Eight-Confessions-of-Church-Spies

By Chuck Lawless

Have you ever thought that a guest at your church might, in fact, be a spy? My church consulting company uses church “spies” to help us evaluate how churches respond to guests. Our spies are “good” spies, though, since their goal is to help a church face reality and move toward health.

Numerous spies have written us reports for more than a decade. Below are some of the most common findings they have sent us.

To be fair, the churches that invite us to work with them know they need help; so, these findings should not be entirely surprising. What concerns me is the number of churches who have not yet recognized that these findings characterize them, too.

1. Church websites are often outdated, boring . . . and useless. 

We typically tell the spy only the name of the church and the city, and we ask him/her to learn about the church first from the website. More than one spy has called us to say he cannot find the service times, isn’t convinced the map is correct (if there is one), called a phone number no longer in order, cannot determine the church’s basic beliefs, or thinks the church will be old and boring based on their Internet presence.

2. Churches are not friendly.

Our spies know to take note of how many people greet them apart from a time when the worship leader tells the congregation to welcome one another. More often than not, no one greets our representative before or after the service. Churches are friendly, but most often only to people they already know. I once served as a spy myself, and the church greeter escorted me to the “friendliest class in the church” – where not one of 60+ attendees spoke to me!

3. Church facilities are not generally marked well.

Church signs often have more cluttered information than a person can read when driving by. Guest parking – if any exists – is not apparent until an automobile is far into the parking lot. In larger buildings, which entrance is best to use is not clear. Signage inside the building is not helpful. In some cases, the church can be an easy place to get lost!

4. Churches aren’t prepared for guests.

Sometimes there is no guest parking. Often there is no welcome center (or there is a unmanned welcome center!). Our spies have attended churches with no means to secure contact information from guests. Some have attended small groups that gave our spies no study material for the day. I can count on both hands the number of churches that later followed up with our spies – who were, to the church’s knowledge, their guests.

5. Churches are poorly equipped for protecting children.

If our spies take their children with them, we tell them not to do anything that makes them wary in releasing their children to child care workers. If the children’s area is not secure, if the worker does not require needed information, or if our spies simply feel uncomfortable, they keep their children with them. That happens quite often.

6. Worship through music often needs improvement.

Our spies understand that churches have different worship styles, and they know to contextualize their assessment as much as possible. What we hear from them is that worship through music is often poorly done, regardless of style. Musicians have not practiced, lyrics are difficult to sing, and leaders lack passion.

7. Preaching is often weak.

This area is the most difficult to consider, as it’s often the pulpiteer who invites our team to help the church. Nevertheless, we speak the truth in love. Too many preachers neglect the Bible, misuse it, or quickly depart from it in preaching. Others somehow take the gospel and make it boring. We learn something when our spies report they would not return to that church in the future because of poor preaching.

8. Churches are not always clear in “what to do” in response to worship.

We ask our spies to do their best to think as the unchurched, particularly in trying to follow the direction of worship. Too often for my comfort, our folks reported they would not have known what to do if they wanted to follow Christ, join the church, or deal with a sin issue. I can only wonder if others left the same way.

If there’s good news here, it’s that churches can address these issues – but they must be honest first. If you want to take a risk, enlist a “good spy” to visit your church. Or, forward this blog to several of your church leaders, and ask them to evaluate your church’s health in these areas. Let us know what you learn.


Lifeway_Blog_Ad[1]Chuck Lawless currently serves as Professor of Evangelism and Missions and Dean of Graduate Studies at Southeastern Seminary.

You can connect with Dr. Lawless on both Twitter and Facebook.

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Comments

  1. says

    I am sorry but most of the terminology used in this article is very subjective in nature. Terms such as “friendly”, “boring”, useless, etc. are subjective terms based on the opinion of the “spy”. Each “spy” has their own subjective ideas of what would constitute ” useful vs. useless, boring vs. exciting. I understand what you are trying to communicate–there is room for improvement in everything we do. But, also we are not going to “please everyone” vs. ” not please everyone”–we must strive to do our best and trust God to do the rest.

