Church Reports From Mystery Worshippers At Ship-of-Fools

March 10, 2013

churchHere are a few church reports from Ship-of-Fools in the UK. While their reports do not deal with Christian Zionists, the church reports are definitely entertaining. Your own church might be listed.

Recent reports

> Intimidating and remote: Grace Cathedral, San Francisco
> Open the door to Christ: Liverpool Cathedral, UK
> Good and bad music at St Ignatius Loyola, New York City
> Justice that justifies: All Souls, Langham Place, London
> Bouncy but grim: St Bartholomew’s, New York City

> Heavenly preaching at Old St Mary’s, San Francisco, USA
> Byzantine with British twist: St Mary, Newnham Murren, UK
> Ash Wednesday, Methodist style: First UMC, Glendale, USA
> Enthusiasm and panache at Auckland Cathedral, NZ
> Choir in full control at Wellington Cathedral, NZ

> Plugged into God at Holy Trinity, Picton, NZ
> Flood of light & sound: St Michael Archangel, Auburn, USA
> Hospitality at its best: Hastings Baptist, NZ
> Chanting in the snow at St Onuphrius, Québec, Canada
> Ploddy and lumbering: St Charles Borromeo, Peru, USA

> Bells ring out at St Swithun’s, East Retford, UK
> Not alone at Coll Church, Arinagour, Isle of Coll, UK
> “You’re joking!” Don Bosco’s relics at Liverpool Met, UK
> No noses bled at St John’s, Mobile, USA
> Like being in heaven: Bath Abbey, UK

Editor’s choice

> “You’re joking!” Don Bosco’s relics at Liverpool Met, UK
> Merely an observer as Bishop of Chichester is enthroned, UK
> Rocking and swaying at ordination of Bishop of Atlanta, USA
> Fire, mud and cupcakes at Greenbelt 2012
> St John Vianney’s relic arrives: Liverpool Met Cathedral, UK

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The Mystery Worshipper Phenomenon

January 14, 2013
Source: Church Marketing Sucks

The Mystery Worshipper Phenomenon

October 28, 2008 by

Mystery shoppers for churches seem to be the latest rage. There was the recent Wall Street Journal article, we mentioned it last week, the Tennessean covered it Sunday and Anne Jackson blogged about it yesterday.

Of course you can’t talk about Mystery Worshippers without mentioning the UK site Ship of Fools. They practically started the trend and have reviewed more than 1,600 churches in the past decade:

“We all need to remember what it is to be an outsider in an environment in which we are comfortable and secure,” [one of the site’s founders, Simon] Goddard said.

“Mystery worshipper can be a wake-up call for the smug and self-satisfied.”

Of course they’re not selling it as a marketing service.
And this is where the practice takes a beating, another slide towards consumerism and selling out the church for business methods.

Jackson admits her conflicted feelings over mystery worshipers, but notes:

“If you’re fully relying on what you sense the Holy Spirit is leading you to do, and trusting he will bring the right people, the right connections all together at the right time, do you need a stranger coming in with critical eyes to tell you the letters on your signage aren’t big enough?”

But by that logic, why would we do any communication or marketing? I think God works in mysterious ways, sometimes miraculously and sometimes through something as worldly as a mystery worshipper.

Now I’m not totally sold on the practice. It seems like a pricey perk especially in this economy. But I think the greatest value it offers is helping your church see itself through a visitor’s eyes. Something like the faded parking lot stripes is kind of nuts, but legitimate issues like how do I find the sanctuary or visitors being ignored are a big deal. When you’ve attended a church your whole life–or even a few years–you become blind to those issues.

And if you really want new people to come to your church, if you really want them to get to know Jesus, then you’ve got to care about whether or not they’ll visit your church and want to come back.

Let’s major on the majors (an atmosphere of welcome, not getting lost, etc.), forget about the minors (faded parking lot stripes, water-stained ceiling tiles, etc.) and do whatever it takes to make people come back to our churches–whether that’s hiring a mystery worshipper or figuring out how to do it yourself.

Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks


After working with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and their Internet presence, Kevin founded his own writing and editing company in 2004, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin specializes in articles, copy and big picture communication strategy. In 2010 he published the book Addition by Adoption: Kids, Causes & 140 Characters. He’s also in to public art, photography Twitter and blogging–which he’s done since 1998 before the word came into common usage. Kevin and his wife, Abby, live in St. Paul, Minn., with their two kids and two dogs.

