When Community Goes Wrong: The Closed-Circle Effect
CrossFit, Masters Athletes
Most of us, at some point in our lives, have gone church shopping. You move to a new town and you visit a bunch of churches until you find the one that feels right to you. It might be the children’s programs, the music, or the adult education that draws you, but 99% of the time, it’s the “feel. The first impression. The vibe.
The vibe comes from the people. If you get a distinct feeling of a closed circle, you are likely not going to come back. That closed-circle vibe says, “You’re not one of us, so you’re not worthy of much more than a nod. Prove your worth, and we’ll get back to you.”
"The vibe comes from the people. If you get a distinct feeling of a closed circle, you are likely not going to come back."
This is a real thing in churches, and every church I’ve been a part of discussed it in their Monday staff meetings. It’s real in every community. Neighborhoods, social clubs, anywhere where people gather - including CrossFit gyms.
The Susan Boyle Effect
Everyone remembers Susan Boyle - the Britain’s Got Talent contestant whose Mrs. Doubtfire-esque appearance led to eye rolls and dismissals from the judging panel. Until, that is, she began to sing. Suddenly, she was a star. What changed? She was the same person when she walked in as when she walked out. What changed was the circle. Once she proved her worth, the closed circle opened up.
This closed circle is our genetic default. From the time we began walking upright, outsiders posed a threat. You tribe up, encamp, and then keep an eye out for outsiders who are looking to break through the circle to kill you and steal your food.
"I am talking about more than the required shaking of the hand. They do this at the churches, too. That doesn’t change the overall closed-circle vibe."
Unfortunately, as a modernized society, it’s no longer necessary to circle up for protection in social settings, but we do it anyway. The net result is that in some CrossFit gyms, people who are new, including visitors, are getting the Susan Boyle treatment.
Now, before everyone gets all defensive and sends me links to their “fifty burpee penalty for not greeting visitors” part of your website, hear me out. I am talking about more than the required shaking of the hand. They do this at the churches, too. That doesn’t change the overall closed-circle vibe.
(For more on that, read this article, particularly points five and six and think about that in terms of your membership. Consider point number three in terms of your website.)
No Visitors Allowed - You Annoy Us
What inspired me to write this was this article by a CrossFit staffer that reads like having visitors is a major pain in the ass for most CrossFit boxes. It is heavy on the “we take care of our own” approach. Take the case of owner Monique Ames and CrossFit Evolution in Florida:
She used to welcome visitors, but when they started detracting from her service to her members, she banned drop-ins.
Think of the message. “You’re not one of us. Your kind is not welcome here.” Imagine for a moment a church that dissuaded visitors so the regular membership could be given more attention or a bar that ignored new patrons so they could serve the regulars first.
When I was in the business of helping to grow churches in the early 2000s, we had an axiom we lived by: the most important person is the one who isn’t here yet. Meaning, if you focus your sole attention on the existing membership, you’re dying. Because unless members reproduce by mitosis, you’ll eventually run out of them.
The article goes on to say:
When it became obvious to Ames that visitors were hurting as opposed to helping her community, she decided to stop allowing visitors all together.
The idea that visitors can “hurt” a community is so egregiously misplaced it’s distressing. It’s us versus them. We don’t want any of “them” here, because they distract from “us.” That’s all well and good if you have no real intention of growing your community. But to dismiss a visitor as a nuisance is to squander an enormous opportunity for marketing, good will, and growth.
The Closed-Circle Effect
Keep in mind this closed-circle effect works on multiple fronts. Like Dante’s nine circles of Hell, these closed circles, if left unchecked, can wind all the way into the center of your box. Visitors, on-rampers, new members, weightlifters, those who attend regular classes, and competitive athletes each possess the potential danger of a being a circle that closes up. Like pastors, box owners must be vigilant that the members are not throwing out a vibe, or closing up their circle.
"Like Dante’s nine circles of Hell, these closed circles, if left unchecked, can wind all the way into the center of your box."
Visitors turn into members. Members turn into athletes. Athletes turn into competitors. And sometimes, competitors turn into the next Froning, Foucher, or Spealler. Are you willing to risk turning that person away?
Yes, as a coach, your allegiance is to your existing clients. But as a business owner, your allegiance should be to the entire rest of the world. As such, it’s important as business owners that potential clients do not walk away thinking, “That place doesn’t seem very friendly.” It’s also important that you don’t lose existing members because, try as they might, they have always felt like Boyle before the song. You know, the part where Simon Cowell rolls his eyes.
What is your gym’s policy about visitors? What do you do to truly welcome new members and bring them inside the circle? Share your thoughts and opinions to the comments below.