Archives For Secret Shopper

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!

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!

noAbout five years ago my family and I went to dinner with a key family in my church. The objective of the dinner (besides fellowship and strengthening our relationship) was to have a hard conversation. I had seen all the warning signs and the shepherd side of me could not sit back and do nothing. What was happening you might ask?

I could see that the wife and mom I had asked to dinner was on the edge of burnout.

When I first started as pastor at my church three years ago, I was on a mission to recruit leaders, volunteers and build teams – and that I did. I identified and placed key leaders in every ministry in our congregation. Our church started to grow and it was evident God was blessing our community of faith, so why did I get concerned?

I noticed one particular person (a very sweet woman) that was showing up on too many of my ministry teams and leaders lists. She was a teacher in our kids ministry each Sunday. She was a small group leader for our youth group each Wednesday night. She was (along with her husband) an adult small group leader and they hosted the group in their home (I could do another post on why it’s overwhelming to both host and lead a small group, but others have covered this). She was also the point person and face of our Serve ministry.

The first three she was already doing. The last one was one that I had asked her because I thought she’d be a good point person and face for our Serve ministry. What changed? I noticed stress in her eyes, her voice, her family and she always seemed liked she was on the verge of crying when I talked to her. It was obvious she was overwhelmed, but she didn’t know how to say, “No.” So I arranged this dinner with our families and I set out to intervene before she burned out, broke down or quit the church all-together.

Here are some key concepts to consider as I look back on that preemptive conversation:

  • The person is always more important than the program.
  • Just because someone says “Yes” doesn’t mean you should let them.
  • Some people need help saying “No.”
  • Be sensitive to people that always volunteer when the request goes out.
  • Don’t take advantage of someone’s kindness or lack of boundaries.
  • Set limits and boundaries. We asked people to worship (attend church), grow (be in a small group) and serve (volunteer in or lead a ministry).
  • Show your people you care for their souls and prioritize their spiritual life and family life above your ministry need.
  • If you’re always needing more and more volunteers for new ministries, maybe you need to simply. I’m a huge believer in being a Simple Church.
  • It takes guts to make “the ask.” It also takes guts to believe God will provide when you give someone a break. Read that again.
  • Focus on broadening your volunteer pool/team. Don’t always go to the same people.
  • You may have heard “20% of the people do 80% of the work.” Don’t buy it. Don’t accept it.
  • Teach the value and reason for service and expect a dream team of servants to carry the load. (A good case study is to look at Church of the Highlands up-close and their use of their Dream Team)
  • Care more about church health than church growth. It will be better in the long-run. Don’t miss understand me. Growth is good – just don’t do it at the expense of church health.
  • Be an Ephesians 4 leader and raise up and empower other equipping leaders. I talk about this in my book Church Leadership Essentials.
  • Ask your staff and ministry leaders tough questions and be on the lookout for ministry burnout.
  • Pray for wisdom, direction and discernment daily.
  • Pray that God would bring to mind new people to serve.
  • Teach your staff and team leaders to always thank people that serve and let them know you care for them. Our staff sent out weekly, hand-written thank you notes. I write about this in my book, too (shameless plug).
  • Be proactive in giving people an “out.” Maybe have people sign-up to serve for a set time length (like 3 months or 6 months or for the summer).
  • Set the example. If you are spread too thin and on the edge of burnout yourself, you can imagine the example you set for your congregants.
  • Above all love and lead well. You’re a part of a bigger story than building your own kingdom.

What was the result of the hard conversation? The family thanked me for my concern and the woman cut her four ministries down to two and is still serving to this day. Be on the lookout friends and pastor your people well.

“The harvest is so great, and the workers are so few,” he told his disciples. “So pray to the one in charge of the harvesting, and ask him to recruit more workers for his harvest fields.” – Matthew 9:37-38 (TLB)

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!

Last week, I noticed Will Mancini blog about some of the things we’ve been discussing on my blog the past week. I’ve got 2 new articles on what guests look for that I’m anxious for you to read, but they’ll appear first in Outreach magazine. In the meantime, I thought it would be helpful for you to read Will’s thoughts.

This goes back to why a church would want to hire a secret shopper. Will shares 7 checkpoints. I look for close to 100 different things when I do a secret shopper visit (resulting in a 16 page report). If you’re interested in bringing me in for a secret shopper visit, go HERE for more information. Read what Will had to say:

When a first time guest drives onto your campus, they will decide within 11 minutes whether or not they are coming back.

Yes, the decision is made before your guests experience  worship and the content of the sermon- the two elements that demand most, if not all, of our time and attention in preparation.

What would it look like if you extended the same level of intention to the 11 minutes prior to walking in the sanctuary or worship center? Maybe the better question is “What would it feel like for your guests?”

It’s hard to overstate the wow factor a church body creates by serve generously through a system of hospitality. For the last 10 years I have observed and analyzed over 200 churches while conducting a “secret worshipper” experience.  It is a service at Auxano we call the “Guest Perspective Evaluation.” One of my greatest thrills in ministry is tasting the variety of size, location, and spiritual heritage of these churches. But the most important observation is that any church can take small steps to make a dramatic difference in welcoming guests.

This post is the first time I have shared any of our tools or learnings. And the first place to start is to imagine seven checkpoints for your guest. Think of the checkpoints as “gates” or even “hurdles” that any first time guest must navigate to get from their comfy family room to your worship service. With every gate comes a simple question: Has the church removed the inherent difficulty of navigating the gate for the first time?

More specifically I look for every opportunity to make each gate  simple, easy and obvious to navigate. Any particular difficulties created by your location or facility should be viewed as hospitality opportunities. By providing a great solution to an obvious barrier, you enhance the wow-factor of the hospitality.

