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!

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.

Four Keys to Creating an Irresistible Church

Let me preface what I’m about to write by saying that basic and foundational things like prayer, discipleship and evangelism (having an externally-focused church as I’ve stated before) are all a given. Each church should take the Great Commission seriously and have an emphasis on the “Go” and on the “make disciples”. I start everything with prayer and so please know that what I’m about to discuss is with the above stated things as must-haves and what I consider foundational to a healthy church.

With that being said, let me share with you the big four that I look for when I visit a church, secret shop a church or consult with a church. As the title says and Scriptures encourages us – we should compel them to come in. The big four that I look for when I do a secret shopper are First Impressions, Children’s, Security and Worship. Yes, worship is last and I have listed them in the order that I weigh them.

As many studies have shown us, people make up their mind whether or not they will return, long before the worship service and especially the sermon. Most visitors will know in the first 10 minutes if they will return to your church.

First Impressions

Let’s start with what I consider to be the most crucial of all ministries at a church. Whether you call it First Impressions, Hospitality or Guest Relations – it matters and is paramount to breaking down walls and making guests feel welcome at your church.

You’ve got 10 minutes. Somewhere between the parking lot and the children’s center, the ten minutes pass…They should know they matter to us before they hear how much they matter to God.”- Mark Waltz, Granger

Something I tell all the churches I work with is: “You must be strategic and intentional about breaking down any barriers of intimidation. You must be strategic and intentional about creating warm, welcoming environments.”

Now, I could spend an entire series on just first impressions. This is everything from your online presence (social media like Twitter, Facebook – as well as your website). For example, I did a secret shopper this past weekend and I had created 13 pages in my report on just online presence before I ever left to attend their physical campus.

Once one comes to your physical campus, the real fun begins. First impressions then includes the parking lot, greeters, ushers, and people that greet you at your church’s Welcome or Information Booth. First impressions also includes things like smell (your church may stink), signage (your church may be intimidating and confusing for new people) and how your facility is kept up and maintained. All these things play subtle parts in a guest’s first impression of your church and their subconscious.

Children’s Ministry

Maybe I’m biased because I’m 35 and have three elementary school-aged kids, but I believe in having a strong and attractive children’s ministry. A lot of churches target parents in their mid-twenties to mid-forties and the best way to compel them is to offer a children’s ministry so dynamic that kids drag their parents to church.

I’ll dive deeper into the Big 3 that I look for in every children’s ministry in the next blog post, but for now, let me suggest that you make children’s ministry a priority. I’ve seen churches that spent millions on their worship center and have dumpy children’s facilities. I’d never return with my family to churches like that. Show me – show your community that kids are important and that you care about partnering with parents to be a help in their spiritual growth. We all know the statistics on the likelihood of people accepting Christ after age 18. Student ministries (children’s through youth) are vital to fulfilling the Great Commission.

Security

This is probably the most overlooked part of most churches I visit. Most church leaders have never set down and intentionally and strategically thought through how and why they do security. I wish this wasn’t important and that you didn’t have to have some kind of security presence, but unfortunately, that’s not the case. If their had only been one church shooting, that would be enough. I’m sad to say that several churches have experienced the tragedy of shootings – not to mention molestation and kidnapping.

Bottomline: If I’m worried about my kids’ safety, I’m not going to enjoy the worship service and I will miss what God wants to do in my heart through the experience of corporate worship.

Security includes everything from people’s cars in the parking lot, to the safety of infants in the nursery, to children’s facilities, check-in and check-out procedures, mentally ill people acting out in the middle of a service and protecting the senior pastor. Every great church with a well known senior pastor that I’ve worked with had a body guard standing next to the pastor for his protection. This is not for show or something for rock stars – this is something real and needed to protect that man of God from people that mean to do him harm. When you stand for truth and speak against sin, you become a target for many that live in darkness. If you haven’t already, think through every aspect of security in your organization. I just returned from a church in California that had security people covering every single entrance and exit to their children’s ministry. It was a beautiful thing to see and made me feel safe as a parent.

Attractional Worship

I know there’s a lot of discussion and debate about whether a church should be attractional or missional. I’ve talked extensively about it all over the country. I’m a both-and person and like for a church to seek to be both, but when it comes to the corporate worship service – I look for an attractional model. Again: COMPEL them to come in. Blow your people and your community away with excellence and an environment that allows the Holy Spirit of God to move.

I never got over Sally Morgenthaler’s book Worship Evangelism. I think lost people can be moved by witnessing genuine and authentic worship happening. I also know God moves through the preaching of His Word. Please know I’m not talking to just large churches. I work with large churches, but my home church in Georgia is a church of 350 people. They do things with excellence and for a small church, blow me away each week that I’m home.

Regardless of what size church you are, you should think through worship flow, song selection, authenticity, communication/preaching and every aspect of what you want people to experience each week when you gather. Are sound, video and lights important? I think so, but you don’t have to have the best of the best to see God move. One of the most special and memorable services we did at Bent Tree when I was there was have a stripped down music set with no technology. Below is a picture of the worship team singing with an unplugged band around a single light bulb.

