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.

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.