hospitality, usability, & mensch-ness

Ever since I took the opportunity to visit 165 weekend worship services across my yearlong road trip (a trip that was far more about collegiate ministry exploration than about visiting churches), I’ve been a bit of a hospitality addict. This hope for a useful “product” – anytime Christians are doing ministry – bleeds over into much of what I do. And since I get to focus on mobilizing church people to serve on a daily basis, it comes up a lot.

There’s a huge subset of hospitality that one might call “usability.” Just as a functional office chair is more “hospitable” than a tricky one, a college ministry’s Large Group Meeting that makes pathways and resources clear may be far more hospitable than one that simply welcomes people happily but doesn’t really provide clarity.

So this addiction is also what has led me to read things like “web usability” books, specifically Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web and Mobile Usability by Steve Krug. And this quote toward the end grabbed me, especially because it seems to apply perfectly to how we think – or fail to think – about usability in our ministries.

Most of this book has been about building clarity into Web sites: making sure that users can understand what it is they’re looking at – and how to use it – without undue effort. Is it clear to people? Do they “get it”?

But there’s another important component to usability: doing the right thing – being considerate of the user. Besides “Is my site clear?” you also need to be asking, “Does my site behave like a mensch?”

(As Krug explains earlier in the chapter, “mensch” is a “German-derived Yiddish word originally meaning ‘human being.’ A person of integrity and honor; ‘a stand-up guy’; someone who does the right thing.”)

Both of those elements – one in each paragraph from the quote – are things we Christian ministers (of all stripes) don’t seem to think about enough in the activities we offer. It’s tempting to think about the crowd rather than the individuals, to think about the entire process rather than each element in it, and to think about outcomes (like “Will they come back?”) to the exclusion of kindness via usability (“Are we being hospitable, even if it doesn’t affect their likelihood of returning?”).

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