25 Years of Being a Secret Shopper Worshiper

25 Years of Being a Secret Shopper Worshiper
Doug Lawrence

25 Years of Being a “Secret Shopper Worshiper”
10 easily corrected things I found…is this your church?

Who’s checking your church for “chinks in the armor?” It’s important to identify and do something about them. For 25 years I’ve enjoyed the occasional foray into sister churches to act as an objective “chink finder.” My checklist for effectiveness has over 100 items on it, but I’m just going to share some impressions that have occurred way too often in my experience!

I didn’t intend to be a “secret shopper,” it just sort of happened. Twenty-five years ago my pastor called me into his office to talk about a newspaper article he had been reading about the retail industry and how cleverly they were sending paid stealth shoppers into the field to ferret out bad practices in their retail stores. The pastor thought maybe we should do the same sort of investigation at our church.

So, I found someone (non-Christian) to help with the task and, I must say, he was thrilled at the possibility that he might find out about some horrible secrets we were hiding or maybe even learn about our clandestine rituals and human sacrifices! He was very disappointed to find zero weird stuff, and about two weeks later started attending the church regularly. That was a good outcome, but the great lesson for us (and everyone in our congregation) was that we should all be “watching the store” a little more closely.

I spoke of this experience at a church conference many years ago and over time I’ve been asked dozens of times to come to various churches and report on my objective observations. This is a list of some of concerns I reported to one church’s staff and elders. Remember, that by the time I gave them their debrief, we were speaking very candidly.

1. I believe you think that your church is very friendly, but not one person greeted me in the hour and a half I spent with you.

2. Your signage is similar to a country club’s golf course—no information. At a CC the members all know everything there is to know about every hole on the course, so signage is usually not needed. At your church, I ended up feeling like I was in a club and didn’t know the secret handshake. I couldn’t find an adult class I wanted to attend and finally gave up. The truth is, I couldn’t even find the men’s room.

3. The folks at Willow Creek told us years ago that visitors don’t like it when we talk about money during services. That’s probably true, but, at least for me, I kept waiting for you to tell me about some of the things you were doing in the community and around the world so that I could help. I was looking for the “put your money where your mouth is” challenge that goes with your considerable vision.

4. There was a lot of talk about families and married folks. I wondered how I would have felt if I were a single in your community.

5. The sermon was exemplary from a homiletics point of view, but I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do with the information I received. Not every sermon needs an application, but every sermon should have something resembling a behavioral objective. “So what?” is never a bad question to ask when you’re assembling a sermon.

6. I must say that I couldn’t figure out what your core beliefs are. You said a creed (rapidly) in unison, and I still didn’t get it, and there was no written material that would have helped answer that question either.

7. The announcements were twice as long as the Prayers of the People. If I had not known better, I might have assumed you were more interested in potlucks than prayer. That may seem harsh, but I observe in many churches that they believe that their activities are a sign of their health. I’m not entirely sure that’s true.

8. The guy operating the PowerPoint for hymns and songs on your screens consistently forwarded the slides late, so I was never prepared to move on. Come to think of it, I got very few cues from leadership about what was happening next in the service, so I spent the hour constantly playing catch up.

9. It felt like you believe that long delays between events in the service make it more reverent. Educators used to say that Sesame Street was too fast-paced for young minds, but they don’t say that much any more. We’ve all become accustomed to fast edits and rapidly moving story lines. Long pauses are not necessarily more reverent. In fact, they might be the moments where people’s attention slips between the cracks!

10. Small thing… Instead of just saying, “We’re so glad you’re here this morning,” try adding, “God loves our coming together to give Him praise.” Without meaning to, churches often end up being more about themselves and their culture than the Founder of their gathering.

Have you developed a plan for evaluating your worship experiences. As my uncle used to say, “It couldn’t hurt!”


—Doug Lawrence, internationally recognized speaker, author, and advisor, helps churches assess and improve their skillfulness in creating engaging worship experiences by utilizing his more than 35 years of “deep trench” worship leadership in prominent mainline churches. You may reach him at dlawrenceconsult@mac.com. Or, if you wish, call 1-650-207-8240 for assessment information and scheduling. Doug now teams with the slingshotgroup.net to place extraordinary worship leaders in extraordinary churches.

This article “25 Years of Being a Secret Shopper Worshiper” written by Doug Lawrence, was excerpted from www.churchcentral.com, July 2010. It may be used for study & research purposes only.

This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”