“The Pastor Had a Passion for What He Was Teaching”—Lessons From a Mystery Visit

An unchurched person reports on an unannounced visit to a local church. Could it be yours?

A 50-something unchurched female visits Gateway Fellowship Church in San Antonio, Texas—this year’s Outreach 100 No. 1 fastest-growing church—on July 10, 2016, at 9 a.m.

4 stars out of 5

What was it like when you entered the building?
A parking attendant welcomed me as I exited my car. A couple who served as greeters asked if it was my first visit. The husband escorted me to a woman who asked for my information and handed me a bag. When I entered the sanctuary, another woman handed me a bulletin. She noted that services would begin soon.

Was it obvious where the children’s ministry was located and that it was clean, secure and well-staffed?
The church offered a nursery and had other activities for children up to fifth grade. My grandchildren would enjoy their time there because it looked like a fun and safe place for young children.

Did you observe anything that would lead you to believe that the church values diversity?
The service crossed generational, financial and racial boundaries. The congregation consisted of people who had different economic levels and races. The videos on the website had different ethnic groups. This church reaches out to all walks of life.

Describe the service.
The music was contemporary, loud and energetic. They had a six-piece band with three singers. The ceiling lights moved around, and fog floated on the stage. The 20-minute sermon was on faith. The pastor spoke about Elijah, who had faith and did not quit. The concept was easy to understand and presented in small doses with each verse. The main speaker was prepared and comfortable with the topic. The pastor had a screen on the stage so he could point to various phrases he wanted to emphasize.

Overall, how friendly would you say the church was to you during your visit?
The greeters were friendly and the website mentioned “welcome” often. I observed people walking up and down the aisles hugging and shaking hands. After the services, I did not feel that extension of fellowship. If I were a regular member, I would fit right in.

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Would you return to the church?
While I enjoyed the sermon, I prefer a more reverent service. I would not return due to the loud music and irritation from the fog machine. The auditorium was extremely cold. The sermon was good and the pastor had a passion for what he was teaching, but it felt more like entertainment than church to me. I would recommend anyone to this church that appeals to all ages, but it is geared towards the 30 and younger audience.

Additional Observations

Was the nearby community aware of the church?
I stopped at a discount tire store and inquired about the church. The man I spoke to didn’t know anything about the church. He was not able to tell me anything.

How was the seating?
They had a plentiful supply of comfortable plastic seats. Everyone sat close together with the front rows filling up first.

How recognizable was the church signage?
A large sign was on the Frontage Road. I turned right and followed the road to the church. I saw no need for signs along the path as there were no turns. The path led me straight to the church. I do not recall seeing a sign outside advertising the times of the services. They had plenty of parking. The entry was manned by two people, and the door was open. A woman served as a parking attendant. The signage throughout the building was visible and easy to read. I could see where services for children and adults were held. The café, den, office and restroom signs were also easy to see.

How was the post service atmosphere?
We exited the chapel at 10:02 a.m. Everyone exited the sanctuary as quickly as possible, and many stood around in the hallway talking and texting. I was not spoken to or approached by anyone after the service until I started to step out the front door at 10:09 a.m. and a lady came up to me and asked how I enjoyed it. She made small talk and thanked me for coming to the church.

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How would you rate the information resources?
The unexpected gift served as a nice way to welcome visitors. The website was clean and easy to navigate. The website had directions to the church that were useful for a first timer. The section “New Here” was helpful for a visitor. It gave me an idea of what to expect and what to wear. I also gleaned the pastor’s name from the website. The website mentioned “Small Group.” I would like to have seen what the lesson was about, so I could have read the Scriptures before I attended church. After services, a man was standing near the den that read “Small Group.” However, no one personally invited me or told me about the small group. One couple had on T-shirts that said something about Jesus belonging to a small group. The bulletin was on point and gave dates of upcoming events. It also had a list of church leaders and their email addresses, which would allow a new member or visitor to contact them. The woman who gave me the gift invited me to fill out the information card. I filled out the card and returned it to her immediately.

What is your overall impression?
The church was clean and inviting. The website was easy to maneuver. The greeters were friendly and helpful. The pastor was passionate and prepared, although I never saw him before or after services greeting or talking with the members or visitors. That little personal touch would have told me that he was interested in the members/visitors. On July 13, I received a welcome email.

Adapted from a report provided by Faith Perceptions, which has evaluated more than 3,500 worship services across the United States. Visit FaithPerceptions.com.