Skip to comments.Rating Church? 'Secret Shoppers' Helping Pastors
Posted on 08/20/2013 6:53:49 AM PDT by xzins
You have no doubt heard of mystery shoppers who visit department stores and secretly evaluate customer service.
Now, there is a new wrinkle to this old concept: Pastors are using it to improve people's experiences at their churches.
"Even the American Medical Association recommends to their member doctor to have secret patient shoppers," Thomas Harrison said. Harrison is the founder of Secret Church Shopper, a firm that travels to churches across the country to secretly evaluate worship experiences.
"I never know when the phone rings if it is New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, or some other place," he said. "I have the most interesting questions people ask me."
Harrison also finds interesting things while visiting churches with as few as 100 members to as many as 10,000. He listed some of those interesting evaluations in a recent interview with CBN News.
"I've noticed poison sumac growing in the flower beds, next to the main entrance, four foot tall," he said.
"Churches are cluttered. They have collections of materials in various places and there seems to be no order," he continued. "And if you think about it, we do that at our home, too."
"There have been occasions, honestly, where I have entered the worship facility excited and no one has spoken to me," he added.
And if you think it couldn't get worse, Harrison said he's "seen all sorts of bug infestations."
Harrison's attention to detail is only exceeded by his heart for helping churches improve and reach more people with the gospel.
CBN News followed him on a recent secret visit to Mason City Christian Church in Central Illinois. Pastor Joe Briseno had invited him.
"I'm really excited about what Mr. Harrison and the ministry has that he and I want to share it with a lot of people. But I have to keep that to myself," Briseno told CBN News.
You've Been Punked!
Briseno is also a bit nervous about what his church members will think when they find out.
"It's almost like you have been punked. I think there will be a good reception," he said. "I have been working with my leaders here at the church, kind of preparing them, without them knowing."
When Briseno first came to lead the Mason City congregation, it was meeting in a small church building and hovered at about 200 members.
It quickly grew to 400 members and relocated to a larger new facility, but the congregation has hovered at 400 for the last few years.
"Since we have moved into this larger building, we have begun to attract people from surrounding towns and villages around here. Some drive 30 miles. Some drive 40 miles," Briseno said.
"We have also noticed in our church that we have had people come," Briseno continued. "They will stay for a while, but then they will leave. And we will try to reach out to them, so there has been, for lack of a better word, a little bit of a revolving door."
Hurting Prospective Members
With that in mind, Harrison always pays close attention to how church members greet and treat guests. After all these years, one story still stands out.
"During the fellowship time where everyone is shaking hands, a woman behind me leans over past me to shake the hand of the woman in front of me, and in the process doesn't say hello, you're in my way, or anything," he recalled. "So I feel abandoned and while everyone else is shaking hands, I'm just standing here. And prior to that I had been bumped from my seat two times."
Harrison urges churches to make reaching people who are new to the church experience a top priority. So after every visit, he delivers a 30- to 50-page report to help the church improve. It's based on The Five Star Church, a book dedicated to Christian excellence.
"The same God who called us also made us. And there are occasions when our body does not function the way God intended or designed. And we have to go to a doctor or to a physical therapist," Harrison said.
"And the same God who heals us, also provides these occupations," he continued. "So, it is all about diagnosis. It is a snapshot of what is happening in this congregation at this time."
Pastor Briseno said he hopes that snapshot will help his members make a difference.
"All of us have pastors, we have blind spots," Briseno told CBN News after the service Harrison evaluated. "And no matter how much research we do or how much we seek to improve what we are doing for the glory of God, and the effectiveness of His kingdom, I think that there are areas we all can improve on."
I get that feeling welcome is important, but I wish this article had said even one word about the reason you should go to church in the first place — to worship God.
I see a lot about the seeker — as I always do in stories of this nature, but not lot about worship — as I always do in stories of this nature.
Yep. It’s about church research and retention.
However, as a pastor, I’m amazed at the number of guests we have that seem to be isolated and ignored.
People’s response: “We don’t want them to seem overwhelmed.”
My response: “Anyone worried about ‘underwhelming’ them?”
I wonder what the secret shoppers would think of the church if the pastor actually preached the undiluted Gospel and the congregation came under the conviction of the Holy Spirit? Pastors who concern themselves the creating the best here and now experience will end up with congregations who's bye and bye experiences will be not so sweet.
