Recent conversations in some ministry networks I am involved with have got me thinking again about the labels we use to describe or categorise the people we engage with in ministry. In my particular ministry context we refer to people who shop in our Thrift Shop as "customers", people who access our Welfare service as "clients" and the people who attend Church are generically referred to as "members". While there is nothing inherently wrong with these labels, it is the label "client" that has sat uncomfortable with me for some time.
A client by definition is "a person or organization using the services of a lawyer or other professional person or company." Our clients are indeed people who use our services, but is that fundamentally who they are - "service users" (another label that creates even more discomfort in my spirit) and is that the primary purpose for our interaction with them? The label client is a professional label that has been applied in a community service and church context to keep a professional distance between those who serve and those whom we serve. Along with this label is usually an environment that reinforces this professional distance between our clients and staff. This may work in a secular context, but I am seriously questioning whether it really fits in a church context.
Church, at its best, is all about community and relationship where we participate in personal transformation, whereas, a client culture is all about them and us, where we engage in a professional transaction. So, what's the alternative?
It was refreshing to here an alternative label used when listening to a colleague share about an exciting initiative of his church that creates community with some of the most vulnerable people in the Adelaide CBD through a ministry called Do Unto Others (DUOs). He constantly referred to the people they serve as "guests" and the environment created reflects just that! It is friendly, interactive and all about community, personifying the image I have of the early church.
Maybe if we interacted with the people we serve more as our "guests" than our "clients" we could replace the professional distance with personal relationships that demonstrate the love and grace of Jesus Christ through participation in a transformational community called the church.