Plant a Spy: the only way to know what visitors are feeling.

If you’re a pastor it’s probably been a while since you’ve been a visitor in someone else’s church. I mean a visitor in the sense of one looking for a new church home. After Ellen and I moved to Southern Oregon it took us a couple months to decide on a church to join. Moving put us in that unfamiliar place of looking for a church. Just think, for 28 years I’ve never gone church shopping. Ellen and I have always started our own churches and had people visit us, not the other way around. It’s a very interesting experience, i.e. looking at a church through the eyes of a visitor.

They say (I’m not sure who “they” are and I’ve never seen the study that is supposed to back this up, but it makes a great point whether true or not.) that first-time visitors decide if they are going to return to your church a second time within the first seven minutes they walk through your doors. Even if this is nothing more than a “church” urban legend, I would probably agree…give or take a few minutes.

The point is, you will become blind to how your church looks to first-timers in direct proportion to how old your church is. The longer you’ve been open for business the less likely it is that you can tell what comes off as strange, confusing, or weird to those who are visiting. In order to remedy this you might need to plant a spy. There are two ways you might do this.

First, find someone in your church who you feel can be truly objective and understands what it is you are trying to accomplish. The following Sunday (or whenever it is that you have your pubic meeting) have them come a few minutes late and take notes of everything that stands out to them that might be a turn-off to a guest. Their challenge is to see your service through the eyes of a guest…whether they be a Christian guest looking for a new church home, or an  unbeliever checking your church out for whatever reason. Or…

Second, and this is probably the best way to get some truly unbiased feedback, pay some unchurched non-believer to help you out. Have them visit your church, fill out a questionnaire, and meet with you afterwards for a debriefing. Pay them, say…$25 – $50. It will be worth it.

If we want to attract the unchurched we must learn to see our meetings through their eyes. An attempt needs to be made to remove any obstacles that might keep them from returning…within reason of course. One of the best ways of identifying and removing said obstacles is to plant a spy. Hey…pay me $50 and I’ll come out. 😉

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