What is it like to visit a church? You might be familiar with the book, words, and customs, but you don’t necessarily know anyone. You are a visitor. Visitors see us in ways we have stopped seeing ourselves. It is an important gift we should take advantage of. Commercial industries use ‘mystery shoppers’ to visit businesses and report on customer service. Website ‘Ship of Fools’ offers a similar service, ‘mystery worshipper’.
Here are my observations from church visits. First, churches struggle to welcome. A friend shared how he waited in the post-service fellowship area of a church. Twelve people walked past without eye contact or hello. Regularly there is too little welcome from the entrance to exit. This is not just because the welcome team missed a new person. Congregations need to cultivate a culture of hospitality. An intentional first step is for every member to say hello to everyone they see, especially people new to them.
Second, what happens on the platform is in-house. The language, songs, and behaviours within a church service make sense to those who are part of the local community. They don’t always make sense to me. Gone are the days of the shared hymns or brown and blue book choruses. I am fascinated at how many songs I don’t know in a service. Speakers make references which feel like an in-house joke or story. Now, I am not suggesting a Service stop being personal to those who are local. I am suggesting platform people keep in mind there may be guests in our midst. If we want visitors to feel welcomed, how might this influence what we say and do?
Why don’t you try being a ‘mystery worshipper’ at our church this week? Walk into the entrance with a visitor’s eyes, observe the service as a guest. What might your reflections mean for what you say and do in the future?