    • says

      Louie,
      I would look at each point and ask myself about the specific area that the point is referencing. For number 1 you should assess your website. When was the last time it was updated? Does it have enough information? Is it accurate in the areas stated? I recently updated our website and have seen an increase in guests who have mentioned the website.
      Are your church members trained to greet guests? If you were a guest and had no one to ask for directions, could you find the worship center, or the children’s area. When I moved to my church, it was apparent that in less you were a member of the church you would have no idea where anything was. Signage changed that.
      Do you have a security plan in place for your children? Simple policies and check-in procedures can make a world of difference. As for the preaching, are you striving to grow in your communication skills. My pastor is an excellent communicator and yet he continues to take classes and read books to grow in this area.
      There is a lot to learn from this article if you know how to find it.

    • says

      Louie, subjective maybe. However, I believe there are black and white examples. I remember while on a work assignment in Oregon a large church, dynamic preaching. I was alone, out of state, and hungry for fellowship. Not ONE person greeted me, said “Hi” or asked my name. I teach my church, we have to love people, show them we care, act like we want first time guests to return.

      • Chuck Lawless says

        Any opinion is going to be somewhat subjective, of course, though I agree with you that some things are clearer than we want to admit.

    • Vic Christian says

      Agreed – well written Louie. I also agree that all churches can improve. However, a church is not a business, and should not be measured as do business, usually with numbers and dollar signs that are meaningless in the church of Christ. We need to be about the Lord’s business – being friendly and compassionate – and preaching the Word of God.

  2. Mike says

    When your spies write their reports, are they following a template you provide or do they just start with a blank piece of paper and their impressions?

  3. says

    I strongly value the terms put down as subjective. At least when they come from a trained consultant who knows what to look for. If you visit a church and no one speaks to you then it is appropriate to say the church is not friendly. A church website that does not have a phone number that works, out dated information, has no easy way to find the location of the church and does not provide the reader with information about what the church believes is by any measure worthless as it may lead more people to not visit that visit. Boring is more subjective but as a pastor I would be more interested in a consultants opinion that other people unless this was something that several people have pointed out.

    • Chuck Lawless says

      I agree it’s valuable to hear what others think about what we’re doing. It doesn’t change the message we must preach, but honest evaluation can be helpful.

  4. Josh says

    Just out of curiosity, Where are these churches polled. Is this a national or global level. Is this all denominations or just a specific denomination? It would seem that some churches may have migrated to the aforementioned, but I must disagree with the majority of the statements above. Furthermore some of the items above really aren’t the full image of the church. For example “Church websites are often outdated….”, well this is true for many ministries as well, but does it diminish the message of the Gospel on the pulpit? The statement “Too many preachers neglect the Bible, misuse it, or quickly depart from it in preaching. Others somehow take the gospel and make it boring.” is very subjective. What are the credentials of these “spies”? How thoughtful was the assessment made by these so called “spies”? Are they visiting all denominations, languages, etc. I serve in a Pentecostal Church, though some of the aforementioned may be necessarily true, portions thereof fall very short. There is nothing boring about our services. The spirit of God moves and the Gospel message is conveyed in a dynamic and vigorous way!

    • Chuck Lawless says

      Josh, these are churches that invited in our team to help them. The churches are of all sizes, several denominations, and in several states. I am not suggesting that every church fits this description. I’m grateful to God for your experience. Thanks.

    • jonathon says

      @josh

      For the last five years, in each of two metropolitan areas that are roughly 250 square miles in size, I’ve looked for a church to call home. I’ve found so much inaccurate nformation about a church, on its website, that when I want to attend a service, I call all of the numbers for the church, pastor, eldes, and deacons, to verify the information on the website.

      I am no longer surprised when the information from the website contradicts what the church office states, which contradicts what the elder, deacon, or pastor tells me over the phone. This crosses all denominations. Church size is equally irrelevant.]

      • Chuck Lawless says

        Especially in today’s electronic world, churches really need to keep their websites current. Thanks, Jonathon.

      • Josh says

        Jonathan, I totally agree on the content of church websites. This has become a major issue in many churches as they lack the resources to maintain a site. Resources are not just considered as financial, but dependability of a content manager and or webmaster as well.

        Chuck, thanks for the clarification and response. Truly the points are applicable in many cases and should be monitored for the assurance of a great church experience.

