A Communications Tip from a Church Secret Shopper

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I spend a lot of time with pastors around the country. I get asked all kinds of questions. I’ll write later about the most common things I see when I do a church secret shopper consultation. Today, I want to write about one of the most common things I say to churches. Here it is:

Always point people to your church’s website. Always. 

Before I finished this post, I took a quick poll of pastor friends of mine. I texted them and said, “Am I the only one that says this or is that what you also do with your church’s strategy?” They all agreed it’s the same for them, too. It’s what I always encourage pastors with when I consult with their church.

Why does this post have a picture of a mobile phone? Because people will check your mobile website out (most likely) first – before they sit at their computer and look. I’ve written in the past about being mobile. Let me just say this is HUGE. You have to have a mobile website or responsive design these days.

What are some examples of how this aforementioned principle plays out?

  • Your church’s receptionist and voicemail: When I call your church’s voicemail (and I do), I want to hear your service times and directions FIRST and then point me to your church website. You can list the departments and team members’ extensions later. When I call during the day and talk to your receptionist, she needs to be friendly, personable and knowledgeable. She shouldn’t have to ask someone for help answering a question. They need to know the services times, directions/address and they should ALWAYS say, “Please check us out online at http://www.yourchurch.com.
  • Social Media: Your social media reaches out to your community (and the world) and allows you to connect with your members, their friends, and family. How you use social media is a topic for another post (and others have covered this in great detail), but make sure your social media points people back to your church’s website.
  • Bulletin or Worship Guide: Guests don’t want to be overwhelmed with too much information on their first visit. It’s too much. Always remember: Less is more! Be selective about what you put in your worship guide and ALWAYS list your church’s website and point people to it. That is where they sign up anyway.
  • Announcements: Whether or not a church should have announcements in their service is a topic for another day, but whether you do live announcements, announcement slides, or pre-recorded video announcements, make sure you ALWAYS point people to your church’s website. Don’t stand up and make 10 announcements. Please stop. Please don’t. If you say anything, say something like, “If you’re looking for ways to get involved or plugged in here at Your Church, check us out online at http://www.YourChurch.com and you can find out what’s going on.” It’s concise, succinct, efficient, and effective. It’s actually more concise than that last sentence and more effective than if you announced each and every one of your announcements or listed them all in your bulletin (see above). To read some really great and well-thought-out thoughts on announcements, read Phil Bowdle’s blog post on the subject. I agree with everything he said.

Why?

Because we get such precious little time in front of, or on the phone with, or via social media to make a connection with people. The stage or platform, the phone, and your church’s social media channels are not the places to hit people with a ton of information or announcements.

What does a pastor speaking, a phone call, and a church’s social media channels all have in common? They are highly relational. The worst thing you can do with any of those outlets is bombard people with tons of information. Please don’t be broadcast-only on social media.

Dave Adamson recently said that at North Point Church they strive to use more questions marks than periods. “Facebook is a social network, which means that conversation is central to the platform and the best way to create a conversation is to ask a question.” – Nils Smith

Communication matters. How and what we communicate matters more. 

Do I believe in social media? Absolutely! Check out my social media channels. They’re very active. I use social media to connect with people – your church should, too. Church Facebook pages are wonderful. Interact with your congregation and community and respond to all comments.

However, your Facebook page doesn’t have a listing of your staff (with pictures) – it doesn’t have your Vision, Values, Beliefs, your church’s story, What to Expect page, etc. I could go on and on. Your church’s website (when used properly) is a gold mine of really important and relevant information.

Next Level:

Once people come to your church website, please encourage them to sign up for email updates (this is a genius add-on idea from my friend Nils Smith) and THEN you can keep the congregation informed on all that’s going on. Get it? There is a time and place for everything. And your church’s website is THE place to point your people to. You’ll get more “bang for your buck” – if that makes sense.

I’m telling you the same thing I tell all churches. I hope you’ll take this to heart and make the necessary changes. Let’s be clear, concise and effective communicators of good news!

*** I go into more detail on this and other things I consult on in my upcoming book Secrets of a Secret Shopper. Look for it this Fall.

Questions to Ask a Church Secret Shopper

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a meeting or coffee with a pastor and told him what I do as a consultant and I watch them perk up. They love the idea, but they either don’t know who to hire or where to start or what to ask a church secret shopper.

This week I had a meeting with a Senior Pastor who had just left being over Guest Relations at a huge church and he put his hands over his face when I told him what I do. He said, “Greg I would have paid any amount to bring you in at our church if I had known about your services.”

