Archives For church secret shopper

 

Did you know first impressions matter? They do—big time!

Sometimes there’s no coming back from a bad experience.

When I work with churches, I exhort them to put their best and brightest, their positive, smiling, warmest personalities on their front lines. Starting with the parking lot team and moving inside to greeters, ushers, and those working the welcome desk or information center. These people need to be friendly and welcoming. Most of all, they need to know how vital their role is to the mission of the church.

As someone who visits lots of churches for the first time, I have some pet peeves to share that I hope will help your church.

Parking lot attendants

Nothing drives me crazier than seeing parking lot attendants standing next to each other. There should never be two people (or more) standing next to each other and talking. Parking lot attendants should be spread out across your parking lot communicating with hand signals or walkie-talkies.

When I see parking lot attendants bunched up and talking to one another, it tells me they don’t know their purpose.

They don’t realize that their focus and attention need to be on greeting and pointing people in the right direction. Nothing is worse than driving by two parking lot attendants deep in conversation that don’t even acknowledge you. Trust me, I’ve experienced it and it’s a horrible first impression of your church. Give your parking lot attendants posts or positions and have them stay spread out. Remind them to focus on their responsibility and to smile and wave at cars as they drive by. Remember the atmosphere we want to create.

Greeters

Have you ever experienced over-zealous greeters? Greeters that freak you out because they’re too happy, too nosy, or too obnoxious? Greeters need to spread out too and leave space for people to walk. Please don’t form a wall that makes it awkward for people when entering your building. I had a bad experience at a large and well-known church one time. I can’t tell you how many hands I had to shake to enter their building.

Ushers

I think we over-simplify when it comes to training ushers in the church. I can’t tell you how many churches I’ve visited or consulted with who had told their ushers, “Stand here and give each person a bulletin as they pass.” This is a poor vision indeed. If your only job is to hand someone a bulletin, you don’t take it seriously. You don’t do anything else outside that and it’s easy to get in a conversation with other ushers. If you haven’t picked up on it, I don’t like for conversations to be going on with team members. I think it’s rude and a horrible first impression.

No one wants to feel like they’re interrupting your discussion to get a bulletin or find a seat.

Speaking of finding a seat, that is the job of the usher. I’ve seen churches that put bulletins on a small table and let the ushers usher. I love this! Ushers should be seating people and be helping those with special needs.

Hands-free

I have one last bone to pick with all team members, and this is a big one! Make sure your servant leaders are hands-free. This means they shouldn’t be holding a cup of coffee or their cell phone. Imagine a single mom struggling to corral her toddlers and holding an infant’s carrier in one hand, walking in from the parking lot, and the guy or gal at the door is too distracted by their phone to open the door for her. Or the helper is trying to open the door and not spill coffee on her and her children.

You must talk to your team about sacrifice.

The reason they arrive early (at least 30 minutes before a service) is to talk to friends, get some coffee, and do other stuff that they shouldn’t be doing while they’re serving. Once it’s go-time, they must be hands-free and focused.

These are just some of the feedback I hear from church visitors and have experienced myself. If you’d like me to help you make a great first impression, evaluate what you do on a weekend, and give you a report of my findings with next steps, check out my church secret shopper website HERE.

 

This article is adapted from Secrets of a Secret Shopper by Greg Atkinson, published by Rainer Publishing and available from Amazon.

If you’re 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. If you’re interested in hiring me to serve you as a church secret shopper, go here for more info.

Look out for and be sensitive to these 8 things and you’ll see a greater return of second and third-time guests. Happy Easter!

*This article originally appeared in Outreach magazine and on Pastors.com.

YouVersion congrats

Hello readers! I am beyond thrilled and excited to partner with YouVersion by writing some new devotionals that will be coming soon, starting this Fall.

