“Everyone Was Friendly and Smiling”—Lessons From a Mystery Visit

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

A 39-year-old unchurched female visits a medium-sized church in a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri, on Jan. 22, 2017, at 10:30 a.m.


What was it like when you entered the building?
Greeters quickly welcomed us with warm smiles, eye contact and a hello. My daughter and I wanted to know where to take the grandkids. We found a room with some kids who were finishing a Bible study. We met a lady there, who took us to the children’s church.

Was it obvious where the children’s ministry was located and that it was clean, secure and well-staffed?
The children’s church was appropriate for children under age 12. My son, who is 15, stayed with us. We checked my older daughter’s two kids in to the children’s church. They asked for her name, the kids’ names, plus their ages. When she picked them up, she had to initial a form. I did not see the nursery, but my daughter and I felt comfortable leaving them with the staff. My grandkids said that they had a good time. My 5-year-old grandson said he learned about Jesus and God.

Did you observe anything that would lead you to believe that the church values diversity?
I saw both old and young people, Caucasian and African-American. This church has a partnership with a home healthcare program. I don’t know exactly what this program does and I did not see any other community outreach.

Describe the service.
The music was blended. The band and choir were sincere and the congregation sang along, but it went on for a long time. Although it wasn’t a style of worship I enjoyed, middle-aged and older adults would appreciate it. The pastor welcomed visitors and encouraged the congregation to greet them. They proceeded to walk around and hug visitors. The pastor spoke of how we have to humble ourselves and about how great God was and how we have to prepare for his return. The 45-minute message felt long to me, but the concept was easy to grasp. It was relevant to my life because we should all be humble. I enjoyed the message. The pastor was well-prepared and comfortable speaking. He used Scripture to deliver the message, but no other visual aids.

Overall, how friendly would you say the church was to you during your visit?
Everyone was friendly and smiling.

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Would you return to the church?
I would recommend this church to older adults because of how close the congregation seemed. I would return to this church because I felt welcomed, but the service was extremely long and the 45 minutes of music and 45-minute message was not my style. I arrived at the church at 10:20 a.m. and did not leave until 12:45 p.m. Overall though, we felt welcomed and the members were happy. We really appreciated that a lady helped us find the children’s ministry and she was pleasant.

Additional Observations

Was the nearby community aware of the church?
I stopped at a local doughnut shop. The first associate had never heard of the church. I asked if she would ask another associate. The other associate was a member of the church but did not offer any information about the church. She gave me directions.

How was the seating?
The seats were a bit narrower than I’m used to, although they were at least padded. However, the cushion was not attached, so I partially slid off the seat a few times. I arrived early to have many choices of seating. Once the service started, the sanctuary was nearly filled and everyone sat close together.

How recognizable was the church signage?
The only exterior sign I saw was the main sign with the church’s name. They did not have the worship times listed. They did not have any interior signage that was visible either. I just followed the lead of those in front of me. Additional signage would have been helpful for the exterior and the interior to find the children’s ministry. A lady from the church guided us, but signage is needed in case someone wasn’t there to show us.

How was the post-service atmosphere?
They thanked us for visiting. The lady who was in charge of the children’s ministry was particularly helpful and friendly. Everyone was smiling and talking to each other. It made us feel like everyone was a big, happy family.

How would you rate the information resources?
This church has several different options for resources to stay connected. They offer a text message service and they had tables set up around the church with different materials about service programs and a calendar of events. They also had information about a home health care program. However, the website was plain and not helpful for first-time guests because there isn’t anything specifically for first-time guests to help us prepare for the service (i.e. children’s information, what to wear, etc.). At the start of the service, my daughter and I were both asked for our contact information including address and phone number. The Wednesday after the service, my daughter and I both received a postcard. The cards listed the upcoming service times. Since my daughter checked her children into the children’s ministry, she also left her information with them. She wished the children’s ministry would have reached out to her specifically, but she felt the follow-up was personal and timely and I would agree.

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What is your overall impression?
Everyone I encountered was pleasant and friendly. Everyone was smiling and talking to each other. However, the service was extremely long. I enjoyed the message about humility, as I’m working on being more humble. I like that the church has a home health-care program because that shows me that they care about the sick and shut-in. I would suggest they improve their signage, especially inside the church, there really wasn’t any helpful signage. For the website, the announcements on the front page moved slowly, it is a slideshow type of set-up, but it would be helpful to just have a full list that you can view one time or a full calendar that is user-friendly. Also, there was not much information to help us prepare for the service (i.e. children’s information, what to wear, etc.) so I would recommend adding that in an easy to locate area on their website.

Adapted from a report provided by Faith Perceptions, a ministry that sends unchurched visitors into churches to provide feedback on their experience. Visit FaithPerceptions.com.