        • jonathon says

          If the church is at all close to being dynamic, it will have at least one teen-ager who wants to go to Bible College. Appoint them as Church Social Media Contact. Their duties are to keep the content on the church website up to date, and the chuch’s presence remain relevant on all of the important social media outlets. They can add social media outlets on whim, but have to keep it maintained. They can not drop any social media outlet without the approval and consent of the church board.

          If they make a gaffe, so what? The odds are they have a better grasp of both the Streisand Effect, and Social media meltdown, than the church board.

          If a church does not have a teen-ager who can do that,it should erase its Internet prsence, until it solves its other, more pressing problems.

  5. says

    Thanks, Chuck, for these insights. Our association uses the “Secret Shopper Worshiper” approach, sending “guests” to worship in our churches. Our process is to send them with a form to complete including various aspects of the church experience from the parking lot to the invitation and everything in between. Then, we debrief the person who makes the visit and I write a letter to the pastor of the church (or church staff/leaders) describing the experience and evaluating the information. A great way to help churches evaluate how they are seen and how they serve on Sundays.

  6. Matt Pugh says

    Really insightful. I can see how all of these apply and are happening in the Church at large presently. Some Churches “get it” others do not. I am going to bring up this article in our staff meeting today. Thanks Chuck and spies.

  7. De Lockamy says

    You are right. I am afraid the church I go to is guilty of all of the above. I am not in a position to change anything and no one listens to me anyway. My husband won’t change churches because this is the one he grew up in.

    • Chuck Lawless says

      Thanks, DE. Think about the things that you can change — maybe you’re the first person to help the church be friendlier! I’ll be praying for you.

    • says

      I went to a particular church for 2 years and made a point of talking to and being a genuine friend to all the visitors I saw as this was clearly neglected. The few visitors that I welcomed then in turn welcomed others and now they have had to add extra services.

  8. alan says

    I Agree with alot of that.it really from a lack of training, that need to be taught on a regular basis. Sometimes we just dont want to admit the truth.

  9. says

    I’ve been the senior pastor at my church now for about one year. When I first started I had a chance to teach our “career adults” (ages 21-30) Bible study.

    What I did is write down about 12 questions on a piece of paper, gave it to each of them, and took them outside to the church front door. I told them that they are “visitors” to our church for the first time. That when they walked through the door, they should try to look at everything from the perspective of someone who has never been there and knows nothing about our congregation. I then asked them to look around and then go sit down somewhere in the sanctuary where they never sat before, and then spend about five minutes just looking around. I then had them open the paper and answer the questions, but marking first their gender and age. Names and how long they “attended” church were both optional.

    The answers I received were amazing. We even immediately implemented some of the suggestions. I received many answers that I already assumed to be true, but even my eyes were alerted to some major things, and I was the new pastor!

    It just goes to show that a church environment speaks volumes to our visitors about our congregation. And many times it says things we didn’t intend to portray.

      • says

        There were 8 questions. Here they are.

        1) What comes to mind when you look at the FOYER?

        2) When you look at the STAGE, what comes to mind?

        3) What are your thoughts about the DÉCOR, such as lighting, walls, colors, carpet, seating, windows, etc?

        4) What CONCERNS you about church, overall?

        5) What do you wish you knew about THIS church in particular?

        6) What do you hope DOESN’T happen during the service?

        7) What would make you more COMFORTABLE right now?

        8) What information would you like to see up on the SCREEN?

        • Lisa says

          Hello! I feel prompted to address your questions, so here you go. Forgive me if my advice and thought art unsolicited, but overall, I truly feel your focus and measure of a good church is some off the mark. I do hope this helps to a small degree:

          1.) Some fine churches I’ve been to have no foyer at all. Genuine, caring people are nice to be greeted by—and not being doted on in a fake manner. Do I feel welcome? Are people friendly?
          2.) Again, there are good churches that still do not have stages, but a pulpit and small alcove. If there were to be one, I would ask if the stage is distracting from thoughts of God.
          3.) Should we really be caring that much about the décor? Rather, are there places to sit? Is it warm enough in the winter? Are there windows, electric, running water? A bathroom? Considering a church’s décor is one thing, but making such frivolous things the focus misguided.
          4.) What would concern me is finding out whether the church is genuine, with its priorities in check: God first and foremost (and not all about growing, attendance, more money, bigger building, huge mortgage, “being “hip” etc.
          5.) I would wish to know is if it’s a church that puts Christ at its center. What the core beliefs are, etc. Is the church concerned about peoples’ souls? Helping the needy in the community? Is it a place to grow?
          6.) Speaking for myself, I’d rather not be welcomed and singled out during the service in front of the entire congregation.
          7.) What would make me comfortable? Feeling welcomed but not jumped on and spoken to exhaustively. No loud music that hurts my ears. It NOT being a fashion show. NOT as though they’re putting on some performance for the crowd. I’d feel comfortable hearing about Christ and His word. Substance matters, not too much unnecessary “fluff.”
          8.) I must admit, I do NOT like “the screen” in church. I’d prefer it to be retractable and up when not in use. I would like for it to used sparingly—not all the time. It is hugely distracting. Also, I like hymn books that have actual musical notation (not a bouncing ball with lyrics up on “the screen.”

