“They Could Do More to Reach Their Community”—Lessons From a Mystery Visit

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

A 40-something unchurched female visits a medium-sized church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on Aug. 23, 2016, at 9:15 a.m.

3½ stars out of 5

What was it like when you entered the building?
The two people chatting near the entrance turned and looked at me, but did not greet me. A gentleman sincerely welcomed me in a friendly way. No one appeared to be a designated greeter.

Was it obvious where the children’s ministry was located and that it was clean, secure and well-staffed?
They mentioned the nursery was available on Sunday mornings and that they had a Wednesday evening activity for young children. I don’t have enough information to evaluate their ability to care for a child.

Did you observe anything that would lead you to believe that the church values diversity?
Although the church had a good age mix, the group was primarily Caucasian. I saw no effort that reached out to the other ethnic communities in the ethnically diverse neighborhood. The website had information about a local ministry that participates in the farmers’ market and another program where small groups serve the community.

Describe the service.
Most of the contemporary music was live and the musicians sincere. The people were engaged and most sang. They projected the lyrics on a screen at the front of the church. The pastor invited everyone to greet one another. People shook my hand, greeted me and introduced themselves. The 25-minute message was about Jonah and how he was so focused on himself that he missed God’s vision. It was easy to understand and moderately enjoyable. He had an appealing, informal and enthusiastic speaking style. However, he used the word “like” too much. At the end of the sermon, they showed an effective music video.

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Overall, how friendly would you say the church was to you during your visit?
A couple of people were friendly and sweet. It would have been better if the pastor had approached me in addition to the other two people. However, I don’t like to be bombarded with introductions in short succession, so it felt okay that only two people chatted with me.

Would you return to the church?
I would recommend the church, but they could do more to reach out to their community so the congregation could be more ethnically reflective of its neighborhood. If I were looking for this type of denomination, I would return because the general atmosphere was friendly and they seem well organized and sincere in their beliefs and worship.

Additional Observations

Was the nearby community aware of the church?
I stopped at a nearby convenience store and spoke with two clerks. They did not know where the church was and did not understand what church I was looking for.

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?
The exterior sign was clearly visible and easy to read. I was able to find parking on the street right next to the church. I did not see a sign for any parking lot. The service time was posted. I didn’t see a restroom sign or children’s area when I walked in, but I quickly found the entrance to the sanctuary. The bulletin had directions in it about where to find restrooms. Also, the bulletin directed visitors to the Welcome Center to find a map for directions to the children’s area.

How was the post service atmosphere?
Two women greeted me and were friendly. One of them in particular showed an interest in me and briefly told me of her own personal history with the church. She invited me to coffee and donuts in the basement. I declined, but she was nice. The post service atmosphere was friendlier since two people made a point of approaching me, introducing themselves, and chatting with me. This made me feel like a part of the group and also more positive about potentially returning to the church.

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How would you rate the information resources?
They had a card in the bulletin to leave my information, but I did not leave contact information. Also, the pastor invited newcomers to go to the Welcome Center to receive a gift, but I did not visit the Welcome Center. The website was appealing and informative and easy to navigate with an up-to-date listing of current service times and events. It also described their mission, beliefs, and values. Adding photos of the people who attend the church at their events would make it more relatable and inviting.

What is your overall impression?
The pastor stated that newcomers should go to the Welcome Center to receive a gift. I suggest that he specifically verbalize a welcome to newcomers and invite them to speak with him or other church leaders after the service.

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