Guest Check, Inc., is the latest customer satisfaction firm to venture into a growing and controversial industry that capitalizes on the use of "mystery worshippers" in the United States.
The Golden, Colo.-based company announced Wednesday the availability of its new service, Church Check, which provides an unbiased and anonymous review of a Sunday morning experience through the eyes of a professional inspector posing as a church newcomer. For the past six years, Guest Check has specialized in the inspection of hotels, spas, restaurants and golf courses.
"Church leaders who incorporate Mystery Worshipping into their overall efforts to grow their congregation, will learn new insights into the first time guest experience, and be able to improve their processes with the information received," the company claims.
"Information is actionable, and relevant, including to name a few, the ease of use on the website prior to arrival, the curb appeal of the grounds and building, the sincere nature of the greeting staff, and the nature and relevancy of the sermon material," it adds.
It was more than two years ago that Guest Check was approached by a church congregation to consider providing inspection services for worship facilities.
"They wanted to use this feedback to assess what their church staff (mostly volunteers), could do differently to make the experience more engaging and more importantly, find out why someone may or may not come back for a second visit," the company reported.
Earlier this year, in response, Guest Check launched a pilot program for churches, which it said was "successful" and concluded with "exceptional results."
Wednesday's announcement marked the official launch of the company's Church Check division.
Though the idea of "mystery worshippers" is nothing new, the use of them has been increasing.
At least half a dozen consulting companies have introduced secret-church-shopper services in recent years, according to a Wall Street Journal report in October. The A Group, a Brentwood, Tenn.-based marketing firm for churches and faith-based groups, told the Journal that it conducts mystery-worshipper surveys at 15 to 20 churches a year – up from a handful five years ago.
"They see things we've grown accustomed to," explained pastor Jim Hennesy of Trinity Church in Cedar Hill, Texas, when asked why his church sought the services of a "mystery worshipper."
While such services have reportedly been beneficial to some churches, they have raised flags among some evangelicals and conservatives, with some warning that they will drive "spiritual consumerism" and divert the focus of churches toward strictly boosting attendance figures and retention rates.
"Should churches really make it a goal to 'boost your retention rate and make your church grow?' Is that not a product of other things, like faithful worship, meaningful biblical teaching, and sacrificial love for one another and the neighbor?" posed Mark Galli, senior managing editor of Christianity Today magazine, in a commentary Friday.
"In most instances, I try to be open and charitable about any service that can help a church be the church. But more and more, I'm thinking that a tool whose veins run with the blood of marketing is the exception that proves the rule," he concluded.
Less critical of the idea is Sam Rainer, president of Rainer Research, who does believe meticulousness of a professional worship inspector can be beneficial.
But he adds that the story of an unchurched person from the community is much more valuable.
"So if you're a church leader considering hiring a professional worshipper, get to know a couple of unchurched people from the community, invite them to a worship service, pay them a nominal amount if needed, ask them to write down their thoughts, and then genuinely discuss it with them over lunch or coffee," he wrote in his blog after hearing about the rise of "mystery worshipper" services.
"Not only will you gain an invaluable perspective, you might build enough of a relationship to invite them back," he added.