Tales of an Unchurched Mystery Guest

“I felt welcomed from the start…the people I interacted with seemed sincerely glad that I was there visiting.” (click to tweet)

Do you ever wonder why someone visits your church but doesn’t come back for a second visit? A lot of churches wonder the same thing. Our Mystery Guest Program helps you see your church through the eyes of a visitor and helps improve the hospitality experience for guests.

Each month we feature a unique first-time guest experience we’ve read about from one of the many mystery guests we send into churches. This month’s mystery guest experience comes from a 64-year-old unchurched male who visited a church in Houston recently… 

Is the Church Well-Known in the Area?
I stopped at a Shell Service Station approximately one mile from the church. I was unable to receive any info about the church where I stopped. The employee I spoke with was unaware of the church. The church might improve its community awareness by utilizing radio and newspaper ads and having church members get out and talk with the community at large.

Could You Find Your Way?
Upon entering at the main sign (clearly visible) the most helpful signage was for the visitor parking. I was able to pull in and park directly in front of the sanctuary entrance. I did not see a sign showing the worship times on the outside of the building. It may be helpful to post these times for people stopping by on days other than Sunday when the sanctuary is closed. Although I was able to locate the restroom upon entering, there were no signs directing me to its location. It would be more direct to have a sign with an arrow directing the way. I saw no signage for the Children’s/Youth Ministry other than an exterior sign for the education building. This is a very large campus and explicit signage showing the direction to each area of the church would be helpful.

The First Impression
Two men were standing at the entrance to the sanctuary and greeting each person as they approached the door. I was offered a “Good Morning, welcome,” and the door was opened for me. I am assuming these were volunteers. I was also greeted by a woman once I was seated in a pew. She was very friendly, made me feel welcome, and asked if I was a visitor. I saw later that she was the one who formally greeted the newcomers/visitors from the pulpit prior to the service beginning. I felt very welcome throughout the pre-service period starting with the greeting just prior to entering the sanctuary door. Once inside, everyone I saw acknowledged me, saying “Welcome” or “Good Morning.” I was very impressed with the woman who came over to greet me once I was seated in the pew. She was very friendly, warm, and upbeat. There was also time taken for everyone in attendance to stand and greet the people around them just before the service began.

Finding a Seat
The pews were beautifully designed and very comfortable with thick cushions. The sanctuary is very large and had ample seating choices. The use of large-screen monitors and loudspeakers provided easy sight and sound throughout the service.

The Music/Worship
The musicians and choir were well-rehearsed and did a good job with the music selections. The band consisted of a guitar, bass, and piano. It may be of benefit to include additional instruments. For example, drums, another guitar or violin, flute, etc. I would prefer a more contemporary sound.

 Greeting During the Service
I was impressed with the greeting I received during the service. There was a formal greeting from the pulpit for newcomers following which the congregation was asked to stand and greet the people around them. A suggestion is to ask visitors who are so inclined to meet after the service where volunteers would be available to answer any questions they may have and to meet some of the existing church members.

The Message
The sermon had to do with as we give back to others, we become less absorbed in our self-ego and it becomes a humbling experience.  The congregation was advised to keep a gratitude journal of people, places, churches, and books that have had a positive impact on their lives. It is easy to get caught up in self and ego in the daily cycle of life’s business and pressures and anxiety can abound. Taking time out to observe and sense the cycle of giving and receiving and giving of yourself to others can lessen the influence of the ego. A suggestion would be to include more examples and suggestions to lessen the strain of ego in our everyday lives.

The Speaker
The service included a speaker who read from the Bible and a woman who gave a formal greeting to visitors. Visual aids consisted of large video screens where music lyrics and Bible passages were displayed. A suggestion would be for the speaker to include some humor and more personal stories and anecdotes to increase interest in the sermon.

What About Kids?
The service I attended asked children to come to the front of the sanctuary to receive a special children’s message. It was effective and all in attendance were alert and interested. The message for the children was regarding giving, specifically putting money into the offering basket as it is passed around. An anecdote was described of a man who had no money, so he stepped inside the offering basket saying, “Lord, I have no money, so I am offering you my whole self.” I found this to be very descriptive. This was a very safe environment as the children met at the front of the sanctuary and were accompanied by their parents.

What Happened After the Service?
Everyone remained friendly as they filed out of the sanctuary, smiling and saying hello. Everyone seemed cheerful and in a positive mood following the sermon. A suggestion would be to have newcomers who are so inclined to meet with church members and answer any questions they may have.

Friendliness of the Church:
I felt welcomed from the start, having been greeted at the door before entering the sanctuary. The people I interacted with seemed sincerely glad that I was there visiting and, when asked to stand and greet our neighbors prior to the service start, I was warmly greeted. It would be especially nice if some who greeted me prior to the start of the service were to follow up with a conversation after the end of the service.

Information About the Church:
The website and social media are current and inclusive of all facets of church business and offerings including sections for newcomers, worship services, getting involved, ministries, events, groups, volunteer opportunities, resources, and media, “What We Believe,” directions, contacts, and a campus map. The directions and particularly the campus map are especially helpful to the first-time guest as the church has a very large campus. It may be helpful to have a method for a member to join one of the groups or volunteer opportunities online and a name and contact for those in charge of same. Talking with a staff member or church member would help me most in becoming familiar with the church as well as attending the groups and classes listed in the bulletin I was given at the visitor booth. Any questions one might have can be answered at the visitor booth. It was in the lobby of the sanctuary although I saw nobody attending the booth before the service began. It was, however, open after the service ended.

Outreach Opportunities
The church’s outreach programs are wide-ranging, including domestic and foreign. Some of the outreach efforts include a food pantry, elementary school tutoring, a mission to prevent and end homelessness for families with children in the school district, and a hospital in Kenya. Respite care is provided for the caregivers of Alzheimer’s, dementia, and stroke patients, and they have a partnership in Costa Rica. The church serves alongside a local church as they reach out to the community. It would be helpful to make more people aware of the various outreach programs in order to reach more volunteers and those in need of the services.

Church Follow-Up
There was a method to leave my contact information, but I chose not to do so.

Likelihood of Returning to the Church: Very Likely
This church has a lot to offer and I would definitely consider returning for future visits. The members and staff were welcoming, and I felt valued and relaxed during my visit. There is something for everyone here: volunteering options, classes, and groups of your choosing and much more.

Likelihood of Recommending the Church: Very Likely
I would highly recommend this church. It has everything to offer: programs, classes, groups, and volunteer groups. I found the congregation and staff to be particularly friendly and welcoming.

The Last Impression
It would be very helpful for the church to provide campus tours for newcomers. Pairing up a church member with a visitor on a one-to-one basis would be beneficial. I was impressed with the relaxed atmosphere and welcoming attitudes of the members and staff. I would suggest making the community more aware of the church through notices via newspaper, radio, or tv, so as to attract visitors and new members. The church has a lot to offer and people need to be made aware of it.


Because of this mystery guest visit, the church now knows that the guest felt very welcome, but there are still some opportunities for improvement. No church is perfect, right? Thanks to the perspective of this guest, the church has helpful suggestions for making the community more aware of its presence. Do you want to know what guests experience at your church? Let Faith Perceptions find out for you. Our desire is to help churches become a welcoming and comfortable place for guests and the unchurched.

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