every healthy church knows how to minister to each group.

Churches grow and operate best when their outreach is accurately and knowledgeably aimed at their clients; when it works to make seekers into customers; when the needs of the customers are met; when some of the customers are discipled into shareholders; when shareholders are present in significant numbers; and when the colleagues work with a single purpose and with mutual respect.

(The above material was published by PERSUASION, February 1993)

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