Archives For Mystery Worshipper

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

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
  • Christianity Today
  • Leadership Journal/
  • 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!


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: or Worship Impressions at

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


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!

When is a good time to bring in someone like myself for a secret shopper visit? Anytime is really good, but summer has some key advantages. If you bring me in July or August, you have a chance to get solid feedback and make strategic changes before you crank things up in the Fall.

Most churches do some big Fall campaign or push and having me in this summer to help you do what you do better could be a huge win for you and your church. See what Ray Johnston, pastor of Bayside Church in Sacramento, CA had to say about my visit with them last month (Bayside is a church of 12,000 where Lincoln Brewster leads worship):

“Greg Atkinson is smart, detailed, thorough and saw things that we would never notice.  His feedback was invaluable and we are making several strategic changes as a result of his visit.  We will use him again.  I encourage to you do the same.  In a word – he’s the best.” – Ray Johnston, Senior Pastor, Bayside Church, Sacramento, CA

I’m confident that I will notice things you would never notice and positive that I can help YOUR church make several strategic changes. Like Ray, I want YOU to say, “We will use him again.” So, I encourage you to make the investment and bring me in to help your church make guests feel loved and welcomed.

To get more details, endorsements and prices (based on size of church), go HERE.


Since the year 2000 I’ve kept my eye on Granger Community Church – after being introduced to them at the Purpose Driven Conference. I’ve respected their pastor and talented staff for their willingness to do whatever it takes to reach people and do it with a sense of excellence and innovation. I subscribe to their newsletter and hope you do, too.

I’ve never blogged about one of their newsletters before, but this one got my attention. As a secret shopper/mystery worshiper, I can’t stress how important what Mark shares is. Read on…

Excerpt from | by Mark Waltz

Self-disclosure #1: Pretty much any building I enter – restaurant, airport, mall, church, museum, store, your house – I’m looking for a restroom. There aren’t too many homes with signage for bathrooms, but then again, I generally know the host, so I can ask.

When a new guest comes to your church, they’re likely to look for one of three things (maybe all three):

  • restroom
  • children’s center
  • auditorium or worship center

Self-disclosure #2: When we opened our new auditorium at Granger Community a few years ago, we were strategic and careful about where signage was placed and just what it communicated. However, I recently toured our building with my guest services coaches and we made some disappointing discoveries. Some signage is too busy with font that’s too small to read without standing still. Some signage has been added in recent months and secondary bulkhead hides it. Other signage uses our
in-house language that may not be all that helpful to our guests.

So, when hanging signage, ask:

  • What are guests really looking for? Is a sign with an arrow to the recycle bin really all that helpful or necessary?
  • If this sign were hanging in an airport would guests see it as they rush to catch a plane? If not, make the sign bigger (if your church is smaller, think smaller airport…but think about people reading signage as they move).
  • Will people understand what “churchutopia” means? Or would it be better to simply say,
    “Kids’ Center”?

Hang a sign. And hang it effectively.

Learn more from Mark about creating WOW First Impressions and Lasting Impressions at Granger Thursday-Friday, November 12-13. Bring your team for $119/person.

In the last couple of months I’ve talked with several churches that are interested in bringing me in for a secret shopper/mystery worshiper visit, but don’t have it in this year’s budget. They are setting aside money in their 2010 budget to bring me in.

I bring this up for you to consider. Maybe you’d like to arrange a secret shopper visit. I’d encourage you to budget/plan for it now and you’re working on next year’s budget. Plan on $2000 or less for the visit (that includes all my travel expenses).

If you’d like to schedule a 2010 visit, contact me and let’s begin to look at the calendar. It’s a wise investment. You can go here for more information and to read endorsements of my ministry.


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. 🙂

I had a great Secret Shopper visit yesterday with a local church plant in the DFW area. I look forward to sharing my notes 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.

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. Receive 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 your “main thing” (Sunday) – as Nancy Beach shares in her book “An Hour on Sunday“. 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.

Mike also cites an article in the Wall Street Journal on secret shoppers and I think it’s worth a read. 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???

September is slammed full – right now I’m booking Secret Shopper visits for October and November. I’d love for you to start a conversation with me about visiting your church. I promise: it’s worth the investment. Go HERE for more information and to read endorsements of my ministry.


I mentioned last week that I’m beginning a new project with ARC. This is something I’m pretty excited about and hopefully will lead to me meeting you and your team.

ARC now offers a very informative, encouraging and fruitful experience for your church: the Secret Shopper (mystery worshipper). Beginning August 2009, ARC will be lining up visits to churches across the country by one of the ARC’s staff – me.

Here’s the info that we’re sending ARC churches:

The Secret Shopper has produced worship services for a mega-church for the last 6 years and has served on a Worship & Arts staff for the last 15 years. The Secret Shopper also produced several large conferences including Leadership Network’s Innovation3 Conference, Catalyst OneDay and the Rebecca St. James’s SHE Conference.

This service to your church will include an eye on everything from your church’s parking lot, lobby, nursery, facilities, signage, restrooms, overall feel and a main focus on the worship experience including music, technology/media and preaching.

For a small, one-time investment of $750 (plus travel expenses) for a church of 300 or less OR $1000 (plus travel) for churches of 300 or more, your church can have a trained professional with a heart for ARC DNA churches come into your church and critique, encourage and challenge your team. Feedback will be given in a meeting after the last morning worship service.

I’m blogging about this here because this is a service that I’d like to do for any and all churches interested, not just ARC churches. For more information and to book me as a Secret Shopper for your church, email me at