          Mind you, I’m not an old person. Nor am I “fundamental.” I’m just tired of what churches are becoming. Turns my stomach partly—the way they have gone off course. I miss normal church.

  10. Ed says

    As a former pastor, I’ve been looking for a church home as a regular member for about a year. All of the above apply to my experience. Subjective or not.

    • says

      Nathan,
      You don’t have to spend a fortune to have a decent website. Our site was built with a WordPress template built for churches. The template is called Risen. It is very customizable. You can see it here. fbcdelraybeach.org we paid less than $60 for the template and I worked on it. I not a tech nerd either so if you have a basic understanding of computers you can do it. There are instructional videos on how to complete the site. The author for this template is working on more templates for churches.

      • Nathan Rose says

        Thanks James! We currently use 1and1.com. Its easy and inexpensive, but the look and feel are sub par in my opinion. How would I go about browsing and purchasing one of these WordPress templates? Thanks again! Much appreciated.

    • says

      Nathan,
      Like James Brown said, it can be very inexpensive. For our website, I pay $20/year(that includes hosting and the domain name). Like James Brown, I use a wordpress template, although it’s a free one. If you can afford a church template, that is probably better as it’s designed for churches, but you can make a good website without it. You don’t need to know a lot to make it. It is time consuming to get it set up initially, though. You can probably get some young people to help you set it up. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me.
      Another option to get started for free is to make a Facebook page.

  11. Charles Page says

    Church spies in Jerusalem were commissioned to spy out Paul and company in public baths to see who had the proper genitalia. Church spies have a Biblical precedent.

  12. Stephanie says

    After reading through this enlightening article and some of the associated comments, I had a few thoughts that I wanted to share. Several persons disagreed with the article, which is their right, however, the article clearly states that the churches wanted these “spies” and this company/ministry to check on them. Clearly, the churches asking for this already know of their weaknesses and should be applauded for seeking out assistance to help the spiritual health of their church. Too many churches today as alluded to in this article do not notice or want to notice the signs that something is wrong. Sadly, it is probably many of those churches that are closing their doors because they think they are fine and that there is nothing that needs to change. We, Christians, seem to get all upset and defensive because surely this doesn’t happen in our church. The language may be subjective but this does not mean that the information learned is not useful or is bad. While it is true that what one person finds interesting and enjoyable another might find boring and useless, there are some basics that each church across the board have in common. When a visitor comes and leaves and was never even greeted, that’s a problem. When a visitor(s) cannot find his or her way around, or does not feel safe leaving their children in the children’s department, something is clearly wrong. Humans always like to point the finger when we see things being done that are wrong, but let that finger be pointing back at us or our church and we get all defensive. When something like this is sought out and done in Chritian love, let’s view it as the churches chance to show the world how to respond, work together and move forward with positive changes.
    I recently read a book by Dr. Gary Thomas, Sacred Pathways, and in it he explains how each Christian has a couple of ways that he or she worships God. There are 9 pathways and not a one of us truly worships exactly like another person because God created each of us uniquely and differently. I truly enjoyed this article and appreciate that there are churches willing to open themselves up to this critic. I wish more churches would so that we would not see them close their doors because their refusal to change.

