Five Summer Tips from a Church Secret Shopper

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. Now that we are in the midst of 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!

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.

Let a Church Secret Shopper Help You Get Ready for Christmas

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As a church secret shopper or mystery worshiper consultant, I stay pretty busy in the Spring and Summer. I do some secret shoppers in the Fall, but a lot of churches get busy with all the Fall promotions and initiatives.

I understand this, I really do. However, the Fall is a crucial time to prepare for all the guests you will receive during the Christmas season, and especially if you have a Christmas Eve service. The pastors and executive pastors that have brought me in in the Fall in the past can vouch for the validity of this concept.

I have some openings for October and November, and early December. I’d like to fill these openings with great churches (of any size) around the country. I take what I do seriously and know how valuable my feedback and suggestions have been and are for churches that hire me.

So, what’s involved? Well, honestly, it’s not very time-consuming and won’t take you away from your Fall programs. Once you reach out to me and we agree this is something that you want to do (and I’m available), we make travel arrangements. This can be done by you, your admin, or a volunteer.

After the travel arrangements have been made, you just go on about your business. In very large churches, the Executive Pastor usually handles this and doesn’t even both the Senior Pastor with the details and the pastor doesn’t know until I introduce myself on that Sunday.

After I get back home, I’ll work on a report of my findings, which I’ll email the Senior Pastor or Executive Pastor (or the person that hired me) for he or she to look over. Once he or she sees it and doesn’t have any questions for me, he or she sets up a video conference with key leaders.

The video conference takes about an hour. After that, we’re done on my end (though I believe in long-term relationships and you can always reach out to me and ask me follow-up questions).

In the report and during our video conference, I will give you action items and next steps. I will point out things that I think could be done better and help you see the percentage of first-time guests that turn into second-time guests rise.

In the Fall, I really focus on immediate improvements that you can make and instruct your guest services or hospitality team on so that they make these changes before the Christmas season.

We all know how many guests will visit local churches during the holidays. Let me help you welcome them, so you can encourage them to return. Email me today to start the short and easy process.

*** On another note: My brand new book Secrets of a Secret Shopper comes out this month! Sign up for my newsletter here and follow my blog and this website for details on when my new book becomes available.

 

Digital Real Estate for Churches to Consider

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You are all very aware of real estate when it comes to selling or buying a home or business. But what about buying things online? Do you own your name on all the social media channels and websites, whether it be your personal name or your church’s?

In 2009, I wrote a blog entitled “Digital Real Estate.” In it, I pointed to people like worship leader Matt Redman and pastor Rick Warren, as well as churches like Life.Church and Willow Creek – that had claimed their name on Twitter, but were not yet tweeting. They just wanted to reserve their name in case Twitter took off. It did and they started to tweet. This, my friends, is what I call Digital Real Estate.

Years ago, I had to wait for another Greg Atkinson to let his domain expire and then I jumped on it. I’ve been blogging at GregAtkinson.com ever since. I have my name (@GregAtkinson) on Twitter and Instagram.

I mentioned in 2009 that when Facebook started offering vanity names I was on vacation and missed grabbing my name by 2 days. On Facebook, my personal web address is www.facebook.com/greg.atkinson1, instead of www.facebook.com/gregatkinson. Another Greg Atkinson beat me to it!

Call me paranoid or egotistical, but I prefer words like intentional and strategic, which are used all throughout my writing.

In this blog post, I want to share with you something that has been on my mind for over two years now. And that is: You need to reserve your church’s name on the .church domain. You can purchase your church’s name here (if it’s still available).

I was consulting with a church in February of this year and told them to buy it and they didn’t. Now their name has been taken. I told another church to buy their church’s name on the .church domain about 2 years ago. They purchased their church’s name, but didn’t quite grasp the concept. Instead of getting Grace.church (I’m making up a name), they purchased GraceChurch.church. The “church” is redundant.

I see smart and wise churches around the country grabbing their church’s name on .church. I strongly suggest you do the same. Follow the example of Life.Church and so many others.

Allow me to tell you what I tell churches that I consult with (and if I’m wrong then I’m wrong, but if I’m right…). I tell church leaders and pastors that in the near future when people think of churches on the web, they will automatically associate the name of the church with the .church domain.

So, for example when I told a local church (Let’s say GraceChurch.org for example) that in the future when someone hears about your church from one of its congregants, they will say something like, “Cool. I’ll check you guys out online. It’s Grace.church, right?” “Right.”

Just trust me: As familiar as we are with .com and .org, it will be just as normal and familiar for .church.

BOTTOMLINE: Go today and grab your church’s name on the .church domain. What do you have to lose?

PLEASE NOTE: I am in no way affiliated with the .church domain, nor do I receive any payment for writing about this. My link for you to buy it goes to GoDaddy.com because that is who I personally use, but I really don’t care who you go through to purchase it.

This is about future-proofing your church, which I talk about a lot in my consulting. 

Here is what Life.Church and Willow Creek’s Twitter account looked like when I first wrote about this in 2009:

lifechurch2009 willowcreek2009

I think they have no regrets in reserving their “digital real estate.” Now go grab yours! Trust me.

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!