What The Church Could Learn From A Cruise Ship

ship-Fantasy-w630x300I’m always looking at life through the lens of leadership and ministry.  It’s a sickness really.  My wife and I watch TV shows like The Profit and Shark Tank and she’s probably sick of me comparing things in those shows to leadership and ministry.  Seriously though, The Profit has such great parallels to leading in the church.  Love that show.  But I digress.

Two weeks ago, my wife and I had the privilege of joining some friends of ours on a five day cruise to the Bahamas to celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary.  We’ve been planning this adventure for almost a year now and enjoyed every minute of our trip.  Well, almost every minute, it was pretty rough seas the first day which made for a fun house type walk down the hallways.  As Sabrina and I were talking about all the things we loved about our vacation and loved about our trip I started thinking about how well Carnival did with the cruise.  I’ve been on three cruises in my life and in my opinion it is the best way to vacation.  The food, entertainment, activities and relaxation are second to none.  Well, on the plane ride home I started thinking about the things that stood out to me on the cruise and compared it to the church.

Let me first say, I’m not suggesting that the church function like a cruise ship.  That’s actually part of the problem with the church today.  We’ve become more of a cruise ship to keep people comfortable than a rescue boat to seek and save the lost.  But, I do believe you can always learn from life experiences and these things stood out to me.  Second, since I know someone will make a point of this, I’m not saying that these things trump Jesus or leading people to Him.  That to me goes unsaid.  So, with that in mind…

1.  Clear communication —  There is a LOT going on on a cruise ship.  From ports of call, entertainment, games, activities, dinner times, you name it, from morning to midnight the cruise ship is packed with activity.  This requires very clear communication.  Now, I’m sure someone could board the boat and not have any idea of what to do or where to go but that would be to a lack of paying attention more than a lack of communication.  Every step of the way we were clearly communicated to on what was coming up, where we should go, what we should do and how we could be a part.  Each night on the cruise we got a detailed paper on all the next days activities.  Regularly over the loud speaker they were updating us on the next activity you “won’t want to miss.”  It was next to impossible to be on that boat and not know how to be a part of what was going on?  So, church leaders, are we clearly communicating to our people how they can be a part of what’s going on?  Are our next steps easy and obvious?  Clear communication is one of the hardest parts of church life I believe.  Especially as the church gets bigger.

2.  Cater to the family —  In my three cruises, I’ve been on two different cruise lines (Carnival and Princess), but Carnival does an amazing job of catering to the entire family.  From their Camp Carnival for the little kids all the way to a “club” style hangout for the older teens, there was something for everybody.  In fact, Carnival went out of there way to let parents know how their kids would be safe and cared for so they could enjoy the more “adult” activities of the ship.  We didn’t have our kids on this vacation with us (Praise Jesus), but I can guarantee you they would of been taking full advantage of the kids activities, which would allow us to take full advantage of ours.  So, church leaders, how are we doing on providing ministries for the whole family?  What are we doing to provide environments that meet the needs of all ages?

3.  Over the top hospitality — The hospitality on a cruise ship is second to none.  Our room steward learned our name and called us by name.  He didn’t have to do that.  The fact that EVERY TIME we came back to our room it had been cleaned up would of been enough, but he called us by name.  Around every corner a Carnival employee was there with a smile or a “can I help you with something?”  You can’t leave a coffee cup on a table unattended for more than 30 seconds before someone is there to scoop it up and clean off the table.  Signs were everywhere telling us where to go and how to get there.  You need something? Just ask!  One of the bar tenders who was working the main entertainment room learned what we wanted and by the end of the week was shocked when we ordered something different.  He was first shocked that we ordered virgin drinks, but next that we changed them up by the end of the week!  Ha!  So, church leaders, how are new people treated when they come into our churches?  Do they know where to go?  Is someone learning their name?  Are they getting their questions asked?  Are our churches clean, cared for and do they smell good?  I think one of the ways the church can make the best impression to a guest is by having over the top hospitality.

4.  Approachable but not always available —  This one is the one that might not sit well with people but it stood out, maybe the most, to me.  I commented to Sabrina several times how much I felt like the cruise director is like a lead pastor of a church.  Our Cruise Director, Ben, was unbelievable.  From our three cruises he was by far the best director we’ve had.  The cruise director is in charge of communication and organization of all the ships entertainment and activities.  He is the “face” of your ship if you will.  Our ship held over 2000 guests and close to 1000 crew.  That’s a lot of people, yet the cruise director made you feel like he was there just for you.  At all the big events he was there and sometimes was the main emcee.  As we got off the boat at  the end of the cruise he was standing at the gangway thanking everyone for being there and saying goodbye.  He would be out and about on occasion, very approachable, but what I noticed was, he wasn’t available.  Here’s what I mean.  The cruise director couldn’t spend time with all 2000 guests on the ship getting to know them, but I did see him spend time with some of the guests and get to know them.  He couldn’t be at every event, but he was at a lot of them.  He couldn’t deal with every problem or address every concern but he managed a crew of close to a 1000 people that could.  The cruise director was approachable, but wasn’t always available.  I think one of the biggest limiters to many churches reaching more people is the people want the pastor to be always available to everyone.  That’s not possible.  That’s also why most churches don’t exceed more than 150 people.  That’s about the max for one person to manage.  So church leaders, are we approachable?  Do we have system in place where anyone can be cared for?  Not necessarily by the Lead Pastor but by one of the pastors?  Are we learning some of the names?  Getting to know some of the people?  Andy Stanley uses a phrase that has really helped me in my leadership:  “Do for one what you wish you could do for all.” As the/a pastor, you don’t have to know everyone personally but you should know some of them personally.  Both the pastor and the people have to be ok with this or we will become a cruise ship that keeps people comfortable and stop being a rescue boat that saves lost people.

5.  Mission consistent — Carnival has given themselves the name “Fun ship”.  They are all about having fun.  They put the word fun into everything.  Fun Times — The paper they give you each night giving you all the days activities.  Fun points — reward points you can earn by cruising with them.  Fun tips — Tips they give you on their website on how to have the most fun on your cruise.  And when you cruise with them they live this out. You may not agree with their definition of fun, but the fun never stopped on Carnival.  There seriously was something happening non stop.  You may not like the mission of being fun, but they were consistent to the mission.  So, church leaders, are we consistent with our mission?  Do we have a clear mission?  Are we sticking to the mission whether people like it or not?  Are we actually living out what we say we are pursuing?

There you have it.  Five of many things I saw on a cruise ship that relate to the church.  I was challenged by every one of these, hope they’ve been a challenge to someone else as well

Jeff Maness

I am a follower of Jesus first, husband to a beautiful wife, father to four amazing children, lead pastor of Element Church in Cheyenne, WY, and blogger of all things life.

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