Tales Of An “Unchurched” Mystery Guest

man alone in churchThe guest reveals… “This is the first church I have ever been to where I felt weird about going to a new church.”

It is not uncommon for a church to see a new face on Sunday or for some churches many new faces.  Do you ever wonder why some people do or don’t return for a second or third visit? We did too. Through our Mystery Guest Program we find people that aren’t regularly attending church and send them to church so that we can learn from their experiences. Each month we feature a unique guest experience.

Here are the first impressions of a 30-yr. old “unchurched” female who attended church services at a church in Louisiana.

Is the church well-known in the area?

Based on the number of people I stopped and asked it’s not very well known. Two out of the three people asked didn’t know whether it was downtown or on the left or the right side of the road.

Could you find your way?

The main sign for the church was on the front lawn and they had a banner out front, as well, informing about the contemporary service. I saw a sign that said fellowship but there were no specifics as to where church parking was, or which door would take me exactly where I needed to go. The windows were all tinted, so I couldn’t see inside to find where the correct place was I needed to go. It would have made it easier and better to navigate if all main locations were on one sign and arrows directing the way.

The first impression:

This is the first church I’ve ever been to where I felt weird about going to a new church. The church atmosphere starting from the outside wasn’t very inviting. There wasn’t anyone standing at the door, or any door for that matter, to greet anyone. It almost looked like a school on the inside. The janitor was the only person I saw walking through the halls and even he looked at me like I wasn’t supposed to be there. I had to ask him where the fellowship hall was located. I walked into the fellowship hall and there was no one at the door like at other churches handing out bulletins, or even greeting guests. There were boxes of donuts as soon as you walk through the doors of the fellowship hall. I looked around for a table with bulletins or some sort of information and all I found was a table in the back with coloring pages for children and a paper with a list of events for the month and the times of service through the week, etc. I didn’t have anyone come up to me to greet me or speak to me.

Finding a seat:

There was plenty of good seating where I wanted to sit, and the seats were comfortable. The small number of people attending though made me feel like the church isn’t growing. I simply took a seat in the back after picking up the papers I did find. I didn’t feel very comfortable at all like I think I should in a church. I think they may have a better turn out if there were some type of interaction with the guests.

The music/worship:

I liked the style of worship music played and sung. It was more of today’s contemporary style. There wasn’t anything specific that I’d say impacted me really any different than any other service I’ve attended.

In-service greeting:

The Pastor instructed people to say hello to everyone. The pastor opened the service by saying good morning to everyone. There wasn’t any specific or special welcome, just a brief explanation of the agenda for that morning.

The message:

The message was mainly about the graduating students of 2018 and about making choices. The message was based on making the right decisions in life and knowing what’s right and what’s wrong and how our decisions will affect our daily lives. I really don’t have any suggestions on how they could have made the message better. I’d say they touched on the relative basis of our everyday lives.

The speaker:

The Pastor was the main speaker for most of the service and the one who delivered the message. I felt as if she was sincere and encouraging and felt very confident about her message.

What about kids?

It seemed as if they were very engaged with the children’s/youth ministries based on the pictures, posts and videos of the children’s activities and learnings that I came across on the website and social media. I was glad to see that the children and youth were active in the church. I didn’t really think that a coloring page should be handed out with what they call bulletins. I think the children should probably have a separate service during this time where they would have a message (same as the adults) but it would be better explained and broken down to where they are able to fully comprehend everything being taught.

What happened after the service?

I wasn’t acknowledged as a guest or a visitor. Everyone once again congregated amongst themselves as the younger youth and kids all rushed out of the hall. I would suggest that in the future they should have a greeter at the doors at the end of service, as well as before, thanking the guests for coming and inviting them back and ask them if they had any questions, maybe even offering them the contact information for someone who would be able to connect with guests.

Friendliness of the church:

I would say that the overall friendliness of the congregation was neutral. I didn’t encounter anyone jumping with joy for having a new visitor, nor did I receive any negative vibes or interaction.

Information about the church:

Online there was information about what services they offer as far as children’s church and the youth groups including what time they meet and what activities they have this month and this summer. At the church, I didn’t find too much information as I thought I would have in a bulletin or flyer. I did, however, find a paper that had prayer requests on it and the upcoming services and a coloring page for kids. It may also be a good idea to add another section in the bulletin that gives a summary of each service, such as the order in which things will be discussed and or presented. That may make the visitors feel a little more welcome and comfortable and want to come back because of the positive feeling they felt during the first visit.

Outreach opportunities:

I don’t recall any outreach mentioned or talked about. They may think about coming up with some ideas and/or events to help develop their relationship with the community, such as a yard sale or bake sale or even a festival type event. I didn’t see much information regarding any type of outreach.

Church follow-up:

The church had a way for me to leave my contact info for additional information or follow-up, but I decided not to leave it.

Overall experience:

My experience was somewhat poor. I suggest they get involved more with guests and the community. They seem like they may be a little closed-in.

Likelihood of return: unlikely

They didn’t seem very welcoming to new guests. They may just be used to their own members. But I would feel more likely to return if they were more inviting and had more to offer as far as events to help spread the word on what they are about and how they want to help the community.

