The Mystery Worshipper

Yesterday the BBC carried items on how mystery worshippers are being recruited to visit congregations in the Church of England. These ‘worshippers’ are normally employed on a commercial basis to visit shops and restaurants and to score them for the service they provide. It was unclear yesterday whether they were being employed by the CofE or the Christian Research Exhibition group or some combination of both. The idea of the mystery worshipper is not a new having run for some time under the auspices of the Ship of Fools website. However the very idea of the mystery worshipper has several drawbacks.

  1. In the first instance the term ‘worshipper’ is misnomer. These people have not come along to worship God but to evaluate the church service. There is a considerable gulf between these two things.
  2. Then these people are also being disingenuous. They are coming to the church expecting the church to engage with them at an honest level whilst they are themselves being wholly dishonest about their reasons for being there.
  3. The concept of the mystery worshipper buys into the consumer mentality that governs many British churches. churches are not there to provide a service in the same way as a commercial operation. Certainly what churches do cannot be scored by outsiders. Ultimately churches are accountable to God and not ‘Joe Public.’
  4. It is another example of how Christianity is being turned on its head. Once we were keen to communicate to people what God thought about them. Now it seems we are more concerned what people think about the church.
  5. The Christian message is not always one that appeals to people. Indeed many people find it offensive as they are brought face to face with their sin. So we cannot rely upon the unbeliever to tell us whether or not we are doing a good job. Paul as I recall didn’t set much store on approval ratings.
  6. The church must seek to be ordered by the word of God. To order church by consensus whilst it may be appealing and even get people into the pews it is ultimately a recipe for disaster.

Two concluding comments-

  1. It is interesting that this idea of the mystery worshipper came from an organisation, CRE, committed to promoting commercial resources for churches. Such an organisation should not be there to direct the church but to serve it.
  2. The general feedback amongst the visitors was positive. As such it bears out other research about the impact and effective of congregational life on visitors. It is subject that we ought to think about much more often as we consider how we reach our present generation.
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