It’s no secret that pastors love their churches. They want their church to be healthy and they want their church to grow. There’s no shame in saying or thinking that. Every pastor wants their church to grow and make an impact in their community.

So if you want to grow and reach and keep more guests, what can you do?

Here are some biased thoughts: 

  • If your church has the budget (despite size) hire me to come to your church for a weekend. You won’t regret it. That’s my sales pitch. I’m done.
  • Second, if you can’t afford to hire an outside consultant like most churches in the United States, I have good news for you! I wrote a new book that comes out this Fall entitled Secrets of a Secret Shopper. In the book, I tell you exactly what I look for and how you can improve your church starting today! Look for more info on that in the Fall.

The book is something I’m very excited about and I hope pastors across the country buy and use it, however, nothing replaces an outside set of new eyes. So, if you have the budget and you’ve made up your mind that you are going to make the investment of hiring a church secret shopper, then contact them and get to know them.

I have no problem with you calling around. My last client said, “Greg, I did my homework and you’re the guy.” I was honored. I have a good reputation for excellence and integrity and I’m proud of that.

But whether you call me or another church secret shopper, here are some questions you should ask:

  1. Can you give me an overview of your service for churches?
    – Reason to ask: We don’t all do the same thing. I offer extra (included) services like an online presence evaluation (social media and website), that other secret shoppers don’t offer.
  2. How much do you charge?
    – Reason to ask: Some secret shoppers have one flat fee. I don’t agree with that philosophy. I have a price that I think my services are worth, but I’ve always charged prices that benefit the smaller churches. If you are a church of 500 and you have a small facility, small parking lot, and one service, you shouldn’t have to pay what I charge a church of 15,000 that has a giant campus and multiple services including Saturday night, Sunday morning and Sunday night.
  3. How will you give feedback?
    – Reason to ask: Some mail you a report and you don’t get to discuss anything with them. Some do a phone call and you can’t see them. I do a video conference and after I go over my report, I answer any questions the leadership may have.
  4. Who should I let know you’re coming?
    – No one! Just kidding. I understand that your admin needs to cut my check and arrange for my travel, but really only 2 to 3 people should know about it. Usually, it’s the Senior Pastor, Executive Pastor, and an admin.
  5. Who should I ask to be in the feedback meeting?
    – Reason to ask: Let me give you some ideas. Some have just the Senior Pastor be on the video conference call. Some have just the senior leadership team. Some have all staff or all elders. I just want you to think through who you want in the room and I can help offer some suggestions based on church size.
  6. What churches have you worked with (size, denomination, worship style)?
    – Reason to ask: I know some secret shoppers that just work with traditional churches. Some just work with small to medium size churches. Some just work with a particular denomination. I have worked with just about every denomination, including Church of Christ where they sing with no instruments. I’ve worked with church plants. I’ve worked with giga-churches. I’ve worked old, historic churches. I’ve worked with cutting edge churches in their early explosive years. I’ve worked with plateaued and declining churches. I’ve worked with acapella, pipe organ, choir and orchestra, and rocking band music styles.
  7. Why should I go with you instead of another secret shopper?
    – Reason to ask: A secret shopper should earn your business, your trust and your respect.
  8. How long have you been doing this?
    – Reason to ask: Experience matters. I’ve been doing church secret shopper consultations all over the country for 10 years. There are some, I believe that have done it longer. I would stay away from someone just starting out that doesn’t know what to look for and forgets stuff.
  9. Are you biased in any way?
    – Reason to ask: Integrity check. Yes, we’re all biased. I love my church and I’m thrilled with all their ministries. Would I try to get your church to feel and look like my church? Absolutely not.
  10. Will you try to get us to be something we’re not?
    – Reason to ask: A good church secret shopper consultant just observes and points out things that confused or intimidated him or her. I have no plans to change your vision and mission. I want you to be who God has called you to be. I’ve always said, “God uses all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people.” Hear this: Excellence transcends. I don’t care what style of music you do, as long as you do it with excellence and to the glory of God.
  11. How long will the whole process take?
    – Reason to ask: This is very important. I was talking with an Executive Director at a massive church who had narrowed his options down to two companies – mine and another. He said, “After you visit our church, how long will it be before we go over the report? I said, “Could be two weeks or one if you need it right away to make changes for some deadline.” He said, “Wow! The other company said their process takes 6 to 9 months” It was a no-brainer.
  12. How would you define our relationship moving forward if we went with you?
    – Reason for asking: I think this is important and maybe it’s just me, but I like to have long-term relationships with my clients. I want them to call me a year later and say, “Hey. We’re going to redo our branding or website or facility. Who do you know that we could talk to? I have a lot of strategic partners that I trust and respect. Also, some churches like to be secret shopped yearly. Some multisite churches like me to do all their campuses. Some have me do the main campus and then come out later to do the satellite campuses. My point is: I’m not going anywhere. I’m here for you. You’ll have my contact info and you can reach out to me whenever you have a question. No charge.🙂

