During a recent visit I made to a parish (name and city are withheld), I had a good laugh after I pulled into the parking lot.
As I came to the beginning of the walkway that led to the parish campus — the church included — there were the typical parking spaces reserved for handicap parking on one side of the entrance. On the other side were seven parking spaces all “reserved” for staff members. And to ensure there would be no confusion on anyone’s part, there were six-foot tall metal poles cemented into the asphalt with large signs on each space that read, RESERVED STAFF PARKING.
This is the first thing that everyone sees as they walk up to this particular church. They don’t see an entrance for the church. Or an entrance to the hall. Or a nice sign with the parish name and a map showing the location and name of the various parish facilities, which would be very helpful. Or they don’t even see reserved spaces for visitors right near the entrance. No. The first thing parishioners and visitors see are seven obnoxious signs that boldly proclaim RESERVED STAFF PARKING. Thousands of people EVERY week, EVERY time they walk onto the parish grounds.
So, what is the message this communicates? A sense of hospitality? A welcoming spirit? That you’re likely to receive good “customer service” from the parish staff? I think not. This parish is telling everyone that walks up who is at the top of the food chain.
Think about a business. Any kind of business that has customers, patients, professional clients, etc. As you likely know, good customer service is something that is pushed hard by businesses in order to (hopefully) provide the customer with a good experience and hopefully bring in more money to the business. Now imagine that this professional business or retail store blocks off the first few rows of parking spaces, the ones closest to the entrance, and reserves those prime spots for their staff and mark them with huge signs that tell customers they are not welcome to park there. Does that sound like smart business to you?
Too often in Catholic parishes, the staff does not view parishioners as “customers.” More often, they are viewed as roadblocks that get in the way of their day-to-day duties. Too many parish staffers have the mindset that these are MY tasks and this is MY parish. What’s more, those same staff members (lay and clergy alike) don’t quite understand why more parishioners aren’t throwing themselves at the feet of the parish office to volunteer or to become more involved in parish life.
If your parish is going to more fully develop stewardship as a way of life, hospitality needs to be the first building block. And this needs to begin internally, with the parish staff. Excellent “customer service” needs to be one of our primary objectives.
At this parish, the first step needs to be to remove the seven reserved staff parking signs that greet thousands of people each week as they walk up to the entrance of the church. Now reflect on your parish and think about what simple steps you can take to communicate to the hundreds or thousands of people that arrive on the parish grounds each week that yours is a welcoming and hospitable parish family.