Do Churches Have Customers?

So with all the work I’ve been doing lately on Customer Experience I can’t help but as this question. After all I spent the first decade or so of my working life in churches. So for the sake of argument let’s create a generic profile of what makes a customer and see if it applies:

1. Customers start from a point of need.
Ok, sometimes the “need” is more of a want but you wouldn’t buy something you didn’t want or need so this is where a “customer” begins.

2. Customers typically do some shopping
There are certainly times when people make an impulse purchase but in general they do some research before making a buying decision.

3. Customers make a commitment.
Typically we think in terms of a financial commitment but there may also be contract terms like when you purchase a contract for cell phone service.

4. Customers repeat or defect based on service.
If the product does what is expected, in other words it meets the need/want, then service determines whether a customer makes another purchase or defects to a new provider.

5. Customers promote products they really like.
The end goal in getting satisfied customers is to have them promote your product.


In the interest of full disclosure I have to say that I have had this conversation with several “church people”. In every case the immediate answer has been “no, we don’t have ‘customers’, we have members. Our people are more involved than just being customers.” But really? Doesn’t that behavior list look a like like a church goer?

On top of that let’s think about some of the jargon we use around church:

  • “We all NEED Jesus”
  • People can be said to be “church shopping”
  • We ask members to commit or talking about “committing our lives to Christ”
  • Churches often talk about the “back door being larger than the front”
  • Church members “vote with their wallets” when the offering comes plate by on Sunday morning.
  • And of course all are expected to “do the work of an evangelist”

I’m being slightly tongue in cheek here but not overtly so. Is it possible that where churches start to miss the mark is where they DON’T think of attendees as customers? When I think of someone as a “member” or as part of a “church family” then there are certain expectations that go along with those words. Expectations like “sacrifice” or “volunteering” or “staying committed through tough times”. We might ask those things of family members but we’d never ask them of customers. Would we?

There is certainly something deeper about being a committed member of a church than just being a mere customer, however; I can’t help but wonder what it would look like if a church were to start to embrace some of the same principles that businesses use to create satisfied, promoting customers and applied them to their congregation.

What do you think? Would churches see a positive change if they were to start adopting some corporate best practices for acquiring and retaining promoting customers?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

Leave a Reply