Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares is one of my all time favorite shows. In this reality show classic, famous chef and restaurant guru, Gordon Ramsay, visits failing restaurants and tries to turn them around in just one week. The show is appropriately titled. Every situation Ramsay steps into is a total nightmare on the brink of closure. Chef Ramsay points out that a restaurant can serve the finest food, display the most beautiful decor, and still fail because of bad customer service. Ramsay insists on superior customer service and experience. This fiery chef won’t be found filming our youth ministries, but I’ve often wondered what he would find if he did.
Here are some things Chef Ramsay insists on that might help us move towards being youth ministries that keep students coming back for more:
The moment a customer walks in the door their experience begins. When entering our space our customers should be noticed and welcomed right away. When our volunteer teams arrive at the same time or a few minutes after our students arrive, we risk the chance of a student not feeling welcome or even feeling ignored as they enter our space.
Once customers have been greeted and welcomed, service and care for the customer experience begins and should continue during their visit. No one likes to be welcomed, seated, and forgotten. You’ve experienced it every time you go to an establishment that takes 30 minutes to take your order and then neglects refill your beverage. It’s frustrating right? That student sitting in the corner, eating alone, the few who are always in the back, the student we quickly pass as we rush to get the trip forms we forgot copy, these are the seated and forgotten.
The menu should be the customer’s best friend not their worst nightmare. According to Chef Ramsay, a busy menu is not a good menu. Customers get lost when a menu is busy and have a slim chance of ordering the best meal the chef has to offer. A busy youth ministry does not equal quality and relational youth ministry. It’s okay to take things off the menu. If 30-minute lessons put your kids to sleep, take it off the menu. If small groups are not helping students connect and focus, take it off the menu. If games are not helpful in building community, take it off the menu.
You can’t serve quality food from a disgusting kitchen. Space matters. Serving kids in an unorganized, messy, dirty, dingy space, does not contribute to a safe and welcoming environment. No one wants to eat out of a kitchen that has roaches. Likewise, students don’t want to hang out and invite their friends to an uninviting space. It doesn’t require millions of dollars, just time, care, and elbow grease. You can make it a community project. Let your students use their creativity and talents to improve the space they meet in.
Every customer is the most important customer. My students figured me out a long time ago. When I say, “You’re my favorite” to a student, they quickly respond, “You say that to everyone.” I never miss the chance to confirm, “but it’s true you are.” Every student we serve should feel significant and noticed. Let’s do whatever it takes to create spaces and relationships where each student feels safe, worthy, and completely loved.
Care for a customer goes a long way. In the restaurant world it means success and longevity; in the youth ministry world it means relationships that lead students to Jesus. When we think through hospitality and how we serve our teens, can any adjustments be made? Are we willing to ask the most needed questions: Are we serving the best meal we can (spiritually speaking)? Do we give our customers the best hospitality service? Do our customers feel significant and noticed when they are in our space? Maybe an honest look at our customer service can turn our ministries around and help us reach the students we’ve longed to serve.
P.S. – Want to go above and beyond in creating an environment of “Radical Hospitality” in your ministry? Check out Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore and Four Acts of Love to Make Your Church Irresistible by Thom and Joani Schultz.