Eight Terrible Church Visits

When I led a church consultation company, one of the more common facets of my consultation was an on-site visit to a worship service. The person I hired to conduct the visit could know nothing about the church. Ideally this “mystery guest” would be an unchurched person, so that he or she could give an honest assessment from the perspective of someone who knows little about churches.

I requested that the mystery guest evaluate different areas of the visit, but I was always most interested in the overall score. They submitted a score of one to seven. The lowest score meant that the visit was terrible, and they would not return under any circumstances. I recently retrieved some of these “one” reports. Inevitably there was one event that took place that made the visit so bad. Let me share eight of those events in eight different terrible church visits.

  1. “I was asked to introduce myself in the worship service. There were probably 150 or so present, so all the members knew I was a guest. I had no choice but to speak up and tell them something about me. I felt so uncomfortable standing up and speaking to everyone present.”
  2. “I had to walk fifty yards in the rain. There was no guest parking. No one offered me an umbrella. Apparently the members got there early so they could get the best parking spaces in the inclement weather.”
  3. “The preschool area was dirty and not secure. I took my two-year old with me, but I would not leave her in the church’s preschool area. You could tell they didn’t care about the cleanliness and the safety needs of little children. So I took my child to the worship service. That proved to be another headache.”
  4. “Everyone talked in code. I had no idea what the preacher and the members were talking about. What in the heck is a WMU? What is a time of intercessory prayer? I figured out the responsive reading thing when I saw people reading from their hymnals.”
  5. “Someone told me I was sitting where their family sits. That really ticked me off. I didn’t see a reserved sign there. If I was not getting paid to do this, I would have said a few words to them and walked out of the service before it ever began.”
  6. “No one spoke to me. They certainly spoke to people they apparently knew, but I was not a part of their cliques. I felt badly just being there. I wanted to get up and leave on the spot.”
  7. “The preacher screamed the whole time. He had one tone and one volume: loud! Why do these preachers think their voices and their decibels have to change when they begin preaching? It seems so inauthentic. To top it off, I had a terrible headache after enduring 45 minutes of his screaming.”
  8. “They had a business meeting during the worship service. Now that was awkward. I really got uncomfortable when some of the members began disagreeing. It was tense. I will never, ever, ever go back there again.”

In each of these cases, the mystery church guests assured me that the visit was so bad and so uncomfortable that they would never return. Could some of these experiences happen at your church? Do you know of other terrible church visits?

Posted on October 15, 2012

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • I visited a church a little over two years ago and was literally pushed out of two different rows of seating by two different families who wanted more room. I left before worship was over and said I’d never go back – I’d been burned by too many congregations (this coming from a pastor’s kid who has seen it all) and was still healing from a lot of it. By God’s grace and provision, though, I was led back to that same church over a year later. I’ve been there a year now, and it has become a lifeline and one of the most incredible blessings of my life. Can’t always judge a body by its hands.

  • I’ve been called to lead a historic church that has suffered from historic problems. We struggle with quite of few of these. Would love to add Simple Church or Breakout Churches to my reading list. I appreciate your insight and will looking into having our church “mystery shopped”.

  • My first church experience a year or so after I became a believer at age the nineteen, was at the invitation of my then girlfriend to come to her family’s church. After several consecutive weeks of listening to the pastor of the local “megachurch” complain about the size of the loan on the building I’d heard enough. Bye.
    A year or so later she convinced me to visit their new church. I agreed and took a seat in the back row (I was always rather shy and didn’t really fit in anywhere, so this was normal for me). I wasn’t really prepared for the dynamic worship style of this particular church. Faith healings, tongues, the works. When the pastor decided to call me out and asked me to approach the pulpit to be healed, I politely declined. He was insistant and made several attempts to covince me as he was certain that I was that ‘someone’ in the room that needed to come forward. I’d had enough. It was only out of the love for my future wife that I didn’t give him a piece of my mind and walk out right there and then. Except for weddings and baby dedications it would be 20 years before I would set foot in a church again.

  • Young Christians in church need to be convicted by the Holy spirit by biblical teaching by leaders.
    The flesh is weak but the spirit is strong. Therefore, walk in the spirit. Worship Jesus and lift Him up! Paul writes and warns the church about all of these types of issues in the church. Preach and teach these things. The greatest of all gifts is love. They will know us by our love for one another. Pray without ceasing. Jesus said, “My house will be a House of Prayer for All Nations”.

  • jessica crabtree says on

    Wow. These are Christian people making these comments? THey sound like little whiners. No one offered you an umbrella? Watch the weather and bring your own. These are the most petty arguments I have ever heard. Grow up.

  • Steelwheels says on

    Does “unchurched” = unbeliever?

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