This is a story about two movie theaters and what churches can learn from them.
I have some brand loyalty to AMC. I frequent their theaters more often than not. The one in our town is in the mall. It has the best popcorn. Recently, when a big fancy theater moved in, they dropped prices to compete. With bargain tickets available at all times of day, it became our go-to theater. It was cheap. They’re the same movies, right?
A while back I took my family to see The Good Dinosaur. The place was packed. The place was loud. The place was annoying. There was constant talking the whole time. One kid walked around in front of the screen for 60% of the movie. His parents didn’t intervene. I’m a pretty laid back guy, but even I got irritated. It didn’t help matters that the popcorn bags were smaller, too, even though they raised prices at the concession stand to make up for lower ticket prices.
After the show, I approached the customer service counter. I gave them the heads up that others may be coming to share the same frustration and outlined my disruptive experience. I got two responses:
- “You should’ve come out and complained.”
- “Let me call a manager.” I stood there for 10 minutes and a manager never came. I heard over the walkie-talkie a manager say, “You guys are going to have to handle it. I’m busy.”
I told the guy it was no problem, I couldn’t wait any longer and I wasn’t going to cause a big stink. I was offered no coupons. One obviously frustrated worker apologized, but he was alone in even that simple gesture. I haven’t been been to the AMC since that day.
The Cinemark was known as the dumpiest theater in town. I rarely went there, despite the fact that it was actually the closest to my house. When the new fancy theater moved into town, they didn’t drop prices. They raised them. They put recliners in every theater. They upped their customer service. It’s a fantastic movie-going experience. Their popcorn bucket even got larger…or at least it seemed like it.
I haven’t gone anywhere since — including to the big fancy theater that moved in. The Cinemark has won me over.
Does every theater have pros and cons? Of course. But I got to thinking about my sudden shift in loyalty, and it made me ask an important question.
What can the church learn from this?
No, the church is not a business. It is a people, a community. Even when you think about the structural stuff of buildings and budgets and all, it’s a non-profit organization. Still, does the theater contrast speak into how we “do” church? Or how we exist as the church? I think so. Here are a few of my take-aways:
- People matter. No matter what business you think you’re in, you’re in the people business. You can drop ticket prices to all-time lows, AMC, but if people have a lousy time and you treat them poorly, they will pay the extra few bucks to go elsewhere. Same for churches. We need to value people over programs, people over process, and people over growth projections. We’re in the people business.
- It never hurts if stuff is nice. Look, I’m not picky when it comes to decor and comfort and all that, but we’d do well to make sure things are done in a quality way. Stuff being clean, chairs not being broken, giving some thought to design, pretending like you took some time to prepare — these are all good things. It makes people feel respected. And, as we discussed already, people matter.
- Effort excuses lack of perfection. No one is perfect. Someday, there will probably be an overly loud theater at the Cinemark. But they’ve made so many deposits in my trust account I’ll likely give them a second chance. They’re trying, at least. That’s obvious. No one is perfect. Churches aren’t perfect, either. Leaders make mistakes, things go wrong, we have to adjust on the fly and it impacts a lot of people. But if we have trust built up, people usually roll with it. Make an effort. It pays off.
- If it’s good, people will sacrifice for it. I pay more for my ticket to the Cinemark because it’s worth it to me. If the Cinemark were the furthest from my house, I’d still drive to it. There are trade-offs I’m willing to make. A healthy church, a church that loves each other well, a church that serves it’s community, a church that tells the truth even when it’s unpopular…people sacrifice for that kind of church. They drive further. They give to the cause. They inconvenience themselves. They volunteer.
I don’t know what your church is like, but I’m glad I belong to a Cinemark kind of church. We don’t have it all together, but we value people highly, put thought into things, make an effort, and people are sacrificing to contribute. It’s a beautiful thing.
Now if we could see about serving buttery popcorn during worship…