Pastor's Pondering


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What if Satisfaction Isn't the Goal?

by Duane Mabee on May 25, 2023

Have you taken a satisfaction survey recently?  I’m sure you have.  They are everywhere.  If you call customer service, you usually have to listen to a plea to take a satisfaction survey before you can even get connected to the automated answering system.  By the time I get finished trying to get their system to route my call to the right place, I don’t think they want to know how satisfied I am. 


What if customer satisfaction isn’t the right goal anyway?


This week, I attended a seminar called “Evaluation and Data” wondering how I got roped into being there.  The topic sounded less exciting than watching paint dry, but it turned out to be fascinating and highly applicable to the church and our individual lives. 


But how could making sure people are satisfied be the wrong goal?  To illustrate, the speaker talked about a research study that demonstrated that physicians who have the highest satisfaction rates often have the highest mortality rates among their patients.  It turns out that when physicians chase customer satisfaction as validation of their effectiveness, they frequently prescribe unnecessary and counterproductive medications and treatments simply to keep their patients happy.  They end up over prescribing antibiotics and pain medications, which can reduce a patient’s overall health.


The application to the church should be obvious.  Churches that make customer satisfaction the validation of their effectiveness will do whatever it takes to keep people happy, even if it is counterproductive to their spiritual health and vitality.  They will avoid talking about the difficult subjects that people need to hear.  They refuse to challenge people living in open rebellion against God.  They fill their calendars with feel-good events, even if those events distract people from what they really need. 


The application to our individual spiritual lives might be harder to see because it requires us to think about the benefit of doing things we don’t want to do – things that don’t make us feel satisfied.  Jesus said the way to Christlikeness was through self-denial, (Mark 8:34).  James says trials are the way to maturity, (James 1:2-4).  Paul talks about sharing in Christ’s sufferings so he could become more like Jesus, (Phil. 3:10-11).  None of those things would lead to good satisfaction survey results.


So, maybe customer satisfaction isn’t the goal we should be chasing.  Maybe focusing on making people happy is actually counterproductive to their spiritual wellbeing.  There’s nothing wrong with being satisfied.  But everything is wrong with making satisfaction our highest goal.