Does Your Church’s Guest Experience Set High Expectations – and Then Exceed Them?

If we cannot define what we are doing, how in the world can we accomplish it?     – Scott McKain

What do you expect when you pull into the parking lot of a store for your weekly grocery shopping?

Your answer most likely depends on circumstances beyond your control, but is nevertheless a critical part of your expectations.

Consider the time of your visit for example. If you go early in the morning, you will most likely find fully stocked shelves, fresh and eager employees to help you if needed, a clean store, and minimal other shoppers. Typically, an early morning trip to the grocery store is a pleasant experience.

But what if your trip is right before suppertime, when the roads are busy with commuters coming home from work and having to stop by the grocery store for a few last-minute items. The shelves – well, let’s just say they’ve been better organized and stocked. The cleanliness of the store – not so much. Friendly employees – usually nowhere to be found. And the crowds – it seems as if every other car on the highway pulled into the store just as you did. The grocery store is the last place you want to be at 5:30 in the afternoon, but it has to be done .

The critical difference was the expectations you had about what was about to occur. You expected a generally positive experience in the morning visit, and if you were not overjoyed, at least you were positive.

You expected a negative experience in the afternoon visit, and it only got worse.

These examples are meant to prove that what you expected to occur generated a feeling within you regarding your anticipation of expected outcomes and that those expectations affected the results.     – Scott McKain

Let’s take this application from the grocery store to your church’s parking lot.

You see that Guest pulling into your parking lot? What are her expectations? Who set them? How will you know if you met them, let alone exceeded them?


Scott McKain’s book 7 Tenets of Taxi Terry takes a real-life situation McKain encountered that blew him away – and gave him the idea to develop 7 tenets, or principles, of excellent customer service.

McKain’s first tenet: Set High Expectations and Then Exceed Them suggests that the first interaction or comment your Guests experience initiates two very valuable aspects of the rest of your Guest’s Experience:

  1. It creates a first impression
  2. It sets the expectation for what the Guest is about to encounter.

Here’s how McKain drilled down into these two aspects – modified to fit the Guest Experience at your church.

Creating a First Impression

The following 3 terms should have different meanings, yet are often used interchangeably:

  1. Guest satisfaction
  2. Guest service
  3. Guest experience

Until you and your teams understand the differences – especially from the Guest’s point of view – you will have a difficult time developing and executing your hospitality ministry.

As McKain says, “If we cannot define what we are doing, how in the world can we accomplish it?

McKain discusses the distinction among theses three terms later in the book, and so will future posts in this series, as we look at the 7 Tenets from a Guest Experience perspective.

As a starting point, he reminds us that a positive first impression consists of the following three points:

  1. Everything matters – the more important the impression is, the greater your focus should be on everything
  2. Focus on the other – as in the other person’s needs, wants, and concerns
  3. Be your best self – making the effort and discipline to present the best of who you are to the Guest in front of you

Setting the Level of Expectation

McKain goes on to say the second reason the initial comments made to a Guest are so critical is that they set the expectation for what the Guest is about to encounter.

The tenet clearly says “high expectations,” which implies that you have the ability to set or establish to a significant degree the level of eagerness that the Guest will have about proceeding with his or her encounter with you and your organization.

You should examine carefully and think thoroughly about the initial impression and expectation-setting ritual you follow when a Guest first approaches you.

McKain’s choice of the word “ritual” may seem odd at first, but think about it: when you go in a store or a restaurant, and if you are greeted at all, does it sound genuine and sincere – or just a bored, memorized greeting with no emotion behind it?

The initial, front-line team in your Guest Experience ministry is crucial to establishing a high expectation, and then exceeding it.

Here’s what Richard Branson, CEO and founder of the wildly successful Virgin companies says about exceeding expectations:

  1. Know what the Guest expects
  2. Develop a strategy to deliver on those expectations
  3. Find unexpected and helpful ways to go the second mile

If you’ve hung in with me this far, I’m guessing you probably need something a little more concrete to use in your church’s hospitality ministry. So, I’ve got a question for you:

What do you do when it rains at your church?

yellow umbrella

Read this rainy day story that hopefully will inspire you and your teams to set high expectations on a day when no one is thinking about them – and then blow them out of the water – literally!


Taxi Terry Takeaway, Adapted for Your Church’s Guest Experience

The expectations that you set for Guests are obviously very powerful – as are the expectations they have of your ability to fulfill their needs and desires.

  • How do you currently understand the expectations that Guests have of you? How could you do a better job of discovering what they really want?
  • Take a look at one specific interaction that you have with a Guest. Develop two ideas of additional steps you could take that would enhance the connection you have with the Guest in that situation.
  • Describe in as much detail as possible the first impression that you are delivering as a Guest pulls into your parking lot. How could you enhance it to create an even more powerful impact upon the Guest’s expectations?


inspired and adapted from Scott McKain’s amazing book, 7 Tenets of Taxi Terry


If you are involved in the hospitality ministry of your church, this is a must-have book, filled with step-by-step strategies of how you can create and deliver the ultimate Guest Experience at your church.


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