A Visitor’s Perspective: A Visit from the Mystery Worshipper

October 8, 2007 by

This is part 8 of a 9-part series on attending church from a visitor’s perspective. You can read the original post to get a better understanding of David’s experience visiting churches for the first time.

I don’t know if any of you share my experience, but I was introduced to Church Marketing Sucks from my favorite magazine—The Wittenberg Door. This magazine keeps me grounded in reality and reminds me that the church and I desperately need Jesus because we are so messed up. This same thing is true about another web site I heard about from The DoorShip of Fools.

Whenever I visit the site, after checking the daily percent of rapture and shopping through the Gadgets for God, I make my way to the Mystery Worshipper. The Mystery Worshipper is a secret team of church-reviewers who visit churches all over the world. They have a standard set of questions that they ask of each church service—questions that I think all churches should constantly be asking of themselves. After all, most visitors will be asking these questions too.

How full was the building? If you’ve ever shown up early to a church with only a few members or shown up late to a church with too many people you know how the capacity of the building can make you feel about the service.

Did anyone welcome you personally? That is, who didn’t have a name tag that says, “Greeter.” The “passing of the peace” doesn’t count either.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere? Did everyone talk with their friends or include you? Did everyone seem glad to be there or were they so “reverent” that it seemed like a funeral home?

Did anything distract you? I’ve been to churches that had train tracks run beside them and one that met in a bowling alley. Distractions aren’t always auditory. I once met in a Karate studio that couldn’t shake the smell of sweaty men.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven? And which part was like being in… er… the other place? Isn’t our worship a foretaste of what we’ll be doing for an eternity?

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

How would you describe the after-church coffee? I guess in England, they have after-church coffee. Most churches I’ve been to in the US drink their coffee before church. The point remains—do you include your visitors or just talk with your friends?

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian? Or want to be a Christian?

What one thing will you remember about this in seven days’ time? Often times it’s the bad things that stick in our memory. Using questions like these can help you notice some things you’ve never considered before and catch them before you leave your visitors with a bad first impression.

The book on church visitors: Unwelcome: 50 Ways Churches Drive Away First-Time VisitorsMore:

Post By:

David Zimmerman

David Zimmerman is a former pastor who lives in Lake Wylie, S.C., with his wife, Christie, and his step-dog, Murphy. You can also check out his personal blog.
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3 Responses to “A Visitor’s Perspective: A Visit from the Mystery Worshipper”

  • revolutionfl
    October 8, 2007

    “Did anyone welcome you personally? That is, who didn’t have a name tag that says, “Greeter.” The “passing of the peace” doesn’t count either.”
    This one is huge for me.

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  • The TuneHead
    October 11, 2007

    Another one I would ask is “What did the facilities look like?”
    Things like water stains in the ceiling tiles, cracked or missing tile in the bathrooms, damage to the outside of the building are really indicative of an “Oh, well” mentality among church leaders. If your building looks well taken care of, you either have the funds to do the necessary maintenance (which shows that your pastor and leaders care), or you have members willing to donate their time and resources to make sure the house where they gather is in good shape.
    Some people might consider that superfluous, not really an indication of whether or not it’s a church you’d want to be plugged into. However, the state a church’s building is in speaks volumes about the attitude and heart of the people in that congregation.

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  • Melanie
    April 29, 2009

    Thanks for all the insights on being a visitor. I was so inspired by Ship of Fool’s Mystery Worshipper program that about a year ago we started our own program here in the U.S. Rather than send the “churched” to visit for the first time, we pay the “unchurched” to visit for the first time and provide us with feedback. The observations (not giving up a seat to trying to send a visitor to another church where they would be more comfortable) are only a few examples of the information we have gleaned. We identify the common threads through multiple visits and share our findings with church leaders. Is many cases the pastor had no clue that some of these things were going on. The program has been incredibly helpful. I remember one Pastor saying, “we know why someone comes to visit and they stay because we get to ask them. We don’t know why someone visits and never comes back.” We have learned so much through developing this process and I couldn’t agree more then when you said early on that churches have forgotten what it is like for a visitor to visit there church for the first time. Great articles! Thank you!

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