For decades, fans of the “Ol’ Rugged Cross” have questioned motives of megachurches. For years, these edifices of ecumenicism have becoming more like big business every day… and now there’s proof.

Meet Thomas Harrison, a former pastor from Tulsa, Okla. and a – wait for it – “professional mystery worshipper.”

Read the story and pick up your teeth for Pete’s sake. Yes, “mystery worshippers” as in folk PAID by marketing firms to visit the “competition” and discover how to retool the Sunday experience and package it better. Or how to expose the pastor down the block for what kind of a warehouse he is running.

So, in jaunts Harrison, acting the stereotypical “first-time visitor” – wide-eyed, grimacing, carefully inspecting each ministry, mentally checking how many folk did, or did NOT, greet him and of course, scurrying to an off-beat seat in the back where he can simply congregate and not participate.

His critiques can be bruising, pastors say. “Thomas hits you with the faded stripes in the parking lot,” says Stan Toler, pastor of Trinity Church of the Nazarene in Oklahoma City, who hires a secret shopper every quarter. “If you’ve got cobwebs, if you’ve got ceiling panels that leak, he’s going to find it.”

Hi ho, Jehovah?!

Hi ho, Jehovah?!

Good! Because as much as we just want to go about church as usual, saints don’t go for that any more. As much as the Bible is age-less, the churches that house them are most certainly not! Look at the latest malls, movie theatres and restaurants. Why do they attract folk – they are NEW… or at least have a slick remodeling package.

And so, there’s the rub.

Churches must approach the “Sunday experience” as a matter of business indeed. You know, clean up once in a while, look for new methods to attract new people, make an investment in technology and possibly use some of that fancy-shmancy feng shui stuff. These days, you are no longer judged by the marquee, but rather by the aesthetics. If it looks good, they MUST have a great children’s ministry. If it has a big stage and some big screens, the music MUST rock.

Now, I know, stupid logic… but that’s how they think. And at least that gets them in the door.

What’chu got? A fancy bulletin you printed off Word and some sweet Old English to polish up those wooden pews?! Don’t get me wrong, I love that stuff. But you are thinking and acting like your church is looking, your weekly attendance will resemble somewhere in-between how your couch looks when you aren’t home and the grandstands at a synchronizing swimming match. And the feeling is catchy. Listen to a progressive pastor and all-around smart guy, Pete Wilson, pastor of CrossPoint Church in Nashville, Tenn.

Others say that church shopping has become necessary for churches seeking to compete in an increasingly mobile and consumer-oriented society. “My competition is Cracker Barrel restaurant down the street,” says Pete Wilson, pastor of CrossPoint Church in Nashville, Tenn., who regularly enlists a secret shopper to evaluate his 2,000-person congregation. “If they go in there and are treated more like family than when they come to CrossPoint Church, then it’s lights out for me.”

By jove. I think he’s – and apparent many more like him – got it!

  1. hiscrivener says:

    Too bad you don’t have a transcript, pastor. I could use that for several bricks on this wall about the business of having church.

    Nicely done, brother.


    P.S. Care to swap links?

  2. Pete Wilson says:

    First time on your blog. Enjoyed browsing around. I wish you could have heard the entire interview and not just the one sentence snippet. Oh well, I guess that’s the way it goes.

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