Churches can now see how they look through the eyes of a newcomer with ChurchCheck, a new mystery visitor service being launched by Christian Research.
The service, offered in partnership with research company Retail Maxim, is designed to help churches improve their visitor experience. It puts the biblical principle of welcoming strangers to the test and gives prompt and useable feedback to church leaders.
Mystery churchgoers will assess everything from the state of the exterior noticeboard to the length of the sermon as they put church services under the microscope.
They will rate the atmosphere, singing and even the after-service chat before ending up with a percentage score for the church that identifies the strengths and weaknesses of its welcome.
Retail Maxim, a national mystery shopping company, has more than 10,000 trained mystery shoppers around the country. They will visit churches of any denomination and in any region. Generally from a non-churchgoing background, they blend in as a visitor to the congregation and carefully assess the welcome and surroundings.
Each ChurchCheck visit costs just £60 plus VAT - enabling churches to potentially carry out several ChurchCheck assessments each year to monitor their development or measure the success of different types of service.
As ChurchCheck becomes established, it will also be able to provide benchmarking services, enabling churches to learn from best practice. And with the welcome extended to a newcomer recognised as a significant factor in church growth, ChurchCheck is set to have a big impact.
Benita Hewitt, Director of Christian Research, said, "Matthew 25.35 says, 'When I was a stranger, you welcomed me.' But are churches around the country doing that?
"The welcome someone receives at church is so important - and ChurchCheck puts it to the test. It gives a simple and accurate account of a church's interaction with newcomers, and the results provide very precise "actionable" information to help churches improve.
"It also helps us identify things that churches are doing extremely well. All over the country, churches are warmly welcoming visitors and running inclusive and uplifting services - and we need to share that good practice."
A trial ChurchCheck which ran in Telford in November 2007 revealed that churches scored highly. Twenty out of 42 churches assessed receiving an overall rating of 90 per cent or more.
Over half the mystery visitors said they felt "comfortable, involved and genuinely welcome" and church leaders responded positively to the feedback.
ChurchCheck is being launched at the Christian Resources Exhibition at Sandown Park, Esher, on 13 May. Churches can sign up to the service at www.christian-research.org.uk.
Christian Research launches church mystery visitor service
Published 02 May 2008