Scott Hodge

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Environment Matters!

Mar 18, 2008
23 Comments

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Environment matters.
  And I was reminded of this a couple of nights ago when my family made a quick stop for dinner at Boston Market.

We should have known right away…  Because the first thing we noticed when we pulled up was ONE – ok, MAYBE two cars in their parking lot.  Usually not a good sign, but we decided to go for it anyway. 

So we walked in…..ordered our food…  And as we were ordering, I noticed a couple of strange looks from the food servers standing behind the counter.  One of them almost seemed agitated about my order in particular – Chipotle meatloaf – which, ironically enough, was the “special” that they had advertised on the large sign when we walked in.

Within a minute or two of getting our food and sitting down to eat, I looked over at Amanda and said, “Is it just me, or does something seem weird about this place?”  She agreed. 

Although it was hard to pinpoint, we finally figured it out.  It wasn’t just ONE thing in particular.  It was a lot of small things that made the overall environment feel awfully strange.  For example:

My order was wrong.  I didn’t get what I ordered – Chipotle meatloaf!  Did I ask them to fix it?  No… I was too afraid!  Especially after the look the dude behind the counter gave when I placed my order!  Too risky…

The room was FREEZING!  I kid you not, the temperature HAD to have been set at around 58 degrees. 

Our food was cold.  Because the room was so cold…..our food quickly became cold too!

There was no music.  The restaurant was dead quiet.  And as more people came in and sat at tables around us, it was awkward!  You could tell that nobody felt like they could have much of a conversation in a room that was so quiet that you could hear people chewing their food.

The bottom line?  Even though Boston Market was “open”, it only seemed about HALF open. 

It felt like they were only HALF-WAY expecting people to show up to eat.  And on top of that, it felt like they didn’t really care a whole lot about creating a great experience for those who DID show up and walk through their doors.

I have a feeling….

That this is exactly how a lot of people feel when they walk into some churches for the first time.

So I have to ask….  ESPECIALLY the week before Easter where almost every church in America WILL have guests…..

What are you doing to create an environment that says to people, “We KNEW you were coming and we were EXPECTING you!”

At The Orchard, there are a handful of things that we consider to be non-negotiables when it comes to creating a great environment for our guests….  Here are a few of them:

GREAT MUSIC.  When people walk into The Orchard, they’ll hear music.  Everything from Coldplay to Matt Kearney to Hillsong United.  The only rule we have is that it needs to be positive, upbeat and stylistically consistent with who we are. 

GREAT SMELLS.  There’s no reason that churches should smell like Ben-gay and mothballs.  So we use Henri Bendel Scentports scattered throughout our auditorium using a scent called Firewood – which is a mix of birch, cedar, sandalwood with a slight hint of tobacco.  This fits the wood-beamed architecture of our auditorium perfectly.  (On a side note – please leave the flowery smelling potpourri at home.  And DON’T spray Lysol before starting a service.  That makes the room smell like someone just threw up minutes before people arrived.)

GREAT COFFEE. There is something incredibly disarming about walking into the auditorium with a latte or cappuccino in hand.  Plus, one of the first things you’ll notice when you walk through our front doors is the smell of coffee.  It’s familiar, comforting and sends a huge signal to people that we understand coffee’s place in our culture.

GREAT PEOPLE! I’m convinced that we have THE MOST welcoming church in our community.  I’m serious!  And that’s due, in large part, to our Welcome Teams – who are intentional about making sure that people have a great experience when they walk through the doors at The Orchard.  They greet people authentically…. They walk people to their destination (instead of POINTING)….  They help people find seats when they walk into the auditorium… They do WHATEVER is needed.  They are a HUGE part of creating a great environment on our weekends.

There’s more, but the post is getting too long.  The bottom line is that MOST guests are walking into your church with defenses up, not having any idea what to expect. What are you doing to help bring those defenses down? 

And please…..don’t tell me you can’t be MISSIONAL and ATTRACTIONAL.  They go hand in hand.  Part of helping people become missional is creating an environment where people feel welcomed, loved, and expected.   

Now it’s your turn!  How do YOU create a great environment in your church, business, organization? 


23 Responses to “Environment Matters!”

  1. Brad Ruggles says:

    Right on man…that’s a great illustration.
    I love the idea of having Scentports in your sanctuary. I’ve always thought that scents are overlooked in a lot of places. Just think about some of those great stores you walk past in the mall where the scent draws you in.
    I think I even read that stores like Hollister and Abercrombie have little fans blowing their perfumes and colognes out the door to lure people in.
    Brad Ruggles
    http://www.bradruggles.com

  2. Danny says:

    Great Post, I think that this is one of your best in a while.
    I love the practical advice, and remind me once more why I come here everyday.
    I love the idea of smells, I will definately be doing that asap.
    I am also going to play with the enviroment a little more, I’m going to try to see if I can’t make everything just a bit more welcoming.
    There’s nothing here that I didn’t know, but I love how you’re practicing it at your church, and thanks for encouraging me to never be happy with where we are

  3. sam says:

    Great post. I laughed my head off.
    I had a similar bad experience at Boston Market. It wasn’t always so ghetto. It over expanded and killed their brand.
    Environment is huge, huge and huge.
    If you haven’t read “The starbucks experiance” you need to. It is right up your alley.

  4. karl bastian says:

    great post! I am a regular reader and live in Chicagoland, we outta do lunch some day.

  5. Hey… thats a great idea… maybe Karl above can take you out to Boston Market.

  6. great thoughts.
    Here’s a few other ideas:
    Color is important. White wall can look lie a hospital.
    Good furniture. Metal chairs and folding tables is no the best option. We bought high pub tables for out lobby.
    Good signage. People want to know where stff is without having to ask.

