Does Your Church Expect Guests, or Just Accommodate Visitors?

When it comes to churches, more often than not we accommodate visitors rather than truly expect Guests.

It may be a little thing to you, seeming like mere wordplay, but there is actually a powerful first impression that needs to change if your approach is to accommodate visitors on Sunday rather than to expect to have Guests at your church.

Do you have Visitor parking? Visitor packets? A Visitor’s Center? Do you welcome your visitors during the worship experience? And on and on…

The first step in creating a memorable Guest experience is to remove the word “visitor” from your vocabulary, never to be used again. Think about it, what kind of person is a visitor at your house, as opposed to a Guest?

It’s a small thing to be sure. But often changing one small word in your church’s vernacular can reflect a substantial mental shift, impacting the entire experience of someone new. One word change can draw someone back the next weekend, and one word can begin to close the proverbial back door of your church.

What would it look like to expect Guests this Sunday?

Guests come to your church, looking for a warm greeting, a smiling face, and an experience carefully crafted to welcome them and point them to Christ. This type of expectation does not require anything phony, manipulative, or in-your-face; just leaders who will welcome them as Guests with the most sincere, energizing, and loving experiences they can.

When it comes to understanding and welcoming Guests, the Disney organization has long been the “gold standard” – the best of the best. Instilled by Walt Disney in 1955 at the opening of Disneyland, expanded over the decades since at locations around the world, and refined today as both an art and a science, the Disney approach to Guest experiences provides a wealth of information that can help your church not just “accommodate visitors,” but to expect Guests.



THE QUICK SUMMARY – Be Our Guest, by the Disney Institute

Exceeding expectations rather than simply satisfying them is the cornerstone of the Disney approach to customer service. Be Our Guest outlines proven Disney best practices and processes for generating customer loyalty. One visit to a Disney park reveals that their Guest Experience extends beyond the front gates, and into the heart and mind of every employee at every level.

Be Our Guest takes you behind the scenes to help you learn new and creative ways to create and deliver a world-class Guest Experience.


“Be Our Guest” has been the invitation the Disney organization extends to people long before the song from Beauty and the Beast became a box office hit. It underscores an important element in the Disney vocabulary that customers are not referred to as customers or visitors, but rather as Guests. In the Disney nomenclature, the word “Guest” is capitalized and treated as a formal noun. It takes little effort to extend this line of thinking to your church:

What’s the difference between treating someone like a visitor, and treating someone like a Guest?

The obvious analogy is that we do things differently when we bring Guests into our home. We clean up the house. We dress up. We prepare something special to eat. We host them. We take care of their real needs. We even open the front door for them – every time.

Does your church expect Guests, or just accommodate visitors? How does Guest expectation extend beyond the front doors on a Sunday morning, but even into the office suite on a Thursday afternoon?

Realizing that God is bringing Guests to your church has to be the starting point, the foundation on which all else is built. Exceeding Guest expectations is the standard call to duty for every leader at every level and on every day.

At Disney, every leader at every level and on every day is a part of the Guest Services Team.

Exceeding Guest’s expectations is Disney’s service strategy, and paying attention to every detail is the tactic by which it is accomplished.

Disney’s Quality Service Compass encapsulates the organization-wide model that demonstrates Quality Service. It is the production process through which practical magic is created. In its essence, the compass can be used to create a shared vision of service that aligns the major elements that every organization shares – its people, infrastructure, and processes – in a cohesive, comprehensive effort to deliver that vision.

The Quality Service Compass has four main points centered on our service objective: to exceed Guest expectations.

Guestology – the art and science of knowing customers.


Quality Standards – establishing the criteria for actions necessary to accomplish the service strategy, and the measures of Service Quality.


Delivery Systems – the systems that deliver service: employees, the setting, and processes.


Integration – combining and aligning delivery systems, creating a matrix to troubleshoot problems and benchmark practices.

– Disney Institute, Be Our Guest


At your next leadership team meeting, review the four points of Disney’s Quality Service Compass outlined above. Using the introductory questions suggested below, ask, “What is working within our Welcoming Teams?” “What is missing or confused?”

Guestology: Understand your Guest Profile

  • Do you know who your Guests are? Do you collect basic demographic information from Guests? What does a study of the last 12 months of this information reveal about your Guests?
  • Do you collect additional information about your Guests (through a website survey, etc.? Do you know about their attitudes, lifestyles, values, and opinions? What does a study of the last 12 months of this type of information reveal about your Guests?

Integration: Extend your mission to the Guest Services teams

  • How can you extend your church’s mission so that your Guest Services teams understand how their role is in alignment?
  • How is your mission seen through your Guest Services teams by the Guests they serve?

Standards: Define Guest Service

  • Do you have service quality standards that ensure the consistent delivery of Guest services?
  • Do your Guest Services standards reflect the values of your church?
  • Do your Guest Service teams use the standards as filters through which they prioritize the actions that contribute to a memorable Guest Experience?

Delivery: Establish systems that welcome Guests

  • Your Guest Service Team Members are the first and most important part of your Guest Service delivery system. They are the heart and soul of your Guest Experience. How do you select, train and evaluate your team members? What steps have you taken to create and maintain
a culture of hospitality that nurtures your team members and encourages them to deliver a memorable Guest Experience?
  • How does your Environment (the physical and virtual resources of your organization) contribute to the delivery of a memorable Guest Experience? Do you regularly evaluate your setting?
  • Do you have a Process (the various series of operations used to deliver a memorable Guest Experience) that your Guest Service Teams understand and follow? Is this process regularly evaluated and improved as needed?