After that, it is one which preaches sound doctrine and has a congregation who seem genuinely interested in helping each other.
I believe it is these type of places which will fill needed leadership voids when TSHTF and many of our present ruling class get the Nicolae & Elena Ceaușescu treatment.
I do wonder, though, if the question ever gets asked. Personally it doesn’t bother me in the slightest if everyone around me doesn’t shake my hand in the ‘passing of the peace’ or whatever it’s called these days.
I do mind very much, however, if I’m made to sing worship team pablum off the contemporary Christian hit charts and then subjected to a message that isn’t centered on God’s Word. I don’t consider either of those things reverent to God, and since reverence is the reason I go to church, I’d rather see those things than feeling ‘isolated’. If I want handshakes, I’ll go and get them myself.
I had an Episcopal Priest tell me once that “Church is a product and you have to sell it to prospective buyers”. Make no mistake about it, most churches these days are not about worship of GOD, they are about worship of the almighty dollar!
These days, church is about marketing. Religion is about God.
And if you will pardon the digression, your s/n rocks. Thank you for your service.
That’s not necessarily so. You can have the a church that is perfect in its legal take on doctrine but cold as a fish. You can have another church that is perfect in its take on doctrine AND warm, friendly, and loving.
I pick door #2.
My experience as a pastor is:
1. People don’t reach out to newcomers because they’re actually busy touching base with family, friends, etc., who are already part of the church. In the excitement of that, they just get lost in the moment. It’s not unfriendliness that keeps them from caring about newcomers, it’s enjoying the moment with loved ones.
2. People don’t reach out to newcomers because they really aren’t comfortable with what to say or do.
3. People don’t reach out to newcomers because they are in their own private world when they arrive at, participate, and depart church.
A gangbuster parish priest draws in a few more, but not much more. The real draw for the daily attendee, that is, me, is being able to partake of the real Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord every single day of my life. Who WOULDN'T want that? I need food for my journey through this corporeal life and need food for my journey to Heaven. You know that we believe that the priest has the Jesus-given authority (Do this in memory of me.) to call down the Holy Spirit to change the bread and wine. It gives me peace, joy and hope.
I have an old friend in Texas who says that they have the same service of the changing of bread and wine in her Presbyterian Church. SHE also believes that the bread and wine are "transubstaniated."
Maybe it's different for Protestant churches.
More than likely, what this evaluator saw was Staghorn sumac, an ornamental which often gets confused with its poisonous cousin. Not only is staghorn sumac not poisonous, but the ripe berries can be harvested, bruised and seeped in cold water to produce a very nice drink which tastes close to pink lemonade.
Here in SW Pennsylvania, it grows all over the place, including hillsides and ditch banks. Few people use it as an ornamental due to the confusion with poison sumac, which produces a greenish white berry with looser clumps than the telltale red, maroon or reddish white staghorn shape.
I'm one of those few people. I have neighbors and visitors tell me it is poisonous. But the berries are getting ripe about now, so maybe I'll offer them a drink next time it happens.
We got about a half-dozen of these at my Catholic Church.
After Mass they come streaming to me, a lowly usher, with their complaints. The Priest is doing this wrong, the Liturgy should be done THAT way, etc.
I look like the Pope apparently.
I am a through the bible type preacher. We’re now in Genesis after having just finished revelation. To keep the balance between old and new testaments, I’ll finish genesis and then go to matthew. Then back to the old testament.
Why do it that way? So the people hear the entire word of God.
One part of the word of God talks about the church. Jesus called it “His Church”. In Acts we read of the church appointing deacons (servers) to deal with the physiological needs of the believers.
The only reason I can come up with for that is that the early church thought care and compassion to be important along with the other aspects of the faith.
Care and compassion is important, yes. That’s why we don’t worship as individuals. There is strength in the Body of Christ.
However, I do believe modern churchgoing is skewed in the opposite direction. My church, for example, will do just about anything to attract students from our nearby colleges. In so doing, it has cheapened the worship experience for many older members in the name of ‘churchtainment’.
The students don’t stay anyway, but this is the kind of story I’m sure our elders would read with interest.
