The Mystery Worshipper

Department stores hire mystery shoppers. Restaurant chains bring in undercover diners to rate their food and service. Churches enlist Thomas Harrison, a former pastor from Tulsa, Okla., and a professional mystery worshipper.

Mr. Harrison — a meticulous inspector who often uses the phrase “I was horrified” to register his disapproval of dust bunnies and rude congregants — poses as a first-time churchgoer and covertly evaluates everything from the cleanliness of the bathrooms to the strength of the sermon. This summer, Mr. Harrison scoured a megachurch in Cedar Hill, Texas, and jotted down a laundry list of imperfections: a water stain on the ceiling, a “stuffy odor” in the children’s area, a stray plastic bucket under the bathroom sink and a sullen greeter who failed to say good morning before the worship service. “I am a stickler for light bulbs and bathrooms,” he says…

At least half a dozen consulting companies have introduced secret-church-shopper services in recent years. The A Group, a Brentwood, Tenn., marketing firm for churches and faith-based groups, now conducts mystery-worshipper surveys at 15 to 20 churches a year, up from a handful five years ago. Church marketing company Real Church Solutions in Corona, Calif., introduced mystery-worshipper services five years ago. “First-time guests, they don’t come with mercy, they come with judgment,” says the company’s president, Chris Sonksen. “They’re looking for a reason to leave.”

Having done some mystery shopping for a global chain, I get a special chuckle from the whole tale. And the complete article is a fun read.

There will be some who shun modern merchandising research and, no doubt, some of it is as spooky as software designed by engineers and sold by hucksters. Lots of disconnects from reality.

The basic premise is sound if grounded in useful information. And fun for the cranky and curious.

Thanks, Helen

One thought on “The Mystery Worshipper

  1. K B says:

    A lot of people will do for free what this guy is doing. If you’re in a denomination, seek them out within the bureaucracy/hierarchy. No need to pay good money to a consultant who prints flyers declaring himself an expert. Hell, you’re already paying good money after bad to your denomination– make use of their human resources, lest they spend all of their time sitting on their ass.

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