I hope this gives you some concrete stuff to think through if you make a crucial decision to bring in an outside church secret shopper consultant. We must be good stewards and like every church I’ve worked with has done, do your homework and don’t settle for anything other than excellence.

God bless you as you serve others and lead God’s people. Sign up for my newsletter here and follow my blog and this website for details on when my new book becomes available. I hope it blesses you and I hope this post is informative and helpful for you.

How a Church Secret Shopper Helps You Prepare

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Greg Atkinson and Worship Impressions are committed to helping your church reach and keep guests. As specialists in Guest Services, Hospitality, and First Impressions, we come alongside you and what God is already doing at your church and give you a guest’s perspective, as well as suggestions and next steps to improve.

The question becomes: When is a good time to bring in a church secret shopper or mystery worshiper? It really depends on your church’s season of life/schedule, budget and an attitude that says you’re ready to do whatever it takes to reach lost people for Christ.

One word of caution:

You will always be busy and you’ll always be getting ready for something. Please don’t let that stop you from investing in your church’s future and potential. Make time for a consultation if you are struggling, plateaued, declining, dead, or even if you’re booming and just want to go to the next level. The key is you have to be intentional. You have to be open to change and invite feedback. It’s scary, but oh so worth it!

So to show you how Greg usually helps churches, here’s what a yearly schedule looks like:

  • He comes in the Summer and helps you Get Ready for Fall
  • He comes in the Fall and helps you Get Ready for Christmas and the New Year
  • He comes in the New Year and helps you Get Ready for Easter

There really is no right or wrong time to bring in a church secret shopper. Just pray about what works best for you and your ministry. Once you’re ready, let us know. You can reach Greg at his personal email: greg@gregatkinson.com or Worship Impressions at info@worshipimpressions.com.

We hope to meet you soon. The best days of your church lay ahead!

Five Summer Tips from a Church Secret Shopper

Every Sunday

Hello. I’m Greg Atkinson and I’m a church secret shopper or mystery worshiper. Basically I evaluate your church’s guest services and hospitality or first impressions ministry. I do other stuff too, but you get the gist. As we quickly approach Summer, let me give you 5 practical tips to implement at your church so you can prepare for a killer Fall. Here we go:

  1. Vision cast to your Guest Services team
    So often, people that serve on a church’s guest services team feel unimportant. They think they are not good enough to sing on stage, lead a small group or are not tech-savvy enough to serve on the production team. It’s vital that your leadership over communicate that this is not the B-team. This is not a place to serve for people that have no talent. This is a vital ministry and is a front door to your church. People make up their mind whether or not they will return in the first 10 minutes. First Impressions matter!
  2. Pray with your team before your first service
    Never, ever forget the God-factor when you serve in ministry. We are but vessels. We need the Holy Spirit of God to love, lead and serve through us. Pray each week with your team that they would be the hands and feet of Christ. Pray for God to break down walls of fear, skepticism, and distractions. Pray that the lost would come to Christ and that the hurting would find healing and hope.
  3. Remember it’s always someone’s first Sunday
    I really can’t stress this enough. No matter the size of your congregation, chances are, someone is entering your doors for the first time. The larger your church is, the more this is true. Churches of 200 can expect at least 5 to 8 guests a week. Larger churches welcome even more into their midst. When you gather with your Guest Services team to pray before your first service, remind your team of this simple truth. Focus them on their mission to welcome all who enter with love and to be a servant.
  4. Free up your hands
    One of my pet peeves is when I see people on the Guest Services team that have a coffee or cell phone in their hand. This is a red flag for me. I want my team shaking hands, hugging regular members, holding open doors and pointing to where people need to go (or even escort them there.) If your team member is distracted by looking at their cell phone, it is one of the rudest and worst first impressions you can give a newcomer.
  5. Focus on your guests and not your team
    A lot of times when I visit a church or even attend my local church, I’ll notice team members in conversation with each other and talking while guests pass by them. Again, this is a red flag and a big no-no. Another pet peeve of mine is parking lot attendants standing next to each other and talking. Parking lot attendants should be spread out and not bunched up together talking. Door holders, ushers and greeters should be focused on their role and not engaged in conversation with friends. Make eye contact with all who enter, smile and welcome them.

