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Churches Should Hire Mystery Shoppers, Not Ask Friends

A pastor recently said to me that, thanks to his the slower growth in his church, he was thinking about paying neighbors $25 to visit his church and tell him the problems they saw.

“That’s mystery shopping,” I said. “But I don’t think you should do that.”

He thought it was a good idea, because it would be a great way to bring in some outside eyes to get a different perspective. “They’ve never been here, so they can tell me whether they were greeted at the door, whether they were made to feel welcome, and if there was anything they really liked or didn’t like,” he said.

I agreed that it would be a great way to do that — some churches do hire mystery shoppers — but paying friends to do this for you was not the way to do it.

“These are your friends, and they love you. They’re not going to want to tell you something is wrong,” I said. “They’ll worry about hurting your feelings and so if there are any glaring flaws, they may not want to tell you about them.”

Churches of any size can benefit from mystery shoppers.This is the same reason why writers should never ask family and friends to review their work, especially as you’re starting out. Your family and friends love you and want to support you, so they don’t want to do anything to discourage you. And so they’ll basically tell you, “Oh, it’s fine. It’s good. You did a good job.”

Churches are going to have the same problem. You’re not going to get good feedback from friends for that reason, and your members are not always able to spot problems either. Most people have their own ideas about the ways they think churches should be run, and so the problems they see may not be problems so much as they’re just their own preferences.

They don’t like the music; they love the music. The preaching takes too long; the music should be trimmed to allow more preaching time. They like the Bible the pastor uses; the pastor is using the wrong Bible. On and on and on.

Churches are a personal choice and allowing the members to dictate how they should be run is a risky venture. You’ll try to be everything to everyone, which means you won’t be anything to anyone.

Instead, it helps that you start with your vision of what you want your church to be. What’s your mission? What drives you? What, beyond teaching people about God, gets you up at 5:30 every Sunday morning?

Then, hire mystery shoppers to actually check to see whether you’re doing that. And this should be something you’re willing to spend a little money to do.

Think of it as a business decision or an investment: a family of four that has a $60,000 household income could potentially be worth $6,000 of tithes. So if you could bring in four new families per quarter because you invested in mystery shopping, what would that be worth?

The mystery shoppers can tell you important things about what people are looking for: were they greeted at the door? Were people friendly to them? Did they meet enough people during their time? (A favorite statistic my friend likes to quote is that if a new person doesn’t meet six new people at a new church, they’ll be gone after three weeks.)

Churches need to look at mystery shopping as an important part of church marketing and growth. If you want to learn more about mystery shopping, please visit the Measure CP website.

Erik Deckers is a content marketing professional, book author, and newspaper humor columnist, and is the communications director for his church, God’s House Orlando in Orlando, Florida.

Photo credit: Steven Pavlov (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 3.0)