WSJ- Secret Shopper Services for Churches

This is an interesting concept: . Secret shoppers visiting churches and grading them on certain criteria. My first evangelical reaction is to be horrified. Surely the church hasn’t stooped to this level of consumerism! How terrible! Then I started thinking about the practical aspects of this type of service. What if there were principles in this kind of service running deeper than simply drawing people into the church as an entertainment venue?

I’m going through what seems to be a strange phase. I became a Christian, I was baptized into Christ, or whatever modern buzzphrase you wish to use to describe this type of conversion, in 2002. I clearly remember it, as I was baptized in my swimming pool after 11 PM on a Friday night, May 31, during a break in a line of thunderstorms. You have to appreciate a minister and his wife who will get out of bed and drive 45 minutes during foul weather for such a thing, but our pastor did. Since that point, we’ve attended the same church, the Pitman church of Christ. I’ve done a lot of study on my own and developed my favorite set of blogs and podcasts and Bible teachers that I like to read and listen to. In any case, I’m going through a phase right now where I find myself asking questions. Not so much questions about the existence of God or this historicity of Jesus and His resurrection or the claims of the apostles, but questions about how we interpret and apply the Bible to what we today call church, or why Christians do the things we do. This article came at a decent time in my current phase.

This is why I could see a use for this type of service. For some reason, when we form churches, we also tend to form groups, communities, and cliques. My wife and I are facing a situation like this in our own church. I don’t want to go into too many details, but it doesn’t seem like we fit in well, my wife in particular. A clique has formed within the very group that you think she would fit in best, and she can’t penetrate it. The other women in that particular clique either ignore my wife or treat her with disdain. Seriously, I’ve seen some roll their eyes when she talks. It’s not cool, and it makes me a little angry wondering what exactly she could have done to them and why they won’t tell us so we can apologize. The 6th grade was many, many years in the past yet it feels like I’m watching my wife repeat the worst social aspects of middle and high school within our church. It’s getting very difficult for us and we’ve told our pastor and dropped a hint or two that perhaps it’s time to move on. Because of this, we can’t really join a small group because members of that particular clique are members of all of the small groups within range of us. That leaves us with our Sundays free, although I’ve co-lead a small group for the last two years and I do really miss it. We do have quite a few friends at the church, but it’s one of those situations where everybody lives too far away and is too busy for much more than exchanging chit-chat while at church on Sunday.

It’s even reached the point where if my wife weren’t teaching this quarter, we probably would not be attending on Sunday anymore. As it is, I’ve had excuses (work related) not to go the last two Sundays. We’ve been taking the kids to an AWANA program at a Baptist church on Wednesday nights.

With that in mind, I can see a use for these mystery church shoppers that is other than "promoting a consumerist atmosphere within the church". As I said, as humans, we have a tendency to form groups and pretty much live the same routine. That isn’t always conducive to a church, unless of course you’re part of that central group and happy with the routine. A pastor I love to listen to, Patrick Mead, has told churches "You should put a big sign out front next to your marquee that says ‘Keeping the Smith family happy for the last 30 years’". Our church does have a core group of people (outside the "clique" that is causing my wife grief) that has been involved in the church for a long time. As a congregation, some songs are preferred to others. We often sing a lot of the somber, 19th century church of Christ hymns. The problem is, that style of hymn really doesn’t inspire me that much. I can only take so much of them, but we often don’t vary our worship style because the style we have is so comfortable to the majority of church members. I’m not saying that there’s something wrong with that, but the answer to the question "Why are there so many different churches" isn’t always "because there are so many apostates who don’t believe the real Gospel!" Sometimes the answer to the question is "Because there are so many people with different preferences for the order and style of worship in matters that really aren’t that relevant to salvation."

Some people would prefer to spend most of the church service singing. Some people would rather have a church service that’s heavier on prayer. Given the choice, I’d rather have a service with one prayer, two or three uplifting songs, and a 50 minute John MacArthur style in-depth expositional sermon that I could take notes on and learn something new every week. Granted, my wife would not agree that is the best format for worship, so it’s true that you can’t please everybody.

I can see a point to these mystery worshippers. Some churches could stand to have somebody come in and issue an honest critique. Some churches are happy staying as they are, but for the churches that want to grow, perhaps it’s not a bad idea to have an anonymous person come in and issue a report. "Your greeters aren’t friendly enough". "You place too much emphasis on shirt and tie." "Your classes are all fluff. You need some decent intellectually challenging material." "You are friendly to visitors, but you have some impenetrable cliques. Once visitors join your church, they can’t find anywhere to fit in."

These are honest and I believe perfectly Scriptural things a church might need to be evaluated on by a mystery shopper type of service. What do you think?


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