Tales of an Unchurched Mystery Guest

“The message was about living daily life in the law of God and engaging others, yet I was not engaged…”  Click to Tweet

Do you wonder what a first-time guest experiences when they visit your church for the first time? A lot of churches wonder how guests are treated and what they can do to make the guest experience the best it can be. Our Mystery Guest Program helps you see your church through the eyes of a visitor.

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 32-year-old unchurched male who visited a church in a suburb of Atlanta…

 Is the Church Well-Known in the Area?
I stopped at a gas station approximately three minutes away from the church. The clerk at the gas station was not sure of the precise location of the church. The man very politely stopped what he was doing to try and help. He said, “I know there are lots of churches around here but I’m not sure where that one is exactly. You might just have to drive up and down the road here until you see the sign.”

Could You Find Your Way?
The church is a bit spread-out and maze-like, which can be confusing for a newcomer. I passed two printed pieces of paper in the stairwell that were taped to the wall with an arrow pointing the route and the word “sanctuary.” These pieces of paper were ineffective. They led me to doors into the side of the sanctuary during the middle of communion for the earlier service. I was rather embarrassed. On my way back downstairs to the service I was looking for, a lady introduced herself and guided me to the gymnasium. She stated, “We’ve been meaning to put some signs up out here,” which tells me the church is aware that although the campus may be small, navigating your way around it is rather confusing and the lack of signage only adds to that confusion.

The First Impression
My initial greeting was from a couple that asked me outside of the church if I was looking for someone. They were intuitive enough to see I was clearly disoriented in a new environment. Although they pointed me towards the sanctuary and the wrong service, I appreciate their efforts to engage with me. The lighting and temperature of the gymnasium were a bit dim and the room was cool. I would recommend more lighting in general, and some space heaters for the cool winter months. Although I did not partake in the table of refreshments, these items provided a welcoming touch.

Finding a Seat
The seating was quite roomy. Each individual cushioned seat was lined into rows of ten on each side with an aisle down the center for entrance/exit. I appreciate that the seats were cushioned and also large. I did not feel trapped or claustrophobic.

The Music/Worship
The band and vocalists were very talented. I could tell their musicianship was fluid and well-rehearsed as well as cohesive. Although I was not familiar with the song choices throughout the service, it was easy to follow along with the lyrics being projected above the stage/band. My only recommendation would be to add an upbeat/up-tempo song at the start and close of the service.

 Greeting During the Service
The initial welcome was given by the worship leader. It was short but sincere and was a nice segue into the first song of praise. A generalized welcome to guests without having them “stand and be recognized” is much appreciated.

The Message
The summary of the message was to keep the law of God in your heart, on your mind, and on your tongue, and you will be prosperous. I appreciate how the pastor took the time to read from the Bible and then relate the scripture to the point he was avid to make. A few of the jokes he made didn’t land well and were not funny given the congregation’s lack of reaction. The message was digested, but I did not leave wanting more.

The Speaker
The pastor was slightly monotone. A variance in speech and pattern helps keep the audience and congregation engaged. My suggestion in regard to the message is to take more pauses, change variance in speech, and have a brighter tone in vocals, thus keeping the audience engaged and interested.

What About Kids?
I was given the impression that the children and youth play a large part in this church and are important to its future. I think it’s important to include and recognize the children/youth in “big church” before they are invited off into their youth service time. This church did this, and it showed that the kids were well taken care of and the activities they are involved in are important to the church.

What Happened After the Service?
Everyone seemed ready to leave. I can understand this, but overall it gave me a sense of clique-ish mentality. The message was about living daily life in the law of God and engaging others, yet I was not engaged post-service. Perhaps something as simple as a volunteer or greeter at the doors on the way out to say good-bye or have a great week would leave people with a lasting positive impression.

Friendliness of the Church
While I was provided assistance in navigating my way around the church in search of the service location, the sincerity vibe I received from the overall congregation was lacking. I couldn’t help but feel like a bit of an outsider. There were no “hey how are?” exchanges, or even smiles for that matter. The atmosphere seemed rather sullen. Training and providing multiple greeters would make an outsider feel more at home and welcome. Encouraging the congregation to greet one another at the start of service would also help.

Information About the Church:
The first thing I noticed upon browsing the church’s Facebook page is that the last post was made over a month ago. We live in the age of technology and the lack of posts in over a month raises questions for me. The church website gives off an amateur and outdated vibe as well. Although relatively easy to navigate, the content is certainly lacking. I would have loved to see more photos of what the church is currently involved in both within its walls and outside in the community rather than just generic stock graphics. A layout of the church grounds/buildings would be exceptionally helpful in navigating the campus on both their website and social media page. And a formal welcome area would be ideal for newcomers interested in this church.

Outreach Opportunities
Perusing the back of the bulletin, I found there is a dinner and classes offered on Wednesday evenings. Proceeds for this go to a school they sponsor in another country. The only community outreach-based activity that I saw printed in the bulletin is about a four-day mission trip to help hurricane victims in the state. I would love to readily see more information about what this church is doing for their community and state. While I’m sure there are other community efforts happening behind the scenes, they are not apparent on their website or in their bulletin.

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: Somewhat Likely
I would love to return to this location after a period of time to see if modifications and improvements were made in the overall Sunday worship experience. It feels like a work in progress with potential

Likelihood of Recommending the Church: Somewhat Likely
I may recommend this church to someone with children who is active in Christ and eager to learn and grow.

The Last Impression
Overall, my take is that this church is in a transition phase. My suggestions are to improve signage. Feeling disoriented and confused upon arrival at the church is not a pleasant start to the overall experience. They should also teach and guide volunteers to engage with newcomers. For the service itself, they need to modernize. While you can still remain traditional in some areas, transforming the contemporary service and environment into a welcoming space would make it more appealing.

Because of this mystery guest visit, this church is now aware of some opportunities for improvement. It’s okay to be a work in progress…most churches are! The important thing is to not let your guests continue to feel “lost” in your church. 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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