THE SEVEN CHECKPOINTS

#1 Before Departure: Are directions and service times immediately accessible to guests  from your church website, phone recording and yellow pages?

#2 Travel to Location: Do guests know where to turn into your church location?

#3 Parking Lot: Do guests know where to park?

#4 Building Entrance: Do guests know which door to enter?

#5 Children’s Ministry: Do guests know where to take their kids?

#6 Welcome Center: Do guest know where to go for more information?

#7 Worship: Do guests know which door to enter?

*** Do you have these 7 checkpoints covered at your church?

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.

As you know, I consult with churches across the nation. I love doing this and since I’m not currently on staff full-time at a local church, I get to do this more frequently (and it provides for my family). My friend, Alan Danielson, recently blogged about hiring a consultant. He’s a great consultant, too and the small groups guru for the Church. I suggest you get to know him. He’s in my blogroll to the right. Check out what he said in a recent blog post:

In my line of work I’ve learned there are three primary reasons people don’t hire consultants:

  1. They think they can’t afford a consultant.
  2. They think they don’t need advice from someone who isn’t living in their shoes.
  3. They don’t think they have time to mess with consulting and coaching.

Here’s why these three assumptions are wrong:

  1. Consultants are often willing to negotiate rates.  Consultants would rather work for a discounted rate than not work.  If you don’t like the rates they offer, make a counter offer.  Maybe they’d be willing to use some of their airline miles or stay in your extra bedroom.  Maybe they’ll knock off a percentage in exchange for some word-of-mouth advertising.
  2. Consultants bring a fresh perspective. Sometimes the best advice comes from people who aren’t walking in your shoes.  It’s easy to get so caught up in your own circumstances that you can’t see your blind spots.  Consultants can see those blind spots quickly and help you avoid them.
  3. Consultants help you earn your pay. The leader is an organization’s greatest asset.   You invest in your team because they are a great asset.  You invest in marketing, product development and customer relations because all of these are assets.  Sadly, most leaders spend little or no money investing in themselves.  What a tragedy!!  Without great leadership your organization will go nowhere.  You can’t afford NOT to hire a consultant.  Hiring a consultant is like bringing a conference to you…a custom-made conference just for your context.  Consultants make you better and what you do and therefore make you worth your salary.

Think about the biggest problem you are facing right now.  A consultant can help with that!  Think about the toughest leadership decision you’re facing right now.  A consultant can help with that!

Consultants can help you figure out:

  • Why your organization isn’t growing
  • Why you have a staff-revolving-door
  • Why your customers are leaving
  • Why people don’t seem to listen to you
  • Why people don’t see how truly great your product is
  • Why people are leaving your church for the one down the street
  • Why you loved your job last year and hate it today
  • Why ____________________ (fill in the blank)

Consultants are strategic leadership doctors!  So hire a consultant or coach and do it this week!  If you wait excuses will creep up and keep you from making a great leadership choice.  Whether it’s myself or someone else, figure out how and when to hire a consultant…you’ll be making a tragic leadership mistake if you don’t.

*** It’s Greg: This past Sunday I did a secret shopper for NorthStar – a great church in Atlanta. I’d love to secret shop your church. Get me in touch with your pastor.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the variety of guest posts lately. I’ve enjoyed them and they’ve really freed me up to write. My book has 40 chapters. I’ve written 37 of them and will hope to finish the book this week.

I’ve also been traveling. Last weekend I did a secret shopper in Kansas City and last week I spoke at the National Church Music Conference in Indianapolis. This weekend I’ll be doing another secret shopper in Sacramento, CA.

The church in KC was a medium size church of 300 people. The church in Sacramento is a church of over 10,000. Large or small – the secret shopper is a wise investment. You can always do what you do better and be more sensitive and effective to reaching lost people. If you’re interested, contact me – I’d love to help your church.

Tomorrow, I’ll be writing (today, too) and I’ll let you enjoy another guest post.

SeacoastMobile

In July of 2008 I was speaking to a group of Church leaders in Santa Cruz, California. I held my phone (this was just before I got my iPhone) up in my hand and I said, “This is the future.”

It’s been a year and a half and mobile technology is the “now”, not the future. My friend, Bobby Gruenwald, Innovation Pastor at LifeChurch.tv, constantly encourages his staff to think global and mobile – global and mobile.

I’m currently working with churches and organizations on helping them to create, dream and plan strategies around mobile technology. Your people are constantly becoming one with their phone (for good or bad) and it’s a reality that we need to be intentional about speaking their language. Again, as I’ve said before: we are digital missionaries.

As you know, I work often as a Secret Shopper/Mystery Worshiper. The first thing I check is the church’s website. The second thing I do is pull up their website on my iPhone. I have recommended several times that church’s follow the lead of Seacoast Church and get a mobile version of their website. I applaud and praise Seacoast for blazing a trail in this area. My hat’s off to my friend Shawn Wood and his team. Well done! If you have your phone handy (and I know you do) – pull up Seacoast’s website on it.

My church (and many others) send out text messages to attenders and members that opt in. My church also encourages you to text in questions and decisions that you may make as a response to the message. Many churches are utilizing text and SMS during services as an interactive piece. As I’ve blogged about before, many churches are using the free service from YouVersion Live.

I’ll be talking more in the near future about other mobile strategies and tools. In the meantime, if you and your church would like to strategize and put together a comprehensive plan that includes Web 2.0 tools, mobile technology, social media and social networking – give me a shout. My only goal is to help and equip you to speak the language of the people you’re trying to reach (digital missionaries).