When we think of ministry, we typically think about preaching, praying with people, discipleship, and various programs or events. The phrase, "customer service" probably isn’t the first thing to come to mind. Perhaps it shouldn’t be at the top of the list, but if you focus on the second word, "service," it feels less like a business buzzword and more like ministry.

So, whom do we serve? God, members of our congregations, our communities, fellow staff and volunteers are a few examples. What does excellence look like as we serve? Does it include making people wait days before we call them back or respond to their email? Should it mean we commit to doing something but due to time mismanagement, fail to keep our word? Does it involve changing things last minute and expecting volunteers to turn on a dime?

Common sense tells us those things don’t provide excellent service, however, I think many of us have experienced one or more of those from well-intentioned ministry staff. That’s unfortunate and most often, inadvertent. So, how do we make sure our teams (and ourselves) are focused on serving with excellence? Here are a few tips:

Tip No. 1: Don’t overcommit yourself

I have to preach this one to myself, as I tend to think I can accomplish more in a limited amount of time than is realistic. Here’s what I’m learning to do: Before I say "yes," I’ll say "May I get back with you on that?"

It’s not an immediate "no," but delaying an answer gives me time to reflect on my schedule, other commitments, and my own need for time off. By not overcommitting, you enable yourself to then meet the commitments you do choose to make.

By the way, saying "no" is a perfectly acceptable answer. You may try to help that person find someone else who can assist them, but you don’t have to say yes to everything. That may be a sentence you want to post on your computer.

Tip No. 2: Plan ahead

Don't shoot out a quick email to 100 volunteers with vague instructions the day before an event. Make the time a few weeks ahead to decide what you need your volunteers to do, what information they need to be successful, and when or how best to communicate that information. Your instructions will be informative and more succinct, and your volunteers will appreciate the advanced notice and clear expectations.

Tip No. 3: Respond in a timely manner

I'm not a fan of voicemail. I can't explain why, but I prefer a text or email. However, communication isn’t always about me — it’s about the person who's trying to communicate with me. So, while I don't like voicemail, I still check it daily and respond within one business day. Whether it's voicemail, email or a text, it's respectful to respond in a reasonable amount of time and shows you care, which you do.

Tip No. 4: Smile and be friendly

You have a lot on your mind on Sunday morning. Do we have enough volunteers in the nursery? Why do we have so much feedback from the sound system? However, people in your congregation aren't aware of all you have on your to-do list and may just notice the concerned look (or outright scowl) on your face. Make an effort to iron out those details before the service and regardless, smile.

I realize that customer service sounds like a business term. It's not something we specifically address often in ministry. However, it certainly aligns with our goals of serving people and leading them into a deeper relationship with Christ.