10 Things Churches Should Learn From Ikea

I’ll admit, I love Ikea.  My first trip to Ikea was less than a year ago when I went to the store in Thessaloniki, Greece.  Since then I have been back to my local Ikea in Avon, Massachusetts, dozens of times.  Honestly, after visiting Ikea so many times I think there are a few things the church could learn from how they run their stores….

1. There is Something for Everyone – Although I have been to Ikea several times now, I have probably only bought furniture 3 or 4 times when I was there.  So, why would I go to Ikea if I am not going to buy furniture?  There are a few reasons, but the biggest one is because my son loves Ikea.  After entering the store the first thing you see is the children’s area.  At Ikea they will watch your kids for you while you shop (nice perk for parents).  Inside the play area there is all sorts of stuff to climb on and play with, there is always a movie playing, and there is a staff that will color and do all sorts of stuff with your kids.  In short, my son loves going to Ikea, not because of the furniture, but because they have an awesome play area that he enjoys.  And, even if your kids decide to stay with you, there are all sorts of mini kids areas throughout the store, where they can play while you shop and look around.

Most stores are not like this.  You walk in and you have to strap you kid down in the cart, because that cart is the only place for them.  Even worse is that many churches are like most stores.  They have no where for kids to go when they show up.  And even if they do have a class, they are boring and kids don’t want to go there anyway.

2. Family Oriented – Not only are their certain spots in the store for you kid, but the entire store is designed to accomadate families.  Two things stand out here.  First, family bathrooms throughout the store with clear signs pointing the way.  Any parent with a child who is having an “emergency” can appreciate this.  Second, their kids meal is about half the cost of a McDonald’s happy meal and is probably 200% more nutritious.  Not only is a good value, but they have a special area where kids can eat their lunch and watch TV and interact with other kids.  Everything from going to the bathroom, to eating, to actually shopping for furniture is designed with the family in mind.

Many churches may have children’s ministries space, but what about the rest of the church?  Family bathrooms?  Crying rooms?  Nursing mother’s rooms?    It wasn’t Ikea, but I was recently at a restaurant that had parking for “Expecting Mother’s and Mother’s of Toddlers.”  What a great idea.

3. Make It Easy for the Customer – When you walk into Ikea the first person you usually meet is the greeter, and not only does he or she greet you, but they hand you a shopping bag.  This doesn’t seem like anything big, until you walk into a BJ’s one day looking for a cart only to realize that all the carts are kept outside, and so you have to walk back out into the cold.

Are churches making things difficult for people?  Do they make it easy to get involved in a small group, get involved in ministry, to give, etc…  Or are people walking right back out the front door looking for a cart?

4. Clear Direction – I don’t believe I have ever been lost in Ikea.  Despite the fact that my local Ikea is 2 giant floors of products, I have never had to wonder which way to go, or where something is, as there are maps all over the place.  Even if you did somehow get lost, all you would have to do is look around and you would probably see a kiosk somewhere near you that has a map of the whole building and each department.  Second, not only are there maps, but there is only one way to go.  Most stores you walk around any which way you like, but at Ikea you start at the beginning and just follow the one isle to the end.  It’s the only official route. There are even arrows on the ground pointing you in the right direction, and clear signage everywhere telling you where to go.

How many churches make it difficult for people, especially first time visitors, to figure things out?  Where to park, where to sit, where that Sunday School class is at, where their kids go, is there even something for their kids?

On a spiritual level, how many people are lost wondering which way to go after they make their first visit, accept Christ, get baptized, etc…

5. They Are Flexible – There is an official route for going through the store, but there are also short-cuts for those who don’t want to take the official path.  Want to cut from bedrooms to bathrooms without having to go through dining rooms?  Not a problem, just take the short-cut.  There is the official path to make it easy for the first-time guest, but are short cuts for those who are more familiar with the store.    They make it easy for both types of people.

Are churches flexible in their approach, willing to give a bit to make it a bit easier for more people?  Or is their favorite two lines, “That’s not how we do it here”, and “This is the way we have always done it”?

6. The Unexpected – Today Ikea surprised me.  Jack and I got to Ikea a little early.  They open at 10, but we pulled into the parking lot at 9:45.  I was content to sit in my car waiting for the doors to open, but I kept noticing people going inside.  I thought I must have misunderstood the opening time, so I got Jack out of the car and we went in.   When I walked in to my surprise the greeter told me the store wasn’t officially opening until 10:00, but they were serving complimentary coffee in the cafeteria for those who got their a little early.  Contrast this with standing outside the post office waiting for them to unlock the door, 5 minutes after they were supposed to open.  Again, today, Ikea surprised me with a nice little perk.

Is church the same boring routine every week?  Or do we do things that mix it up every once in a while?  Small things like gifts for mother’s on mother’s day, and graduation gifts to graduates, go a long way in mixing things up a bit.  Bigger things like Christmas and Easter productions are important too.

7. Attention to Detail – Today I saw one of the Ikea employees cleaning the high-chairs in the cafeteria.  She wasn’t just quickly wiping down the seats, but painstakingly cleaning every square inch of every highchair.  She cleaned the legs, under the chair, the straps, everything.  Here is the crazy part….she wan’t cleaning dirty highchairs, she was actually going back through a stack of clean ones double checking to be sure they were acceptable for customers to use.

Are most churches content with good enough, or do they go the extra mile and re-clean the clean highchairs just to double check?

8. They Let You Take the Experience Home With You – Okay, I’ll admit I am a sucker for the Swedish meatballs they serve.  Those things are amazing.  But what makes them even better is that I don’t have to drive all the way to Ikea to get them, they sell them in their grocery section, which means I can buy them, bring them home and enjoy them anytime I like.

Are Sunday services everything your church offers or is there something for the rest of the week?  Home Care Groups?  Ministries?  Does your church encourage you parishioners to develop their spiritual life beyond attending church?  Are there materials for kids to take home and work on with their parents?  Or, is Sunday morning all their is?

9. It is Possible to Keep The Bathrooms Clean Even With 1,000’s of People Using Them.  Enough said.

10. They Don’t Assume You’re Smart Enough to Figure It Out – Today I noticed a small sign in one of the windows of the cafeteria.  The sign wasn’t selling any products, but rather was explaining that Ikea puts plants on the roof of it’s building to help keep its heating and cooling costs down, which helps the environment.  To be honest without this sign I would have never known this.  I probably would have thought they were doing it because it simply looked cool.

I think many churches assume a lot.  They assume that people understand what baptism, communion, raising of hands in worship and a host of other things are all about.  I wonder how many people sit through a church service, but miss out on so much because churches are assuming they understand everything that is going on?

Again, I love Ikea and I think churches could learn a lot from looking at how they run their stores.  In fact, I am sure there  is even more to learn than what I’ve listed here.  What did I miss from looking at Ikea?  What other lessons can a church learn from looking at other companies and organizations that are doing things well?