Here’s where you can see some of my new content that I’ve been writing or have coming out soon:

  • Rick Warren’s Ministry Newsletter
  • Pastors.com
  • ChurchLeaders.com
  • ChurchCentral.com
  • Christianity Today
  • Leadership Journal/CTPastors.com
  • XPastors.org
  • Church Fuel (look for a new eBook coming soon)
  • I will also be a guest on several church leader podcasts this Fall. I hope you’ll listen in on the conversations!

And lastly, I have BIG news: My 4th book entitled Secrets of a Secret Shopper will release this Fall. As you know I’m a consultant and church secret shopper. In this book, I tell you what I look for when I go to a large church and do a church secret shopper consultation.

I wrote this book primarily for small to medium-sized churches that may not be able to afford to hire me. So, if you want to make some killer improvements in the area of hospitality and guest services, be on the lookout for my next book. I can’t wait for you to read it!

Mobile website and phone_

I spend a lot of time with pastors around the country. I get asked all kinds of questions. I’ll write later about the most common things I see when I do a church secret shopper consultation. Today, I want to write about one of the most common things I say to churches. Here it is:

Always point people to your church’s website. Always. 

Before I finished this post, I took a quick poll of pastor friends of mine. I texted them and said, “Am I the only one that says this or is that what you also do with your church’s strategy?” They all agreed it’s the same for them, too. It’s what I always encourage pastors with when I consult with their church.

Why does this post have a picture of a mobile phone? Because people will check your mobile website out (most likely) first – before they sit at their computer and look. I’ve written in the past about being mobile. Let me just say this is HUGE. You have to have a mobile website or responsive design these days.

What are some examples of how this aforementioned principle plays out?

  • Your church’s receptionist and voicemail: When I call your church’s voicemail (and I do), I want to hear your service times and directions FIRST and then point me to your church website. You can list the departments and team members’ extensions later. When I call during the day and talk to your receptionist, she needs to be friendly, personable and knowledgeable. She shouldn’t have to ask someone for help answering a question. They need to know the services times, directions/address and they should ALWAYS say, “Please check us out online at www.yourchurch.com.
  • Social Media: Your social media reaches out to your community (and the world) and allows you to connect with your members, their friends, and family. How you use social media is a topic for another post (and others have covered this in great detail), but make sure your social media points people back to your church’s website.
  • Bulletin or Worship Guide: Guests don’t want to be overwhelmed with too much information on their first visit. It’s too much. Always remember: Less is more! Be selective about what you put in your worship guide and ALWAYS list your church’s website and point people to it. That is where they sign up anyway.
  • Announcements: Whether or not a church should have announcements in their service is a topic for another day, but whether you do live announcements, announcement slides, or pre-recorded video announcements, make sure you ALWAYS point people to your church’s website. Don’t stand up and make 10 announcements. Please stop. Please don’t. If you say anything, say something like, “If you’re looking for ways to get involved or plugged in here at Your Church, check us out online at www.YourChurch.com and you can find out what’s going on.” It’s concise, succinct, efficient, and effective. It’s actually more concise than that last sentence and more effective than if you announced each and every one of your announcements or listed them all in your bulletin (see above). To read some really great and well-thought-out thoughts on announcements, read Phil Bowdle’s blog post on the subject. I agree with everything he said.

Why?

Because we get such precious little time in front of, or on the phone with, or via social media to make a connection with people. The stage or platform, the phone, and your church’s social media channels are not the places to hit people with a ton of information or announcements.

What does a pastor speaking, a phone call, and a church’s social media channels all have in common? They are highly relational. The worst thing you can do with any of those outlets is bombard people with tons of information. Please don’t be broadcast-only on social media.

Dave Adamson recently said that at North Point Church they strive to use more questions marks than periods. “Facebook is a social network, which means that conversation is central to the platform and the best way to create a conversation is to ask a question.” – Nils Smith

Communication matters. How and what we communicate matters more. 

Do I believe in social media? Absolutely! Check out my social media channels. They’re very active. I use social media to connect with people – your church should, too. Church Facebook pages are wonderful. Interact with your congregation and community and respond to all comments.

