8 Reasons Your Easter Guests Might Not Return

It’s the new year and like most pastors and church leaders, you’re probably already planning for Easter. It will be here before you know it. I was talking with a church recently and they said they wanted to help people get “from the street to the seat.” That’s cool and it’s what I do. I also help you turn first-time guests into second-time guests.

As a “secret shopper” in churches nationwide, I report specific reasons why I wouldn’t return for a second visit and why, most likely, their guests aren’t coming back. Whether it’s a church plant, established church, a small church or mega-church, some details are universal and quickly determine the first impression your church makes. Let’s look at eight:

The Front Door

Before a guest ever steps foot on your church’s physical campus, he or she has probably already checked out your church website. What every church should have clearly visible on their homepage is a section or button for first-time guests. Once clicked on, this should take you to a page that addresses FAQ’s, service times, directions, parking instructions (Is there a side of the building that is better to park on if one has kids?), what to expect (upbeat music and relevant, practical, Biblical preaching in a come as you are atmosphere, etc.), what to wear (Are jeans okay? Are shorts okay?), and encouragement for them to be sure to stop by Guest Central or your church’s Information Booth to pick up a first-time guest packet.

What Stinks?

It’s important that no church ever underestimates the sense of smell. While sight is the strongest sense for short term memory, the sense of smell is the strongest and most vivid for long-term memories. If you’ve ever smelled something and had memories you hadn’t thought of in years come flooding back, that’s your sense of smell in action. Every church has the potential for positive or negative smells. Mold is a bad smell. Coffee is a good smell. Bleach is a bad smell. Citrus is a good smell. Many churches have restrooms that are disgusting and smell like urine. This lack of attention to detail can be costly and discourage many from ever returning. As best you can, try to walk into the lobby or entrance of your church with a new nose.

Park Here

One of Tim Stevens’ three “growth lids” that he thinks every growing church should have is someone who is constantly watching parking. Tim says, “This is why Visitor Parking is so crucial. If it’s difficult for newcomers to go to your church, they won’t go.” Some would argue that guests want to remain anonymous and don’t want special parking. Of course some want to go unnoticed and will choose to park in regular parking (a minority), but for the rest of newcomers, they are appreciative for a close parking space; it’s a kind gesture in an already intimidating and nerve-racking experience of attending a church for the first time, especially a large one with a huge campus.

This Way Parents

One way to assure guests will not return is to have a confusing, long or hard to find process, for getting their kids registered and in the right classroom. Wise churches have signage for first-time guest kids’ check-in and make the process quick and painless. Regular attendees may know to go up to the check-in kiosk and enter their phone number or swipe their card, but guests will be clueless and need a manned station that is clearly marked for guests and have a volunteer walk them through the registration. Then have that person or another helper walk you to your kid’s class explaining what will be going on and how to go about picking their kids back up. If they must have a sticker with corresponding numbers on it to get their kids, this needs to be explained to them. Signage for the kids check-in should start in the entryway of the guest parking. Do not assume people know where to go once they enter the building.

Give It Away

Something subtle, but powerful is a church that has a generous spirit. Chris Hodges at Church of the Highlands in Birmingham, AL is big on this. They have a coffee shop, but they also have a designated area where people can get free coffee and not pay anything. They also give away their message CDs. Too many churches charge for everything and wonder why no one buys CDs of the message. If you want to bless people and create a generous spirit throughout your church, give away free coffee and message CDs (and other surprises throughout the year). I know churches that will have ice cream trucks pull up outside the church doors and give away free ice cream to congregants leaving on a hot, summer day.

Security Counts

One issue that is huge to a secret shopper and visiting families is security. If a parent is worried about their child’s safety, they will not enjoy the service and will likely not return. A children’s classroom must be clean, safe and secure. Security also includes the check-out process. If anyone can walk into a classroom and pick up a kid, you’re asking for trouble and will turn off potential newcomers. It’s important that your kids’ volunteers are trained well and know to ask for the parent’s sticker when picking up their kids. This is vital and goes a long way to ensuring a tragedy doesn’t occur and a parent has peace of mind.

The Visible Pastor

Accessibility of the senior pastor is another subtle and powerful statement of a church. Even pastors of the largest churches in America make an intentional and strategic effort to be seen, greeted and hugged after a service. They may have a bodyguard present for security reasons, but they are available and willing to pray with people that need to speak to their pastor. Some churches have a designated “Guest Central”, like Steve Stroope at Lake Pointe in Rockwall, TX or Brady Boyd at New Life in Colorado Springs. Some have a “Meet and Greet.” Some pastors stand down at the altar and meet and pray with people like Kevin Myers at 12Stone in Atlanta. Some walk around the campus shaking hands like Don Wilson at Christ’s Church of the Valley in Phoenix. Erwin McManus at Mosaic LA has an “After Party”, at which the pastor is present and available to meet with newcomers. This, especially in a large church, goes a long way toward countering the rock star or unavailable pastor stigma that so many guests walk into the church expecting.

Finish Strong

It’s simply not enough for greeters and parking lot attendants to say “Hello” or “Welcome” when one walks into their church. To go to another level, have your first impressions team stationed at their posts when the service ends to say “Goodbye” or “Have a nice week”. This goes a long way to wrapping a bow around the entire morning experience and will send them off with a lasting positive impression.

I’m really just scratching the surface, but these are some of the most crucial things to have on your radar. I cover all this and more in great depth in my new book Secrets of a Secret Shopper. You can check out that book HERE.

Look out for and be sensitive to these 8 things and you’ll see a greater return of second and third-time guests. Happy New Year and Happy Easter!

*This article originally appeared in Outreach magazine and on Pastors.com.

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!

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