“They Were Kind and Enthusiastic”—Lessons From a Mystery Visit

—A 20-something femal visits a 1,000-attendee church in Birmingham, Ala., on Oct . 13, 2013, at 9 a.m.
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OVERALL SCORE
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What was it like when you entered the building?

Since I was unfamiliar with the church, I was unsure where to go and there was also no clear signage where I entered. Fortunately, the doors opened and an older gentleman waved me over, handed me a bulletin and pointed us in the proper direction.
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Was it obvious where the children’s ministry was located and that it was clean, secure and well-staffed?

Considering the kindness and warmth of the people, and the cleanliness of the church, I would feel comfortable leaving a child in the church ’s care. As long as kids have their friends and an outlet for creativity and energy, they will enjoy themselves, whether they take Sunday school lessons to heart or not. I am less certain what the church offered for older youth.
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Did you observe anything that would lead you to believe that the church values diversity?

Diversity at the church was limited to age. I saw many families, a large number of children and an equal number of adults and elders. More than 90 percent of the congregation was white. I saw no information seeking to diversify the church.
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Describe the service.

Accompanied by an organist, the choir sang traditional hymns. The song leader and congregation sang various anthems, gospels and prayers throughout the service. It sounded truly spectacular in such a large space. The sermon lasted about 15 minutes. The pastor told the story of Jesus cleansing 10 lepers. The pastor repeated the phrase “Before and After.” He drove home the point of giving thanks when you notice that your “after” is considerably better than your “before.” My father remarked that it touched him. The pastor’s humor and a personal anecdote he shared made him more approachable, like he was a friend rather than an infallible pastor.
*****

Overall, how friendly would you say the church was to you during your visit?

I didn’t feel neglected or ignored, and I appreciated not being bombarded with people. When people spoke to me, they were kind and enthusiastic. They were sincerely glad to have me as a visitor.
*****

Would you return to the church?

If I had any interest in the faith, I would return to this church and encourage others to attend. The church and music were absolutely beautiful. The people were kind and welcoming, and the sermon kept my interest. I would prefer attending their later program with its contemporary music and modern bands.
*****

An unchurched person reports on an unannounced visit to a local church. Adapted from a report provided by Faith Perceptions, which has evaluated more than 2,500 worship services across the United States. Visit FaithPerceptions.com.

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