  13. Andy says

    First time that I have seen this website. Wish I had not. Can a congregation’s leaders not evaluate its worship according to the Scriptures instead of a consultant’s template? When I visit and worship in a congregation’s facility (note: the facility is not the Church), am I really supposed to make a note of the appearance of the foyer? What am I, a guest at a hotel? How about these evaluation questions: Did we worship God in order to “bless Him and to bless His holy name”? (Psalm 103:1) Or how about in light of Psalm 73: “But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling . . .until I came into the sanctuary of God . . . but as for me , the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of his wonderful works.”? Or, our Lord’s words in John 4:24? Or, how about evaluating treatment of visitors by the application of Hebrews 13:2? You are selling these services in the Lord’s house? Jesus quoted Isaiah, “My house shall be called a house of prayer.” (Matthew 21:13) May the Lord overturn your tables and cast you out. Here is my evaluation of your evaluation: It turns my stomach.

    • Bryan says

      Andy,
      I understand that you may not agree with this site. I’m sure that I don’t agree with everything that they say either. I don’t think that there is anyone out there that I agree with on everything. I take the good, and leave what I may not agree with . However, is to infer that they are thieves helpful?
      First, you can’t get enough information by one post to judge the entire organization.
      Second, these churches invited them into their churches recognizing that they need help.
      Third, if you use any Sunday School curriculum, bulletin inserts, bulletins, hymnals, Christian music tracks, etc. in the church, isn’t it the same? Those companies make money off of the church as well. Would you refer to them as thieves as well? If they don’t charge the churches, how can they continue to exist as a ministry?
      Fourth, what is the harm in having someone from the outside come in and critique our ministry? They can see things that we may never notice.
      I believe that the church today is not doing a very good job of relating to the newer generations. You may respond to this with, “We just need to take them back to the Bible.” The problem with this isn’t God’s Word. It’s how we present and apply God’s Word. We not only communicate God’s Word through the preaching, but through everything we do as a church. When we aren’t doing a good job at loving visitors, for example, we aren’t loving our neighbor as ourselves. Most of what was listed is about loving them. If I go to spend the night at your house, and you tell me, “welcome,” but don’t tell me where to park, which bedroom or bathroom I should use, tell us to come eat, and pretty much just ignore us except for an occasional, “hello,” are you being a good host?
      We always need to strive to do better as a church. There is nothing wrong with seeking outside help to improve. If this organization was doing something sinful, then you have a right to confront them on their sin. However, what they are doing is not sinful, and we should respect differences of opinion. I don’t believe that calling them thieves and wanting God to destroy their ministry is edifying, but destructive. I challenge you to contact them directly and talk about it.
      God bless.

    • Hal says

      Agreeing quite a bit with Andy, the church leaders who enlist this service are operating from a worldly, consumerist mindset. Solid kingdom growth (and in my 26 years of pastoral experience–church growth as well) happens through personal connections. Families, friends, coworkers, neighbors connect with unchurched people they know and, through their personal influence, the Lord draws them to Himself. ALL of the people who have joined my church in the last seven years already had connections to members before them.

      • Chuck Lawless says

        Thanks, Hal. I don’t disagree with your comments about personal connections, but we are seeing more people come to church simply out of personal crisis, with no previous connections to a local body. That is not the norm, though.

  14. Rich Brown says

    Trying soooo hard not to be judgmental here. On the one hand… I suppose if ministry leaders are warned in advance, this is ok. And… it is true that the quality of what we do has a direct connection to how and what we believe… but merely improving those things will not revive a dead church.

    • Chuck Lawless says

      The ministry leaders don’t know when the folks are there, but they do know this is part of the process. We’re in agreement that improving these things generally will not revive a dead church, but we have seen churches experience new life when they focus more on solid worship and biblical exposition after our team raises needed questions.

  15. Andy says

    Bryan,
    Thank you for taking the time to respond to me. I know that you invested some time in this. I do not know if the host intended for this to be the place for such a discussion, but so far he has graciously indulged me, and I thank him for his hospitality in being a host. Bryan, I hope you will indulge me, also.

    In His Scriptures, God gave us clear instructions not only on how to worship, but also on the governing and discipline of His Church. If these “churches” that you refer to (and I assume that you mean congregations) invited these “spies” (the word used by the author, not mine) to make the evaluations that the author/consultant company owner does, why are the duly appointed elders (officers) of the congregation not doing this? This is not merely a delegation of responsibility, nor a seeking of advice, nor is it a technical argument. The author/consulting company owner says that spies evaluate among other things, the preaching, whether or not worship through music is poorly done, the singing leader’s level of “passion” (I have no idea what that means), and what to do in responses to worship.

