The Mystery Worshipper Phenomenon

October 28, 2008 by

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.

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

Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998, runs the hyperlocal site West St. Paul Reader, and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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6 Responses to “The Mystery Worshipper Phenomenon”

  • Brett
    October 28, 2008

    We’ve done “mystery” worshippers since we started about 6 years ago. Even has given us great feedback. We have asked people to come, from all stages of spiritual life-from non Christians to lifelong Christians-we have them evaluate, then we interview them. It has been a good tool for us. We have outside source help us find the people. It has been a great tool for us. Not what we always wanted to hear, but helpful. Sometimes mystery worshippers criticize and area, and we get excited because that is what we were going for. My only advice, when getting info from mystery worshipper, be clean on the churches goals & vision and not trying to please everyone, because you can’t.

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  • Dr Scott C. Thomson
    October 29, 2008

    Worship is a balance of fun and honor in hopes that “God” will invite you/me into ‘His’ presence.
    It’s not about Entertainment but the elegance of approaching ‘His’ throne.

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  • Adam S Brose
    October 30, 2008

    Dr. Scott,
    I dont think you even read the post, worshipers in this case have nothing to do with the actual forms of worship but just reffering to attendees to a church. I pray that you are not so blind as to actually think that your church is just for you to worship and not to attract or allow others to notice Jesus.

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  • joseph
    October 30, 2008

    really, Dr. Scott? fun? “God?”

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  • Ty
    December 10, 2008

    Oh grasshopper.(Dr.Thomson)
    Before every profound statement, first know the question.

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  • Donna Morrison
    April 5, 2009

    I came to your church. I was told I could not be a member because I am a sinner. I rode a motorcycle that day because that is all I have to get around. When I was leaving I had problems getting it cranked. I took the seat off and was messing around with it to try and get it cranked…what really got me was the fact that not one person even down to when the ones who drive The Rock Van came out and left. Not one person asked me if I needed any help or needed to call someone. I understand about not being baptist yet…but if I am going to go somewhere and try and become close to that group. And feel that they accept me then I would like be able to be a member. I was emailed and told that you have a very strict code for lack of a better word in order to become a member. Because of this I guess I am too much of a sinner to belong to your church so I have went back to this little country church with less than 50 members…but I feel welcome and cared about. I have never been told there that I am too much of a sinner to belong to this church. Mr. Childs please think about how you word things to people. I know I am a sinner…that is why I know I need God. I can’t change things over night and I can’t change things without God. I could have been someone coming for the first time and this could have turned me from church for the rest of my life. Thank God I was sent to church a lot growing up. I’m sorry but I don’t think Jesus would have done that as you told me in your email. I don’t feel welcome in your church. I felt as though I was not good enough. Yes your church was fun, exciting, a lot of hype but when it came down to it. No one really cared if I needed help or not…as I was right at the door when everyone passed me and did not even care enough to find out if I needed help and then I was told I was a sinner and could not be a member. I think I know we are all sinners and no sin is bigger than the other, sin is sin. If I could live without it I would not need God. I do believe that is why Jesus died. He died for me too and by the grace of God I am saved. I am not perfect and never will be but I think I will go to a church that will welcome me to be a member along with all the other sinners. Like I heard before I am a work in progress and my relationship with the Lord is between me and him after all it is me that is going to have to face him one day and with a lot of help from other sinners and a lot of prayer I will be ready I hope and pray. You might want to take this into thought when you come up with your marketing.
    Donna Morrison

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