July 12, 2011 / by Tom Ehrich

I just booked a rental car through Travelocity. I learned something that applies beyond travel: a well designed and capable online service can make a huge difference.

Yes, I still need a face-to-face with the rental agent and the experience of their car. But I come to those next steps feeling positive about the transaction. Unless the agent in Wichita is totally rude or the car a lemon, I will be a repeat customer.

A company trying to lease me an office, on the other hand, has an irritating web site with minimal information and procedures designed to force me to an agent. I want numbers, not face-time.

I do a lot of work with congregations. I know that congregations value the face-to-face, as well they should. But many people come to face-time with opinions already formed, attitudes already set – often by an online experience.

It’s an Internet age. We should all get used to it.


Q: What are your thoughts about hiring church members to staff positions in the church?

A: I have seen it work, and I have seen it become a disaster. Church members bring loyalty to the staff, as well as appreciation of local customs and personalities. Unfortunately, they also can bring misplaced loyalty – loyalty to their church friends, and not loyalty to the pastor and other staff members. Their awareness of customs can make them resistant to change, at a time when most church staffs need to be in the business of change. Their friendships can make them susceptible to gossip, a special problem for anyone whose job has them working closely with the pastor.

Finally, when a church member joins the staff, it is sometimes seen as an economy measure – “Well, Jane won’t want as much as an outsider would” – and this has the effect of driving down all compensation and causing morale problems.

On balance, it takes an especially mature personality to function both as a member of the staff and a member of the congregation. The test isn’t work skills, but emotional maturity and an ability to maintain loyalty to the pastor and staff. I have seen too many situations where a parishioner working on staff became an enemy of the pastor but, because of friendship ties, couldn’t be dismissed.