    My vows, before God, include a commitment to the elders (ordained officers) of my congregation/denomination. The elders and deacons’ vows, before God, are to the Scriptures and its doctrinal standards, including the Biblical shepherding and governmental charges to the officers and the denomination’s courts. (Paul’s words are serious, but how beautiful they are, too!) As a matter of conscience (in observing the Scriptures alone – Solo Scriptura), I will not yield that Biblical structure of government to consultants who are applying their own standards to deliver their answers to the above questions to a congregation that has vowed to submit to its own Biblical government (including any higher court of its denomination). I would not agree to this anymore than I would agree to have an Islamist do this.

    I do believe in worshipping God as He directs in His Word, including corporate Lord’s Day Worship. This regulative principle is the responsibility of the elders who have vowed in their doctrinal standard “to set down rules and directions for the better ordering of the public worship of God.” Therefore, I am also wary of those who say, as a poster above did, that “not a one of us truly worships exactly like another person because God created each of us uniquely and differently.” (But did He tell us to worship Him this way? Check out John’s vision in Revelation of how he sees us corporately worshipping and dressing in heaven. Nobody doing his/her own thing there. ) I also disagree with the form of your rhetorically-asked question, “what is the harm in having someone from the outside come in and critique our ministry?” Perhaps I apply a different source of authority for evaluating that question.

    Regarding your “for-profit” comments, yes, of course, I agree — to some level. Somebody probably built your congregation’s building at a profit, the electric utility company is making a profit on the conducting of Sabbath day worship, and so forth. However, to engage a consulting company that claims expertise (and again I wonder on what authority) for a fee to provide a template proven in its use to cause me to return for a future corporate worship service of a congregation is to take the focus of off worshipping God as He tells us how to in the Scriptures (the regulative principle).

    Regarding my inference to thievery, your advice to me to not be destructive is well received. Thank-you. However, the focus of our Lord was on the proper use of the Temple; whence He gives the OT quote on its (regulative) use, and it is His judgment to give. On the other hand, some of the money changers in the temple may have had decent intentions in their hearts other than profit (we don’t know and I am not trying to create a straw man). There are a number of examples in the Scriptures of men with good intentions running afoul of God’s directive and receiving in turn His judgment (poor old Uzzah, just trying to do his job). I am not offended if someone wants to infer that I am thief. The eighth commandment does more than infer regarding me. The wonder is that God would save this thief!

    However, the Scriptures also do not hold back in their evaluation of those who depart from God’s instructions, in spite of the intent of their hearts. I would rather apply, if necessary, Peter’s caution (2 Peter 2:1) than to be found on the receiving end of Paul’s words in Gal 1:8. Solo Scriptura — The Scriptures alone direct us how God wants us to preach, sing, and lead in corporate worship. (There goes the grape juice, too.) Following His instructions might run off visitors, although I pray not.

    Perhaps — and this is not a good thing — the need for an effective technique of getting a visitor to return is more an indictment of the mindset of “church shoppers” than of the congregation. More than a few people picked up stones to throw on those occasions when they perceived Jesus to be less than hospitable. Somebody might say that Jesus needed a little communications training; I would reply that His technique has not yet lost one of His own sheep.

    You are right; I should read the entire web site. I see much good in and am edified by many blogs by Christians, but there is a difference between well- presented Bible-based advice on how to treat “the stranger among us” given by a humble and fearful servant of the Lord, and the marketing of such advice for money.

    Finally, I share an anecdote. I have been “visiting” and participating in the corporate worship services of a fairly new congregation (properly notifying the elders of my current congregation according to my vows). For several “visits”, no one spoke. Slowly, I realized what other participants, who also were not recipients of “visitor treatment”, realized: They and I had chosen to visit because of the desire to worship God corporately in Spirit and in Truth. Do I need to tell you, once visitors realized this, how the wonderful hospitality and fellowship then flowed? (But, oh how the foyer is in bad need of an expensive “Christian” decorator.)

    Remember, iron sharpens iron.

    Bryan, may God bless you, too, and may you, like the Psalmist, bless God and bless His holy name.

