One of the opportunities I take 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 recently 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.
1. 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).
2. (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).
3. Why don’t you go to church more? (This is the real competition to your church attendance).
4. 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).
5. (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).