How would you feel if your church scored 100% (or even a low percentage) by a non-Christian?

December 19, 2007

Getting paid to go to church

Non-Christians are to be paid £30 a time to go to church under a new research programme to find out why more people do not practise the Christian faith.

The new “mystery worshipper” scheme will be modelled on the “mystery shopper” schemes used by researchers to guage the service offered by hotels, shops and other branches of the service industry.

The project could even result in a church “league table” where churches are ranked according to the percentage they score out of a possible total of 98 points.

While the intention is to keep this league table as a secret internal document, it would almost certainly be made public by someone who stood to benefit from the exposure, creating ecclesiastical parallels with schools and universities in the religious firmament.

The research organisation Christian Research has commissioned the company Retail Maxim to send mystery worshippers in unannounced to judge the sermon, welcome, atmosphere, warmth, comfort and appearance of churches around the country.

First to be assessed were churches in Telford, subject to a recent pilot. Early next year, mystery worshippers will visit churches in the West Midlands.

The scheme mirrors that run by the satirical Christian website ShipofFools, the main difference being that ShipofFools uses volunteers who are Christian.

Christian Research wants non-Christians to assess the churches because, in common with increasing numbers of church leaders, the organisation wishes to find out what does and does not work for the reluctant churchgoer. Christian Research is working with ShipofFools to promote the project.

According to the 2001 Census, more than seven in ten people in England consider themselves Christian. But a recent church census by Christian Research found that fewer than one in ten of the population actually go to church.

Benita Hewitt, executive director of Christian Research, who recently joined the organisation from a commercial research background, said: “I worked for many years with retailers and hotels where mystery shopping is quite natural. I am going to bring some of those research techniques into researching the Church.”

The non-church goers will be experienced mystery shoppers who are used to assessing the service offered by hotels, shops and restaurants.

The Telford pilot involved a range of denominations and styles of service from Anglo-Catholic to a service involving a “lot of people lying on the floor and being healed.”

The results had been “amazingly positive”, she said.

Mrs Hewitt, whose background is in commercial research, said it was essential that the churches gained an insight into how they were viewed from the “outside-in” by non-churchgoers.

She said: “We have had some of our mystery worshippers saying that they were really amazed by what they found – by the atmosphere and the welcome before the service, when they went in and after the service and the fellowship.

“It was all so far from their expectations that they had before they came in – often based on childhood when they saw the church as a boring experience where you were made to feel guilty.”

Stephen Goddard, co-editor of the Christian website Ship of Fools, and founder of the concept of Mystery Worshipper, said they were working with Christian Research on the initiative.

He said: “I think it is a terrific idea.” He said two of the Telford churches scored 100 per cent, which shocked him. “We did not send in soft, tame mystery worshippers, we sent in people possibly with an axe to grind against the church,” he said.

“What came out of it was their surprise at how much the church has moved forward from their experience as children.”