    • Chuck Lawless says

      Andy,
      While you and I may differ on how we might help congregations, I assure you we share a common commitment to (1) the Word of God as the absolute authority for what we do and (2) pastors/elders and deacons as the responsible, accountable spiritual leaders/ministers of the church. Thank you for your honest reflections.

    • Bryan says

      Andy,
      Thanks for taking the time to reply. I agree with a lot of what you said. If you are following Biblical principles and have a healthy church, then you don’t have a need for this type of ministry. However, not all churches are healthy. There are a lot of dying churches that cannot figure out what is the problem. Sometimes they need help. We appear to have a disagreement on methodology, not theology. I believe that is okay.
      I pray that God uses you to have a healthy, Biblical, growing church in your community.

  16. says

    For me, I think these sort of items that the “spies” are looking for fall mostly into hospitality and organization, although it’s a wide view they are attempting.

    I have utilized these sort of activities in the past, and experienced a lot of it when I was l looking for a new church in the Richmond Area after moving up here last year.

    The thing that always comes back to mind in me is Acts 15:19, that we should not make it any more difficult than it already is to turn to God. If someone is wrestling and struggling with whether to come to God, we don’t want to make it any more difficult than it already is. It’s never easy, but we can help make the path straight so to speak.

    I like the phrase “The only thing offensive at your church should be the Gospel”. We know the Gospel will offend those who hear it, but let’s not let our Music, Kid’s Systems, Decor, or anything else make it harder than it is.

    Just my 2 cents. Peace!

  17. Cameron says

    Robert “Rabbie” Burns – the Scottish poet – wrote about this in 1786, more than 200 yrs ago !

    “O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us, tae see oursels as ithers see us!
    It wad frae mony a blunder free us, an’ foolish notion:
    What airs in dress an’ gait wad lea’e us, an’ ev’n devotion!

    Translated in English…
    “And would some Power the small gift give us, to see ourselves as others see us!
    It would from many a blunder free us, and foolish notion:
    What airs in dress and gait would leave us,And even devotion!”

    Funnily enough this was inspired during a church service!!!

  18. says

    Chuck,
    I couldn’t agree with the spies more if I tried!!! Frankly, I believe the “Church” has dropped the ball! I’ve been preaching this very thing for over a year now! We’ve gotten into a social mode and completely lacked in discipleship training. We sing “Joy Unspeakable and Full of Glory” while looking as if we’re constipated beyond belief! Our “Mega” churches have gotten so big, the pastor is seen as more of a celebrity that is impossible to have a one on one conversation with, than he is a pastor and more than likely can’t tell you the names of a fraction of his congregation!

    We don’t even take care of the ones who are there! Before I became a pastor, Ihad left a church that I’d been a member of for years. After being gone for 4 months, I returned to visit. When I came in the door, I was greeted with words like “we missed you so much!”. My response surprised them all. My response was “really? if you missed me so much why have you never called to see why I haven’t been here? Why have you never been to my home? You all have my number and you all know where I live!”. No one said a word after.

    Pastors I have witnessed have gotten so weak in what they do that I firmly believe they have forgotten what their calling is! We have all forgotten what our calling is in the church!

    People choose their church like they choose a buffet! It’s whatever fits their needs. I need just the right music or just the right Sunday School. If the preacher doesn’t preach like I want, then I’ll find somewhere else to go! So when it’s all about me, do you think I’m worried about anyone else coming into the church feeling at home?

    What if we all went to church with the attitude of what it is I’m going to do for God’s glory today?! how can I encourage someone else? What is it i can do to further God’s Kingdom? When the Church grasps hold of this type of thinking, then the church will grow!

    Well put my friend!

  19. Maurice Morales says

    Wow! That is a really long thread (for the non techie, that mean list of comments/discussion).

    This is a really neat service to the church. Website and greeting is all about hospitality and organization.

    Hello church! Don’t we want to love and serve God and our neighbor as ourselves. We don’t have to get all theological about this. God clearly cares about these things and is about the details. We are stewards of these things and God uses them. Let be faithful servants here.

  20. George says

    I am surprised about some objections. This article is general in nature. The clear intention, to me anyway, is to remind us about these areas mentioned; if the shoe fits, wear it. If it doesn’t, PTL. It seems those who raise objection only doing so in a “how dare you judge me” mentality. I am “grateful” that my church got beat up on all points, some pretty badly. I am going to forward to it to our church leaders. Actually we know about them all, but an article like this may add a little punch to our motivation of making changes. Perhaps it is saying to us: “Okay, your dirty secret is out. It was never a secret at all except in your own mind. Now, get your head out of the sand and do something about it if you are serious about His business!” Thanks, Chuck.