Finally, lead everyone in the meeting to identify one next step to take in THEIR ministry area or leadership to welcome Guests.

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix #20, published August 2016.

I’m proud to be a part of the Auxano team, where our 15 years of onsite Guest Perspective Evaluations with over 500 churches form the basis of the Guest Experience Boot Camp. Held on August 29-30 at The Cove Church in Mooresville, NC (Charlotte), the Boot Camp will provide two days of collaborative learning that will help your church develop its front line. Up to five members of your team can attend for an investment of $1,995 for the whole team.

Learn more and register here.

Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “summary” for church leaders. I’m going to peruse back issues of both SUMS and SUMS Remix and publish excerpts each Wednesday.


7 Guest Service Guidelines: Old School Disney at Its Best

The Disney organization is perhaps the greatest practitioner of Guest Experiences around today. Books have been written about what the “cast members” at Disney do to make people feel welcome (I know – I’ve read all of them, and own most of them).

A year ago about this time, my wife and I “opened and closed” the Magic Kingdom (we were there from the opening at 8 AM to closing at midnight) including Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party as a part of our 34th wedding anniversary celebration.

Once again, I was amazed at the exceptional attitude of the cast members.

Observing hundreds of Cast Members, dealing with tens of thousands of Guests, there’s only one word to describe their attitude: Magical.


So I’m sure you won’t mind if we go backstage and back in time at Disney to learn about their 7 Guest Service Guidelines – a list of actions that every Disney team member learns during their orientation.

When Disneyland opened in 1955, Disney was looking for a set of generic behaviors that ensured that cast members knew how to act courteously and respect the individuality of each Guest. Over the first ten years, the four values of Safety, Courtesy, Show, and Efficiency became the foundation from which all succeeding service standards were developed.

During the 1960s, these standards were translated into a set of behavioral actions called Guidelines for Guest Services, which became the centerpiece of training for all Disney cast members. Appropriately enough, the seven guidelines were personalized with the characters from the seven Dwarfs:


7 Guest Service Guidelines

courtesy of The Disney Institute


On the seventh day of Christmas Guest Experiences, your Guest Experience peers give to you:

7 Guidelines for Guest Services

  • Make eye contact and smile
  • Greet and welcome each and every Guest
  • Seek out Guest contact
  • Provide immediate service recovery
  • Display appropriate body language at all times
  • Preserve the “magical” Guest Experience
  • Thank each and every Guest

These seven phrases serve a variety of purposes. First, they define behavior in terms of Guests. They also communicate cast member responsibilities. Finally, they showcase ways to customize service to individual Guests.

Even though these Guidelines don’t exist in this form anymore, my experiences last year reminded me that the spirit of the Guidelines are very much in practice by cast members today.

Your church won’t have tens of thousands of people coming through your doors every day – but the principles Disney uses as a baseline starting point for training its cast members are appropriate in the context of your church.

inspired by and adapted from Be Our Guest, by The Disney Institute

Be Our Guest revised

Walt Disney’s Vision for Guest Experience

Cinderella’s Castle is beautiful from every angle…

Cinderella Castle2013

…but the most interesting view is underneath.

Deep underneath Cinderella’s castle in the middle of the Magic Kingdom is a utility corridor running from Main Street Square to Fantasyland. There is also a circular corridor running around the circumference of the Magic Kingdom. Though it gives the appearance of a tunnel, and many Cast Members call it a tunnel, these long passageways are really corridors, built on ground level and then covered over with 5 million square yards of dirt and sand dredged to create all the beautiful water features you see around the park. The visible park you see is really the second story of the park – but that’s really another story.

I recently spent 2 days in Walt Disney World, one of them being part of a Backstage Magic tour – behind the scenes, if you will, of all four theme parks in Walt Disney World. I will be recounting many stories from my time there in the days ahead, but there is no better way to start them than this:

Imagine, if you will, a long central corridor where almost all Magic Kingdom Cast Members pass through in their work at the park. To one side of that corridor, beginning a long wall of photos, sayings, and displays of the history of Walt Disney World, is a simple poster with a picture of Walt Disney and these words:

Walt Disney’s vision for a great guest experience:

Safety, Courtesy, Show, Efficiency

In a line past that poster, you will see 4 more large posters, with a smiling Cast Member’s picture on each, with these words below:

  • I practice safe behaviors in everything I do
  • I am courteous and respectful to Guests of all ages
  • I stay in character and perform my role in every story
  • I use my time and resources wisely

Known by various terms but most often called the 4 Keys, they were literally Walt Disney’s vision for Guest Experiences – first at Disneyland when it opened in 1955, then at the Magic Kingdom in 1971, and at every other theme park, cruise ship, and Disney organization since then.

These 4 keys are simple service standards, and they can be powerful tools in any organization – but especially ChurchWorld.

There is power in establishing a framework of values from which everyone in your organization operates. Within that framework, you can empower team members in a way that gives them a sense of ownership and purpose. You create a consistent image across the entire organization.

Disney’s standards have stood the test of time for over 50 years – shouldn’t you consider creating standards for your organization that will stand the test of time as well?

Today begins a 14-part series on Guest Experience applications from my recent 2-day immersion at Disney World. It’s time for Disney Lab!


2013 GsD (Doctor of Guestology) journey