  7. we says:

    > i heard my ceo say one time, “the experience that the customer has is more important than the products and services that we produce.” wow, what a thought!
    > consider the wide spectrum of business, organizations, churches ,etc… as it pertains to its culture. culture has a lot to do with its brand and how others, more specifically the customer, “perceives” the brand.
    > lets take a couple of biggies that i believe many miss, especially in churches, under the guy’s of, “jesus loves everyone; therefore, we don’t want the staff (doesn’t have to just be paid) to be offended if we point these things out”…but you must! why? well, in reaching the type of people (aka customer) that you want to reach, you have to first understand the culture and how to effectively reach that culture. indelibly it is imperative to send the right message.

  8. we, part 2 says:

    > 2 biggies: 1.) how are we dressed? are we representing the culture wherewith we are reaching? while i’m not opposed to someone wearing a suit/ or on the other end of the spectrum wearing jeans and a buckle shirt. the question we must ask is, “is my dress congruent with the branding of my organization?” b/c what we wear sends a message, whether we agree with it or not…you may say, “yes, but god looks at the heart and man looks at the outward appearance.” right, and we seemingly always capitalize on the former, rather than latter part of this verse. while we are not trying to be “relevant” with our dress for the sake of relevance, we are doing it with “purpose” and intent, not throwing away the central message of our organization.
    > another biggy is the appearance of the organization. how many of us have had the same exeprience above? all of us! by the mere messiness of the place, it sent a message. probably not the right message. probably not the branding message that boston market would admittedly own.
    > in gist, how an organization “looks” and how we in the organization are “dressed” is all part of the core, your brand.
    > it is imperative for the organizations to be very clear and consistent on this message!
    > when was the last time you went into an apple store and saw a debacle of a mess in the corner or pieces of scrap paper laying around the floor? never! why, b/c i believe in their mind, the sleekness of the apple store environment would be degraded if things were disorganized. it would ruin peoples exeprience! and more importantly the brand!

  9. Dave Casey says:

    We have an incredible welcoming feel at the Orchard. I have always felt it even when I was new.
    Having people feel comfortable is very important. If their guards are up then they will be less likely to return and start or continue on their journey of faith. I love hearing how comfortable people say they feel.

  10. Doug says:

    I just spent a couple of days back at my home church for my grandma’s funeral; a presbyterian church in a town of 250.
    IT STILL SMELLS THE SAME!!! The flashbacks were amazing.

  11. kathryn says:

    I, too, had a bad experience at a Boston Market. Just the thought of going back there makes me want to hurl.
    Great connection to our environments at church!

  12. Iman says:

    That is SO spot on Scott!

  13. Laura (Powell) Harms says:

    Hi Scott! I just sent this to my boss because I felt that it was such a good message on a spiritual level as well as a business level. I’ve been reading your blog for a while and I get the sense that you treat your church as a business, in a good way, because you want people to come back and you want them to gain something by coming each week. I really love the perspective I get from reading what you have to say!

  14. Jim Larson says:

    Hey Scott, I forwarded your blog to Rick Arras, CEO of Boston Market. He replied that he is very grateful for your challenging comments, and will send you 100 $20 gift certificates for you to give away to your blog readers.
    Ok, maybe not, but were you excited?
    Anyway, I loved the segue to the false missional-attractional dichotomy. I look forward to a few good posts on that one.

  15. Jim Larson says:

    Oh and one other thing–I’m trying to think about what smells might be attractive to folks in Thailand. Do you think fermented fish sauce might be the ticket? It’s a bit hot for coffee.

  16. Great food for thought. Interesting scents. You guys think of everything don’t you? That is so cool. BTW, I’ve always thought the same and experienced the same in Boston Market. I’ve been expecting them for YEARS to go out of business.

  17. Scott, are you sure you were not eating at…ahhh, let me not go there…I will call you later! Great post!

  18. Scott, in 15 years I have known you, I have never seen you where a hat. Just a note: fitted baseball hats (simple logo in the middle of the hat) are the best looking hats for casual outfits – this was given by J&J style magazine

  19. Billy Kangas says:

    Hey. I heard you were into both God and coffee.
    So am I!
    I write about coffee here

    http://billykangas.blogspot.com
    and God here

    http://orant.blogspot.com
    please let me know what you think!!

  20. Mike says:

    I appreciate your desire to make a welcoming environment. It is key that people feel like they have a place to come and be cared for.
    For our gathering silence must play a big part. It is important that people have a sense of the Holy. Fellowship is great outside of the service, but our desire is to bring people into communion with GOD. This is the most important part. When people experience the living GOD they always come back.
    Friendships. People must know they are in a place where they are loved and cared for just as they are. This involves contact, communication and involvement. Nothing is worse than a handshake Sunday morning then everyone ignoring you.
    Coffee is great if it works. To me it is something so 1990’s. Most young people are not into the coffee thing any more. If we desire a cup we hit the local coffee shops. The conversations can be overheard by our non Christian friends. It is about being out in the world, not trying to bring people to us.
    There is no perfect answer here. Christ is working in all Churches.

  21. Joni says:

    The second we walked into the Orchard for the first time, I exhaled and knew we were home. It IS the friendliest church I’ve ever been to/been a part of. And the cool thing is that the welcome teams actually ARE interested in welcoming people. Not just putting on a good face. And thank you for the good smells. Because there IS a church smell out there. Its an old smell that reminds me of blue country decor with flowers, geese and baskets and dark paneling.

  22. jr says:

    what if instead of trying to create environments where defenses could get torn down we actually incarnated into the world of those who have the defenses in the first place? Missional/incarnational is different than attractional by design!

  23. boston market! great stuff and many churches seem to be the purveyor of cold leftovers in a chilly atmosphere or neglect too

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