One of the opportunities I do in the church world is being a Mystery Visitor. This is when a church asks me to experience and report about a first-time visit. I start with a good demographic report of the community. From that, I know who the church needs to reach (and see if the church “feels right” to that demographic group when I visit). The church then books travel and a hotel for me, and I arrive the night before services.
When I check into the hotel, I usually ask something like, “Since I’m here over the weekend, would you know of a great church I could attend?” And almost every time, the hotel clerk looks at me with bewilderment. They scramble around and often produce a list of local churches. Since they don’t usually recommend a local church, I ask a followup question, “I’ve heard of (insert name of my client church); I think it’s close by, is it a good church?”
Almost always, I hear the same thing: “Sorry, I don’t know them”.
If you’re going to reach a community, you must know the perception of your church in order to know the messaging that needs to counteract or work with their understanding.
I once spoke at a church whose Pastor was murdered in the parking lot. That’s something that needs to be addressed in their communication — since it’s the most attention the church ever had in mass media!
BEWARE: As a church leader who’s immersed in the life of your church, do NOT assume your community knows about you or your ministries. In fact, I’d encourage you to get a group from your church to anonymously survey strangers at a local mall. Offer them a gift card or small gift if they answer 5 quick questions.
- Do you currently go to a local church? What’s the name of it? No? Have you EVER attended a local church? (this baselines whether a person is churched or unchurched) Note a church name if they mention one (but don’t ask).
- (Skip if unchurched) Approximately how many times did you go to a local church last year (or in the last month)? (this will confirm how dedicated a person is to church)
- Why don’t you go to church more? (this is the real competition to your church attendance)
- Have you ever heard of (insert your church name)? (if they struggle, offer “so, no?”) If you have knowledge of the church, rate your perception of the church from 1 – 10 (10 being high).
- (Skip if they answered “no” in the last question) What do you know about that church?
Thank you so much for participating; here’s your gift for helping us!
This isn’t an outreach. It’s simply a fact-finding survey. Plus, subtly, you’ve mentioned the church and started them thinking about it. Yes, you could have a small postcard that has information about the church and a soft-sell invitation on it. In fact, that postcard could also have the participation gift on it (work with a local business who’ll accept it as a gift certificate).