Likelihood of recommending the church: unlikely

There wasn’t much life or involvement from this church that really stood out to me and made an impact for me to want to return or recommend this church to others.

The last impression:

My experience was somewhat poor. I suggest they get involved more with guests and the community. They seem like they may be a little closed-in.

With the help of the mystery guest program, this church is now aware of its strengths and its opportunities to improve the first-time guest experience.  Curious what guests are thinking when they leave your church? Let Faith Perceptions find out for you. Our desire is to help churches become a welcoming place for guests and church that invites the unchurched.

5 Ways to Keep Ministries Alive in the Summer

In our last blog, we covered the dos and don’ts of changing service times at your church. But what about those churches that cancel almost everything during the summer?

I recently read about a church that shuts down their entire church during the month of July every year. This is to encourage the congregation to spend time connecting with their families. They don’t offer Bible studies, student ministry, or even a Sunday morning service during this time. Similarly, in the summer months, many churches consolidate worship services, shut down discipleship (small groups, bible studies, and student ministry, etc.) because they see a decline in attendance. They also face many of their dedicated volunteers throughout the year wanting to take a break from leading and serving to vacation or spend time with family.

While there are significant benefits to taking a break and being with your family, I would argue that churches may be missing a chance to connect in a deeper way with people who are finally able to start attending a church in the summer months because the busyness of the school year has finally slowed down. When they come, not being able to experience the full ministries of the church could deter them from coming back again. Furthermore, the very action of stopping those ministries sends a message that taking a break from communal worship and faith formation is okay.

Furthermore, the very action of stopping those ministries sends a message that taking a break from communal worship and faith formation is okay.

There are ways to keep your church’s ministries alive in the summer while still creating margin for rest and family time. 

  1. Take a short break. Jeff Moran, Pastor of Students and Missions at Lynwood Baptist Church stated, “I do think it is appropriate to take a short break at the end of the school year…in my opinion, no longer than two weeks.” Having this short break in your ministries gives everyone a chance to rest, but then hopefully will bring people back revitalized and ready to continue ministry. Cutting ministries eliminates an outreach opportunity to those seeking out a church. Keeping ministries going increases your opportunity for reaching more people, especially our youth, who need more positive options to counter the negative ones they are facing daily.

  2. Focus on who came. Right now, you might be thinking that your church cuts summer services because hardly anyone shows up. Does it really matter if only 20 people show up to worship on Sunday morning or to a youth group on Wednesday night? It shouldn’t. Those 20 people obviously want to be there. Remember, Jesus started with a following of only 12 and look how his ministry spread. Rather than focus on who isn’t there, your church can concentrate on who is there. Sometimes it’s nice to have a smaller group of people to worship with, and this can be a time where you create a more intimate service with acoustic worship and time for prayer. A smaller group (assuming it is smaller) also allows you to create more opportunities for connection with others. 

keeping ministries alive summer (2) (2)

  1. Know Your Options. In one breath, we are saying don’t cut ministries, but in another, we also need to acknowledge how hard our pastors, church staff, and volunteers work serving throughout the year, and could really use a break. If your regular volunteers need a break, start recruiting early for others to step in and take their place. There are people in your church who may not commit to serving during the school year but are willing to pinch hit during the summer months to give others a break. Summer is also a great time to bring in guest speakers, and sources like RightNow Media offer video-driven studies that your church can participate in together with minimal preparation on the part of your pastor. 
  1. Provide Variety. Maybe it’s important for your church to switch it up and try out a new way of doing things during the summer. Moran had this to say about how he changes up student ministries over the summer: “Providing variety with your summer schedule is a good thing because I think it breaks the monotony of doing the same thing as you do during the school year. I also think it provides some excitement, and when students get excited about something, they are more likely to invite a friend.” Lower pressure events are a great gateway experience that can lead to someone attending your church. 
  1. Be Intentional. When asked about why he chooses to have an ongoing youth ministry in the summer, Moran said, “Students need consistency and encouragement. We continue to meet in the summer to help students be consistent in their relationship with the Lord and in their relationship with other students…Our relationship with God doesn’t stop with the summer, so we do not want to give the impression to students that they should take the summer off.This really goes for everyone, not just students. By keeping your church services and ministries going through the summer months, you set the tone that connecting with God matters all throughout the year not just during the school year.

Our relationship with God doesn’t stop with the summer, so we do not want to give the impression to students that they should take the summer off.

Does your church keep its ministries alive in the summer or have you found an approach that works better? Let us know in the comments.


About Faith Perceptions
Faith Perceptions is a market research firm that provides churches and faith-based organizations with research about their target market. We send ‘unchurched’ mystery guests into churches across the country each week to report back to us on what their experiences are like. We use this information to help churches improve the way they welcome and connect with people. Faith Perceptions has been evaluating the first-time guest experience since 2008.

Does Back to School Mean Back to Church?

If you were to ask pastors how their church attendance is affected during the summer months, most would probably admit to seeing a “summer slump” that can last through Labor Day. It’s not unusual for people to be busier during the summer with camps, vacations, family time, and sleeping in just because they can. These things aren’t necessarily bad, but they

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