Joyful Sound

“If you are not available on Sunday, come and join us on our Wednesday Harlem Gospel tour!”

Photo byAviv ben Jehuda; Creative Commons licensed

This latest example of customer service flexibility comes to us directly from the Harlem Spirtuals website, where one can purchase adult tickets for $55 or a child’s ticket for $39. Be sure to select a language option of English, French, German, Italian, or Spanish, so you know what time to be at 690 Eighth Avenue. Your four hour tour experience begins there and includes a Sunday morning Gospel service as its marquee destination.

Apparently, tours like this have touched a nerve in the religious community. Meghan Barr recently wrote an AP article entitled “Where sacred meets profane”. The article does a nice job of capturing both the debate and the dilemma.

On the one hand, tourists from across the globe are flocking to neighborhood churches and may be seen as a disruptive presence. Pastors and ushers now have assumed additional responsibilities for managing the conduct of visitors.  Unwanted behavior can vary from dress code to early exits. Although not alone, Harlem’s historic Mother African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church is a frequent stop for the tours.   In fact, some local churches find themselves turning away visitors because they do not have enough room.

On the other hand, the tourists often drop their dollars into the weekly collection plates.  As the Barr article points out, the tourists may in some cases be filling otherwise empty pews and are doing their part to help keep these churches afloat during what may be increasingly difficult times. One thing that these churches share in common with secular business is the need to meet monthly operating budgets and fund future capital needs.

Some observers may distill this debate down to a commercialization of religion or an unwanted intrusion of tourism. Others may see it as a confluence of necessary evils.  Still others may even see it as an opportunity – not just in terms of making ends meet but as a chance to reach more people with the Sunday message and to provide the newbies with a sense of history.  There seems to be no common voice or easy answers on this one.  Should the churches partner with tour operators?  Should they even allow visitors?  Should they charge admission?  What about concessions and merchandise sales?

Too close to make the call?  From its pulpit of sorts, Bizsinc will suggest here that it sees this issue as largely a matter of governance.  When we view churches, we do not typically view them through a business lense.  However, churches are indeed organizations.  As organizations, they have boards of elders and trustees.  Typically also sitting at the table is the pastor (think CEO) and major committee chairs (including finance, ministry, etc…).  It is collectively their job to make the decisions that govern their church.  In this particular case, they may choose to receive some input from above, but it remains their job to make the decisions that best serve its constituents.  And no doubt they will.


About Thomas W. Smith
Bizsinc - Bringing Business to Life

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