However, your Facebook page doesn’t have a listing of your staff (with pictures) – it doesn’t have your Vision, Values, Beliefs, your church’s story, What to Expect page, etc. I could go on and on. Your church’s website (when used properly) is a gold mine of really important and relevant information.

Next Level:

Once people come to your church website, please encourage them to sign up for email updates (this is a genius add-on idea from my friend Nils Smith) and THEN you can keep the congregation informed on all that’s going on. Get it? There is a time and place for everything. And your church’s website is THE place to point your people to. You’ll get more “bang for your buck” – if that makes sense.

I’m telling you the same thing I tell all churches. I hope you’ll take this to heart and make the necessary changes. Let’s be clear, concise and effective communicators of good news!

*** I go into more detail on this and other things I consult on in my upcoming book Secrets of a Secret Shopper. Look for it this Fall.

Music headphones

Often I get asked by a pastor or worship leader what I’m listening to and worshiping with. They realize that I travel the United States doing church secret shopper consultations and that I probably experience music and worship in more churches yearly, than just about anyone else to be honest.

So I hear a wide variety of styles and song selections. But I do have my personal preferences and songs that really move me and help me to connect to God. I bet you do, too. I’d like to introduce you to some that are my favorite (if you’re not already aware of them).

For the past 2 to 3 months, I’ve put YouTube on my TV and watched 2 artists, which I consider to be the best worship music in the United States. I think Elevation Worship is the best worship music in the US. I think Bethel Music is a close second. And they are very different, but I love them both.

Here are the songs that God has really used to minister to my heart and soul. I hope you’ll worship with them personally and consider them for corporate music.

Take Courage – Kristene DiMarco and Bethel Music
*** My current favorite song! This song is brand-new and isn’t even on iTunes yet.

Call Upon the Lord – Elevation Worship (My current 2nd favorite song)

Resurrecting – Elevation Worship

Here As in Heaven – Elevation Worship

O Come to the Altar – Elevation Worship (great response song after the message)

King of My Heart – Bethel Music (I know Saddleback Church has done this several times recently)

Ever Be – Bethel Music

No Longer Slaves – Bethel Music

It is Well – Kristene DiMarco and Bethel Music (for more traditional churches that want to breathe new life into an awesome hymn)

 

*** I’d love to hear from you. What’s playing in your earbuds these days? What songs move you?

seasons-34263_960_720

I and my company 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.

We don’t just do one consult and leave. I am committed to a long-term relationship. I propose next steps, introduce you to friends, specialists, and strategic partners. And I’m always one phone call or email away. I’ve had pastors call me up and ask a question years after I did a secret shopper for them.

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 I usually help churches, here’s what a yearly schedule could look like:

  • I come in the Summer and help you Get Ready for Fall
  • I come in the Fall and help you Get Ready for Christmas and the New Year
  • I come in the New Year and help 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 me at my personal email: greg@gregatkinson.com or Worship Impressions at info@worshipimpressions.com.

I hope to meet you soon. The best days of your church are ahead!

SecretShopper_top1

A lot of people have heard or read that I’m regularly doing secret shopper or mystery worshiper visits to churches around the country. The question has been raised (and it’s a valid one): Do you need a secret shopper?

As someone who takes the mission to reach the lost and unfilled seriously, I think it’s a wise investment. It takes about a month for you to lose your new eyes, new ears and new nose. Things that you may have become used to or accepted, a secret shopper can spot on their initial visit.

I once had a great Secret Shopper visit with a local church plant in the DFW area. I then had great meeting afterwards where I shared constructive and encouraging feedback with their senior pastor. I was reminded of how even young church plants can quickly lose their new eyes and start to miss things that are obvious to a newcomer like me.

The pastor emailed me saying that they’ve worked on several of the items I listed and are excited about their future. Now, many years later, my secret shopper process has evolved. The last church I worked with was Menlo Church in California, pastored by John Ortberg. I evaluated all 5 of their campuses and went over a 22 page report with their senior leadership team. 