  21. says

    This is an interesting article, indeed! I did not grow up in a Christian home or family. So as a former seeker, and as a former new believer looking for a church to get plugged into, I believe these characteristics are highly important. They definitely were for me at the time.

    Its a little bit concerning that some of those leaving negative comments on this post are so defensive and deflective to the possibility that their church or ministry might need some type of improvement to better reach or keep seekers and new believers. It seems like some of the negative feedback here are from those who might be severely detached from the culture around them, or apathetic to what attracts seekers and new believers to go and stay at their church. We can hide behind reasons like we “do our best and trust God to do the rest” or “this article is very subjective in nature” as motives to not have to be teachable. Sadly, there won’t be enough room in our ministries for the Holy Spirit if we have filled up our pews and sanctuaries with pride instead of people.

    If our ministries are about us, about what makes us comfortable, and about us doing things the way we want to do them, then its not God who is leading our ministry -its us. If our ministries are about people, about making them feel welcome in a Christian atmosphere, and about the Holy Spirit doing things the way He wants to do them and us staying teachable, then God is leading our ministry -not us. One’s reaction or respond to this article is a good indication of who is leading their church ministry. I hope and pray its God.

  22. pastor Ameh Amana says

    Friends
    I am a para church pastor in a rural town in Africa. I need friends who can share ways to improve ministry.
    Though we have financial challenges, i want to learn to fish far above asking for wish.Anyone wants to help.
    Revival is happening beautifully here and we see distant shores and lands waiting for our release.
    We are coming with the wings of His great mercies.
    Agape
    AMEH AMANA

    • Bryan says

      Ameh,
      It’s great that you want to improve your ministry. I would recommend looking for help from ministries in your home country who know your culture. You don’t want to have a western church in Africa. Every culture is different, and accepting advice from the U.S. ministry that is very successful could actually hurt your ministry in Africa.
      God bless,
      Bryan

  23. John Neitzel says

    This article is great food for thought! We moved to a new West Coast city seven years ago and were looking for a new Episcopal Church home. The differences in hospitality were shocking. At the parish closest to our home, no one except a retired priest would speak to us, even when we attended services several times and stayed for the coffee hour. Seven years later we still get the annual letter from that parish requesting our pledge. Now that takes some chutzpah and frankly, ignorance! Instead, we joined the Episcopal Cathedral parish, where despite its size, is a welcoming community. And there are still hospitality lessons to be learned.

  24. Moses Kimani says

    As a worship minister and a former worship pastor, I have come to appreciate two things. First, as a minister, I am a servant. My service is two-prong: I serve God and I serve people. Scriptures tell me that my service to God is demonstrated by my service to His people. So, when I walk into a church meeting facility to minister, my focus is on how well those attending will be ministered to. Bear in mind that I have already ‘dealt with God’ prior to this and now my mind ‘switches’ to the congregation present in the room. If after the service they leave having felt ministered to in a manner that brought them closer to God and facilitated a desire for closer or better fellowship with those around them, I consider my work to have been done.

    Secondly, I have come to appreciate just how comfortable people become to the environment around them, in this case, a church that they attend regularly. We get used to seeing the same faces, singing the same songs, going through the same motions. As such, regular attenders may not necessarily be the best source of critical feedback; they made peace with the status quo long ago. In such a situation, a ‘church spy’ may be the best source of information regading what needs improvement. Just yesterday, I visited a church as a guest minister. By the time we were done, I had a list of some things that could be improved, most of which the regulars have become at home with. What’s the problem? The issues I identified have the potential to keep first time guests from ever returning.

    Church spy ministry, when done correctly, is most helpful.

    I’ll share a bonus: I’ve learned over time that with regard to music ministry, a quarterly or bi-annual survey is a useful tool in helping the music minister determine which songs should feature on the church’s repertoire. Basically, the survey enables the congregation to point out which songs minister the most to them. The songs that receive most mention make the repertpoire. The aim here is not to please but, rather, to serve.

    God bless!

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