Do You Need a Secret Shopper?

A lot of people have heard or read that I’m regularly doing secret shopper or mystery worshiper visits to churches around the country. The question has been raised (and it’s a valid one): Do you need a secret shopper?

As someone who takes the mission to reach the lost and unfilled seriously, I think it’s a wise investment. It takes about a month for you to lose your new eyes, new ears and new nose. Things that you may have become used to or accepted, a secret shopper can spot on their initial visit.

I had a great Secret Shopper visit recently with a local church plant in the DFW area. I then had great meeting afterwards where I shared constructive and encouraging feedback with their senior pastor. I was reminded of how even young church plants can quickly lose their new eyes and start to miss things that are obvious to a newcomer like me.

Since our meeting, the pastor has emailed me saying that they’ve worked on several of the items I listed and are excited about their future. I’m also sending a friend out that is an audio specialist to help them with their sound issues.

In two weeks I’ll do another secret shopper visit at a mega-church in South Carolina. I’ve already begun my pre-assessment, as I take a thorough look at the church’s website and make some phone calls.  This is a church that is seemingly doing well and has a large congregation in a regular city (not a metropolis), but they want to improve and tweak things and I applaud them for that.

I recently came across some good words on Mike Holmes’ blog that I’d like to share with you. He mentioned that a secret shopper or mystery worshipper can do a few things:

  1. Assess areas of strength and weakness.
  2. See what visitors see.
  3. Give objective appraisal.

He also shares the story of his experiment as a secret shopper, which is convicting and inspiring. He goes on to share signs you need a secret shopper or mystery worshipper:

  1. Visitors who don’t return
  2. Decreased attendance
  3. Lack of influence in the surrounding community

I would add an eye for excellence and an attempt to be better at your “main thing” (Sunday) – as Nancy Beach shares in her book “An Hour on Sunday“. It’s always healthy to look at your Sunday morning experience through the eyes of a newcomer and especially the eyes of a lost person. You may get only one chance to make a positive impression on them.

When you bring a guest to church, you instantly become sensitive to your surroundings – the people, the seats, the ushers, the greeters, the kids check-in, the sermon, the music, etc. You want everything to be perfect for your visiting friend (especially if they are not a Believer). A mystery worshiper can spot these crucial areas out for you, before your lost friend does. It’s an investment, but I think a wise one.

Mike also cites an article in the Wall Street Journal on secret shoppers and I think it’s worth a read. As the article states: “Department stores hire mystery shoppers. Restaurant chains bring in undercover diners to rate their food and service.” Isn’t what we do on Sundays as Church leaders more important than department stores and restaurants? Seriously, isn’t it???

— Greg Atkinson

No Responses to “Do You Need a Secret Shopper?”

  1. Dawn Nicole Baldwin

    Great job, Greg! Totally agree with your thinking. It’s so easy to lose sight of that first experience, which can influence so much.

    Wishing you the best in your new venture 🙂

  2. Jeff Hodgin

    Good Stuff! Part of the stuff I’m key on myself. I was wondering if your looking to add possible staff in Washington, Oregon, & Idaho or lower British Columbia?

    I’ve written and done some of what your talking about on a volunteer basis. Here’s a link to an article I wrote for small churches on improving their greeting program.

    I’m in process of writing 6 key questions to engage visitors.

    We moved churches recently and I have no responsibilities on Sunday am.


    Jeff Hodgin

  3. Guest

    If I go to a church and no one speaks to me from parking lot to the entrance of the church and back out to the parking lot into my car I will never go back because that tells me it is like a elite country club that has the feel that I’m intruding on and crashing.

  4. SSJ

    One key element the secret shopper is missing is when congregants are being spiritually abused by false doctrine such as God wants you rich with tons of cash, or sow a seed as in money to get God to bless you. Yes folks that is a doctrine going around in many Prosperity teaching churches.

  5. Guest

    I remember one time bringing to a church I was a frequent visitor to and was thinking of joining. It was so embarrassing that no one spoke to my guest or reached out to them and this was at the Pastors 25 anniversary where there was cake and celebrating in the back yard of the church.
    I had to physically find an usher and ask them to come and greet my guest so they would feel welcome. People of the church acted as if my guest were invisible. Needless to say I never joined that church. Too insensitive to new guest and very wrapped up in fawning over people like the Pastor and his family!

    • Guest

      I meant to say I remember bringing five guest to a church I was a frequent visitor of and no one spoke. I had to physically ask a clueless usher to speak to them cause no one in the church noticed they were guest.


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