Worship is not entertainment. Nor is a congregation an audience. The “service” is not a “performance”. Yet, it gets treated that way too often.
Too often we have those who think their job is to spectate and someone else’s job is to provide something upon which they are to spectate.
If the congregation is spectating instead of worshipping, going through learned motions instead of worshipping, or daydreaming instead of worshipping, or sitting on their hands instead of worshipping, then they have not worshipped.
None of that, however, should prevent a true worshipper from being friendly to a newcomer.
Amen to all of that, Chaplain. God bless you.
I’ll give you one example of what I’m talking about. One of our worship team leaders is a terrifically talented singer. Yet she is so into her own performance that she doesn’t realize that her job is to help the congregation learn the pablum we’re singing to try to add to the worship experience. There are people around me, especially the older members, who just stand there and don’t sing.
We get to listen to sermonettes between songs and occasionally even learn how they impact her own personal walk with Christ. Worship buzzkill.
Thankfully we have an exceptional pastor who teaches the Word at every opportunity.
My favorite “church” is the great outdoors with fresh air and good fishing.
After that, it is one which preaches sound doctrine and has a congregation who seem genuinely interested in helping each other.
your point 2. Sound doctrine doesn’t get us in heaven. “Go away, I never knew you..........” always haunts me. As I read the Bible more, it is about having a repenting/changing relationship with God.
your point 3. This helping thing has me puzzled, but I am getting more convinced we have to stop helping people and let God help them first. When we solve problems, we shortcut Gods work many times.
I guess you look Argentinian.
Since you let them scream at you, complaining, YOU are to blame. You obviously answer them too, otherwise they wouldn't keep going back to you.
You know what to do to stop them. You don't do it though. It's not your job as an usher, which is NOT a lowly job, to have to listen to that. You COULD tell them to take it to the priest. Maybe one day you will.
Our ushers are great. One old guy has been doing the usher-thing since 1955. He IS really old.
If churches are club houses, which most are, this is a very appropriate activity.
How do you define worship, and in what sense is a typical church service ‘worship’?
Sins absolved while you wait.
The problem is we are not of like mind.
I ask at churches I visit, “what did you hear in the sermon today.” I ask, “what have you read in the Bible this past week?” I have never seen so many people exit to get their second cup of coffee.
There’s nothing wrong with being friendly to newcomers.
This is somewhat off the point.
I used to have a problem with the singers, both the choir and lay people at Mass. They were SO off-key sometimes, it drove me nuts.
We had an organist whom I liked. He was fabulous. I went to the pew near him so I could be very close to the music and sing with him.
I spoke to him once about the horrible off-key folks. He laughed. He said that it didn't bother him and they should be allowed to sing as they are...and God should hear them. After all, he said, God made those AWFUL voices and He SHOULD have to listen to them.
After that I was never bothered with off-key singers. Sometimes I roll my eyes at God, saying to myself, O Lord, that was a BAD one. :o)
In spirit and truth, glorifying God in the presence of God.
There are more than a few people out there genuinely deserving of help. And God helps us when we help them.
I'm not talking about the jag-offs with ObamaPhones demanding more and more. I'm talking about people with genuine needs.
A few years ago, my wife and I took in six kids from a single father (his wife had abandoned the marriage) who was being railroaded on a false sexual contact with a minor charge. We didn't know how long it was going to be and it was a challenge. But it turned out that six weeks was all he needed to get custody of his children back and get the bogus charges dismissed from yet another worthless judge trying to make a name for himself.
I don't know how our family friend would've solved that problem on his own.
There have been other times that people have helped us with needs not quite so dramatic. We've never been blessed with a fat bank account, but we have been blessed with health and other resources to assist others from time to time.
The emergent church is about the seeker only. The Baptist church, for example, is about the salvation of the Lost and the Christian education of the saved. (see the difference?)
Here is my advice- if you want to get taken advantaged of and lied to, if that is your thing, go to a seeker friendly- emergent church. They will welcome you and your money, and you will never be able to participate, because you are the audience and they are the special chosen. Look for Rick Warren’s definition of WHO is good enough to make it into the group of “good enough” to be o payroll. THAT has a lot to do with WHO will deny the Word of God, who loves money, who will not make the Pastor feel guilty about his huge house and travel perks, and lack of interaction with the people.
THAT is my secret shopper update for today.
