Mystery shoppers for churches seem to be the latest rage. There was the recent Wall Street Journal article, we mentioned it last week, the Tennessean covered it Sunday and Anne Jackson blogged about it yesterday.
Of course you can’t talk about Mystery Worshippers without mentioning the UK site Ship of Fools. They practically started the trend and have reviewed more than 1,600 churches in the past decade:
“We all need to remember what it is to be an outsider in an environment in which we are comfortable and secure,” [one of the site's founders, Simon] Goddard said.
“Mystery worshipper can be a wake-up call for the smug and self-satisfied.”
Of course they’re not selling it as a marketing service.
And this is where the practice takes a beating, another slide towards consumerism and selling out the church for business methods.
Jackson admits her conflicted feelings over mystery worshipers, but notes:
“If you’re fully relying on what you sense the Holy Spirit is leading you to do, and trusting he will bring the right people, the right connections all together at the right time, do you need a stranger coming in with critical eyes to tell you the letters on your signage aren’t big enough?”
But by that logic, why would we do any communication or marketing? I think God works in mysterious ways, sometimes miraculously and sometimes through something as worldly as a mystery worshipper.
Now I’m not totally sold on the practice. It seems like a pricey perk especially in this economy. But I think the greatest value it offers is helping your church see itself through a visitor’s eyes. Something like the faded parking lot stripes is kind of nuts, but legitimate issues like how do I find the sanctuary or visitors being ignored are a big deal. When you’ve attended a church your whole life–or even a few years–you become blind to those issues.
And if you really want new people to come to your church, if you really want them to get to know Jesus, then you’ve got to care about whether or not they’ll visit your church and want to come back.
Let’s major on the majors (an atmosphere of welcome, not getting lost, etc.), forget about the minors (faded parking lot stripes, water-stained ceiling tiles, etc.) and do whatever it takes to make people come back to our churches–whether that’s hiring a mystery worshipper or figuring out how to do it yourself.
- Learn more about how to welcome church visitors with this massive collection of resources and blog posts.
- Walking into a church for the first time can be scary. Check out Unwelcome: 50 Ways Churches Drive Away First-Time Visitors by Jonathan Malm for practical ideas and perspective on first-time guests.