First impressions matter, so take them seriously and do all you can to remove distractions and barriers for your guests. Love and serve others like you would want to be loved and served. Finally, give all the glory to God. It is He who uses us as jars of clay and melts cold hearts. The cool thing is we get to be a part of that supernatural process.

Now go have a great Summer and prepare for an unprecedented Fall season for your local congregation!

Why Bring Greg Atkinson to Your Church this Year?

Worship Impressions

Greg Atkinson has over two decades of ministry experience and has been on staff at, consulted with and visited numerous dynamic churches throughout North America. Greg has a unique ability to see things that you miss due to his “fresh eyes” and experience in knowing what to look for that makes a difference to guests visiting your church.

Whether your church is historic and traditional like Menlo Park Presbyterian in California and First Baptist Dallas, or modern and rocking like New Life Church in Colorado Springs and Bayside Church in Sacramento (where Lincoln Brewster leads worship) – Greg will make sure your church is doing things with excellence and an eye towards hospitality.

Greg is available to come to your church over the weekend this year and give you a detailed and lengthy report of his finding and action items to do to help your church go to the next level. Greg goes over the entire report with your church’s leadership team, takes questions and points you in the right direction. If you’re serious about reaching the unchurched and making your church guest-friendly, contact Greg.

Here’s what some amazing leaders said after bringing Greg in to work with their church:

“Greg Atkinson is smart, detailed, thorough and saw things that we would never notice.  His feedback was invaluable and we are making several strategic changes as a result of his visit.  We will use him again.  I encourage to you do the same.  In a word – he’s the best.” – Ray Johnston, Senior Pastor, Bayside Church, Sacramento, CA

“Visitors to your church are more often than not people who don’t know Jesus and are looking for an excuse to not come back.  Greg’s evaluation of your church helps you dig into where you can significantly improve a guests 1st time experience.  He makes you think and leaves no rock unturned.  Probably the best money we’ve spent all year long.” – Ashley Wooldridge, Executive Pastor, Christ Church of the Valley, Peoria, AZ

“Greg came into Grace Community Church and gave us a top to bottom look at who we are as a church to the people we are most trying to reach.  He is thorough and detailed in his report, but tries hard to be helpful, explaining his findings in a context that fits with the church culture.  He knows that culture well, because he knows churches, people and he does his homework.  This is money well spent!” – Ron Edmondson, Co-Pastor, Grace Community Church, Clarksville, TN

“I highly recommend Greg as a “Secret Shopper” for your church. He helped us see things we had missed and confirmed what we were already working toward. His insight will help your church feel like a home.” – Brady Boyd, Senior Pastor, New Life Church, Colorado Springs, CO

“Greg has a great ability to see and assess ministry detail. His work in many churches brings considerable experience and insight to your staff team. Greg’s church Secret Shopper process offered us a fresh set of eyes to help us take excellence to the next level. Very helpful!” –  Dan Reiland, Executive Pastor, 12Stone Church, Lawrenceville, GA

Confidentiality and Anonymity Option

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Did you know that Greg has served several churches that no one knows about? Some churches want to bring a secret shopper in to help them reach more people for Christ, but they don’t want others to know.

If this is where you find yourself, please know that we can accommodate you and your church’s needs. You can contact Greg and ask about this option where your church gets served, but no one is ever told about it. Contact us today to find out more!

Booking for 2016

2016

It’s a new year and a great time to take an intentional step toward reaching and keeping more guests. I’d like to offer my services as a consultant to your church in 2016. I’m free to travel and coach and consult and I’ve added a whole new section to my thorough secret shopper report that will be of great benefit to your organization.

If you’d like to start a discussion about working together in the new year and find out what all is involved and how your church will benefit from time spent together, email me at info@worshipimpressions.com or greg@gregatkinson.com and let’s start a conversation.

It never hurts to ask and if you read the endorsements on this website, you’ll see it’s money well spent and a worthy investment in reaching more people for Christ. I look forward to working with you in 2016 and helping your church go to a new level.