“A joyful noise unto the Lord” means different things to different people :)
Ain't THAT the truth!!
I appreciate the update.
However, there’s nothing wrong with being friendly to newcomers visiting your church.
What parts of the church service involve glorifying God?
I think we worship God by obeying Him during our daily lives. We also do some things in a church service, such as the Lord’s Supper, which are done to honor God. But it seems to me that the church service is really about preparing people to live lives that honor God by our good deeds, rather than ‘worship’ Him during the service.
People who go to church to meet God are missing the point, IMHO. Too many go to have an emotional experience that makes them feel worshipful, rather than to contemplate what God has done and what He wants to do in our lives.
I like the throne room scenes of worshipping God in the book of Revelation.
. I’m talking about people with genuine needs.
Too many times we want to help people for our glory. Tough times have shaped me. I am most thankful in looking back, no one helped me and I had to turn to God.
If you open the cocoon of a butterfly you think you are helping it but in reality you destroy it. It has to exercise its muscles in working its way out of the cocoon to have the strength to fly.
Go with fear and trembling in helping anyone. You assume he would not have made it without your help. Maybe yes and maybe no. But, I thank you for the story and testimony and will assume I don’t have the whole story in your few words and will trust your heart was right. Mine usually is not.
People who come to a church and are ignored will be at another church the next week.
It may violate your highly developed sensibilities but that is the way life works.
Theres nothing wrong with being friendly to newcomers.
But what is the purpose of the church? I ask with all sincerity because what I read in the Bible, what I think, and what I observe in churches are out of sync.
That is because that is just about as big as a church can get. One pastor can only do so much.
Around three hundred you look to spin off a "daughter" church you should have picked out a place and found a pastor for the new church at that point.
The Church is the body of Christ, so it’s purpose is to represent Christ to both believers and non-believers, the former for pastoral care, and the latter for proclamation of the gospel.
There’s a piece of me that wants to agree with you, but I know the first church in Jerusalem added 3,000 in one day.
And of course there were 12 pastors to start with. :)
So, you don’t mind churches larger than 300 so long as they have multiple pastors? Is that correct or am I misinterpreting what you’ve said?
That is exactly the experience we received at Sagebrush Church here in Albuquerque.
They are a TOTALLY seeker church. No crosses. No responsive reading. Nothing that is traditionally “church” or it might scare away the seeker.
The sermons are entertaining and often relevant. They do quote the bible a lot, but definitely only “The Message” or sometimes, rarely, the NIV.
They have about 5000 “members”, but the vast majority are attenders only. Oh, they make big noise about wanting volunteers, but they want people willing to clean up - janitors basically - because all worship, leadership, and education positions are filled.
We went for about a year. Finally we left for a much smaller church that meets in an elementary school. More like a family of believers who worship God and love and support each other. Very much an “Acts” church.
I doubt the church in Jerusalem all met at the same time and the same place. That was partly why on the day of Pentecost it is mentioned “They were all in one accord and in one place”. That day was probably the only one when the entire church was in one place. It was a very special day.
Unless you met in an amphitheater there was no room for everyone to be together after that point. When the Apostles are mentioned in what would now be church meetings they were outside occasionally but more likely in a house. And for the most part they were not found all together either unless they were having a meeting not the church was having a meeting.
And even at that there was grumbling because they were spread too thin. That was where deacons came in.
For all things there is a limit.
In the natural any group over about 150 families is going to result in people feeling left out and the response will be the breaking apart into factions.
That is what happens in churches too.
Actually, GOD is the audience, and if we would remember that He is watching our service to HIM, maybe we’d direct more meaningful responses to reflect that He truly is with us. JMHO. :)
Exactly! Worship is NOT a fashion statement! It’s a statement of our devotion to our Lord and Savior! Period.
If you want entertainment, go to a movie.
We are commanded to be welcoming to newcomers, to love our neighbors, to pray for our enemies- and to entertain travelers. Definably. Hospitality is a gift of the Holy Spirit.
But treating a church of God like a Disneyland Ride, with perfectly marketed greeters (such as you will find in a seeker/Emergent/ mega church) is fake, and actually a sin.
They will all reap what they have sown. Money, fame or fortune are NOT gifts of the Holy Spirit and do not prove God at all.