Whether you’re in a school, movie theater, gym or worship center – you can seek to create an environment where people encounter the Living God.

Please know these are not Biblical laws or Scriptural requirements. These are just four keys that I look for when I visit a church and I’ve found over the years that the churches that do these four things well, see God bless their church in amazing ways. Think through each as a team and prayerfully consider how you can do each to the best of your ability.

Understanding Our Process and Strategy

In the last month, we have been contacted by four different churches that made the mistake of telling the wrong person about what we do. Please understand, we act with the utmost integrity and our founder, Greg Atkinson, is passionate about the “secret” in secret shopper.

Here recently we’ve been contacted by senior pastors, executive pastors, worship pastors and first impressions directors. The problem is that we only deal with senior pastors or executive pastors. This is important to know to understand our process. What we do is strategic and beneficial for the entire organization and should be handled and taken seriously by senior leadership.

One of the situations that happened recently was an executive pastor contacted us and copied his First Impressions Director in on the email and said he’d “let him handle the details”. We don’t do that. Greg has too much integrity and believes too strongly in the “secret” of our secret shopper service that he won’t just take your money and do a disservice to your church.

Here’s the why or strategy behind what we do. If your worship pastor knows we’re coming, he’ll change his set list and pick all zingers and plan the service with us in mind, instead of us just witnessing a typical Sunday. If your first impressions director knows we’re coming, he’ll put his best people up to greet, usher and park cars. Please understand: If we come all the way out to your church and see your A-team and don’t get to observe a typical Sunday that no one has specially prepared for, YOU LOSE. Picture this: If we observe your best of the best in action and don’t find anything wrong, you’ve wasted your money. If you know we’re coming and tell your people to “be on their toes”, you’ve wasted your money. We believe in being good stewards of God’s money and resources and see this as an investment for your church – a wise investment that will reap fruit, but you have to play by our rules.

So, what can you do and how should you handle our company? If you’re the senior pastor, contact us and deal directly with us. If you have an executive pastor and want him to handle the arrangements, that’s fine, too. Both of you should know that you are the only two people in the church to know what’s going on and the details of our trip to your church. If you’re another staff member (youth pastor, worship pastor, first impressions director, communications director, etc.), we appreciate your interest in our service and urge you to pass our information up the ladder and get it in the hands of your senior pastor or executive pastor. After that, forget about us and don’t ask if or when we’re coming.

IT’S GOT TO BE A SECRET!

What Would We Think of Your Church Website?



Last week, I read a blog post by COLLIDE Magazine. It prompted me to write about it on here. First, let me have you read what Scott from COLLIDE wrote in his blog post:

Last week, I found myself looking for some information on the website of an extremely well-known church. It wasn’t long before I was completely frustrated. The site is an aesthetic hodgepodge overrun by banners, menu and sub-menu buttons, links, and text. And yet, among all those choices, the information I sought wasn’t there. Too bad.

The experience on this church’s website, combined with years of visiting church websites, prompted me to tweet this:

Here’s the thing: I don’t have any magic bullets or one-size-fits-all solutions for making the perfect church website. But I will offer you this challenge — spend some time this week making an effort to see your church website with new eyes.

Come up with a list of questions (Where/when do you meet? Where should I park? What options do you offer for kids? Do you have a marriage ministry? Who should I contact about finding a small group? Who should I contact about volunteering in the children’s ministry? How many families were helped by that recent service project?) and then try to answer them using your website. Better yet, ask someone who doesn’t attend your church to answer the questions, and watch them as they try to navigate your site. During the process, ask them how they feel (Confused? Overwhelmed? Welcomed? Comfortable?) and take note.

In many ways, your church’s website is the window through which your community looks in. It’s time to evaluate it thoroughly and honestly. Then, take your findings and act on them.

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When we do a secret shopper for a church, the first thing we evaluate and report on is the church’s online strategy and presence. The third thing we check out is the church’s website. Unfortunately, most church websites are too busy and not well thought out (like what Scott experienced). Let me encourage you to prayerfully, strategically and intentionally think through how your website looks, feels, navigates and the impression it gives to people in your community that Googled for churches in your city and stumbled across your website. The web is the front door to your church – accept that, embrace that and plan for that.

Summer Is Great for a Secret Shopper

When is a good time to bring in someone like myself for a secret shopper visit? Anytime is really good, but summer has some key advantages. If you bring me in July or August, you have a chance to get solid feedback and make strategic changes before you crank things up in the Fall.

Most churches do some big Fall campaign or push and having me in this summer to help you do what you do better could be a huge win for you and your church. See what Ray Johnston, pastor of Bayside Church in Sacramento, CA had to say about my visit with them last month (Bayside is a church of 12,000 where Lincoln Brewster leads worship):

“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

I’m confident that I will notice things you would never notice and positive that I can help YOUR church make several strategic changes. Like Ray, I want YOU to say, “We will use him again.” So, I encourage you to make the investment and bring me in to help your church make guests feel loved and welcomed.

  • To get more details on what we do, go HERE.
  • To read endorsements, go HERE.
  • To find out our prices (based on size of church), go HERE.

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