Secret shoppers visit stores to offer an unbiased critique of the customer experience. Greg Atkinson does the same for churches and has released a new book, Secrets of a Secret Shopper: Reaching and Keeping Church Guests. Greg is also an author, leadership coach, and consultant. We asked for some insights on secret shopping and how churches can be better at welcoming visitors
A secret shopper sounds very materialistic. What does that have to do with church?
Everything. In the introduction of my new book, I make the case for a biblical mandate for hospitality. We must care for, love, and serve others well. The Bible teaches us to welcome the stranger and to be hospitable. This is central to the life of a Christ-follower.
What’s your worst horror story from visiting a church? What really shocked and surprised you?
A small church that had a children’s classroom with the door open, three kids sitting on the floor watching a DVD player, and no adult in sight. No background checks, no volunteers, no supervision. Just plug and play a video and leave the kids. Horrible!
What’s your best story from visiting a church? What gave you hope?
My most recent church I served a couple of weeks ago was so big they had a parking deck and three off-site parking lots for those (the majority) that couldn’t fit in the parking deck. I had to park off-site and ride the shuttle to the campus. The shuttle drivers on each of my rides were so happy, cheerful, upbeat, and aware of the first impression they were making. They blessed me and I didn’t mind riding a shuttle at all. This is also the most recent story over a decade of stories, so it’s probably easiest to remember.
What’s the first thing every church should do to better welcome guests?
Read my new book. Seriously, read the introduction and come to grips with the biblical side of hospitality and why it matters. Do the “Why?” before the “What?”
On a practical note (to answer your question directly), work on your church’s online presence (social media and church website). People will check you out online before they visit you in person. Church Marketing Sucks and the Center for Church Communication have great help when it comes to these areas.
[Thanks, we do try to offer help. 8 Ways Your Church Website Can Welcome First-Time Visitors Before They Arrive might be the place to start.]
How can we get our congregations to be more welcoming?
Preach love, mercy, grace, and compassion. Remind your people of what it was like to be lost, a guest somewhere, and overwhelmed by new surroundings. If I could speak directly to pastors, I would say to model what you want to see. Be more loving. Be kind. Be merciful. Be gracious. Be compassionate.
- Buy a copy of Secrets of a Secret Shopper: Reaching and Keeping Church Guests by Greg Atkinson.
- Read our review of Secrets of a Secret Shopper.
- Learn more about the book at SecretShopperBook.com.