In one month, I’ll do another secret shopper visit at a mega-church in Dallas, TX. I’ve already begun my pre-assessment, as I take a thorough look at the church’s website and online presence.  This is a church that is seemingly doing well and has a large congregation in a metroplex, but they want to improve and tweak things and I applaud them for that.

I came across some good words on Mike Holmes’ blog that I’d like to share with you. He mentioned that a secret shopper or mystery worshipper can do a few things:

1.               Assess areas of strength and weakness.

2.               See what visitors see.

3.               Give objective appraisal.

He also shares the story of his experiment as a secret shopper, which is convicting and inspiring. He goes on to share signs you need a secret shopper or mystery worshipper:

1.               Visitors who don’t return

2.               Decreased attendance

3.               Lack of influence in the surrounding community

I would add an eye for excellence and an attempt to be better at hospitality. It’s always healthy to look at your Sunday morning experience through the eyes of a newcomer and especially the eyes of a lost person. You may get only one chance to make a positive impression on them.

We all know a guest makes up their mind whether or not they will return in the first 10 minutes.

Read that again!

When you bring a guest to church, you instantly become sensitive to your surroundings – the people, the seats, the ushers, the greeters, the kids check-in, the sermon, the music, etc. You want everything to be perfect for your visiting friend (especially if they are not a Believer). A mystery worshiper can spot these crucial areas out for you, before your lost friend does. It’s an investment, but I think a wise one.

Nelson Searcy (in his book “Fusion”) says that if a first-time guest turns into a second-time guest, they are 80% more likely to get plugged into your church and eventually commit their life to Christ. That’s huge and that’s what I do. I help churches remove unnecessary barriers and bad impressions and turn first-time guests into second-time guests. 

I once read an article in the Wall Street Journal on secret shoppers. As the article states: “Department stores hire mystery shoppers. Restaurant chains bring in undercover diners to rate their food and service.” Isn’t what we do on Sundays as church leaders more important than department stores and restaurants? Seriously, isn’t it???

If you’d like to pick my brain or ask what’s involved in a secret shopper visit, contact me. If you’d like to read through endorsements of my ministry, check out the Worship Impressions website. Keep pressing on and know that what you do matters!

stalls

This past weekend I did a secret shopper visit at an amazing church in Orangeburg, SC. I arrived in town Saturday evening and headed straight to the church as it was nice out and I thought it might rain on Sunday. I wanted to see the grounds and parking lot, building exterior, etc.

As I was looking around, I came across a door in the back of the church that was left open. I didn’t know if someone was inside or if it had been overlooked and left open/unlocked, but I opened it and went inside…

NOTE: It never occurred to me that there might be an alarm.

I went inside the church and began looking around, making notes and taking pictures. I went straight to the restrooms and since I wouldn’t get to see the Women’s Restrooms on Sunday, I decided to go inside them, take pictures and make notes. I must add: they have a very nice women’s restroom. Below is their sitting room when you walk inside the women’s restroom:

women's restroom

I noted that the women’s restroom had 11 regular stalls and 2 large/handicap stalls (as seen in the top picture). Their sink area appeared neat and clean, etc. Regular stuff. I left there and went across the hall to the men’s restroom. I made notes in there and took pictures.

I walked out to be greeted by 3 police officers with tazors drawn. I’m not kidding. They asked who I was and you should have been a fly on the wall as I tried to explain to them what a church secret shopper was. They told me to turn around and padded me down. They took my ID and called it in.

Please understand and believe me – I planned on calling the senior pastor after I finished looking at the restrooms to let him know about the unlocked door.

So the interrogation went on. IF I was not able to get the pastor on the phone (which – thank God I was) they were going to take me downtown and arrest me. I didn’t “break and enter” as one officer said. I simply saw a door cracked open and walked inside it.

Lesson learned – I won’t be doing that again. So there! That’s my new unforgettable secret shopper story and my welcome to South Carolina. 🙂