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Mystery Worshippers Spy On Church

January 14, 2013

Source: Christian Week

February 1, 2009 • Volume 22, Number 22

Mystery worshippers spy on church

By Mags Storey  |  Ontario Correspondent

Steve Goddard and other mystery worshippers have been visiting churches for over 10 years. PHOTO: COURTESY SHIP OF FOOLS

LONDON, ENGLAND–For the past 10 years, Steve Goddard and others like him have been secretly visiting churches worldwide to evaluate them on the divine and benign–including the welcome, worship, preaching, seating and the quality of the coffee.

Goddard came up with the idea for Mystery Worshippers while working as a mystery shopper, and the idea took flight in 1998 when he and friend Simon Jenkins launched UK Christian humour website www.ship-of-fools.com

“Being a mystery worshipper is weird,” Goddard says, “because you’re not in church to worship–you are there for sleuthing.

“You have to put a mystery worshipper calling card in the collection plate, and you have to do it surreptitiously or you will be identified–which is hard in congregations of 12 people. Some mystery worshippers have been discovered and escorted to the pastor’s study to explain themselves.

“We also ask our mystery worshippers to stand around after the service looking lost, which is difficult because you have to look really sad and miserable. It’s terribly nerve-wracking.”

Thousands of churches and events have been visited so far, including the inauguration of Pope Benedict XVI and the funeral of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.

Eleven of the 155 churches hit last year were in Canada–including Saint Roch in Quebec City, whose congregation was “friendly without being pushy.” At St. Paul’s Bloor Street in Toronto, the sermon was “scripturally dense, but relatively easily to follow.” At St. James Vancouver, the mystery worshipper met Bear, the parish dog.

Loretta Jaunzarins is a Ship of Fools fan and pastor of Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hamilton. She was shocked when a mystery worshipper’s calling card was discovered in her collection plate after her Sunday service.

“I thought this is it, I’m doomed!” says Jaunzarins, who had just preached an unconventional sermon on U2. “But we got a good review. We were happy with it.”

Churches are given the opportunity to respond online. After St Paul’s Cathedral in Regina was chastised for the pattern on its green vestments, a deacon contacted Ship of Fools to explain it was an aerial view of the prairies. One UK congregation demanded an apology after a report prompted its ushers to quit. Another accused their priest of creating a fake review lavishly praising himself.

“We had one minister pin a bad report up on the notice board in the church with a sign saying: ‘We must do better,'” Goddard says. “We’ve even had churches asking us to send them a mystery worshipper.”

Critics of the reviews point out they are unrepresentative and biased–something which Goddard acknowledges.

“It doesn’t bother me at all,” he says, “because it gives an insight into the mystery worshippers themselves as well as the church.”

West Edmonton Christian Assembly is a growing and active evangelical church with a wide range of spiritual and practical community programs. But a visiting mystery worshipper all but ignored this in an extremely critical review which instead derided their physical appearance, dress sense and “very narrow” theology.

“We found their review by accident and laughed our heads off,” says senior associate pastor Dave Wood, whom the reviewer accused of playing a “weird” piece of music “that sounded like a pig being threaded through a meat grinder.”

“Some of it was incredibly biased,” he says, adding the reviewer was “highly critical” of their evangelical, Bible-based world view. “We found some of it challenging. But some was just nuts.”

“A complete outsider is much more aware of minor things than a church-goer,” Goddard says. “It is a massive issue crossing the threshold of a church for the first time.”

“If I need a kick, give me a kick,” Jaunzarins adds, “I always pray that God sends us the people that we need each Sunday–even mystery worshippers.”


Mark Twain: The Mystery Worshiper And Jewish Law

January 10, 2013

The other day I sat down to read a bit from Mark Twain’s Letters From The Earth. It seems that Twain was a mystery worshiper. Here are some of his observations about church-goers in Letter II:

More men go to church than want to.

To forty-nine men in fifty the Sabbath Day is a dreary, dreary bore.

Of all the men in a church on a Sunday, two-thirds are tired when the service is half over, and the rest before it is finished.

The gladdest moment for all of them is when the preacher uplifts his hands for the benediction. You can hear the soft rustle of relief that sweeps the house, and you recognize that it is eloquent with gratitude.

All nations look down upon all other nations.

All nations dislike all other nations.

All white nations despise all colored nations, of whatever hue, and oppress them when they can.

White men will not associate with “niggers,” nor marry them.

They will not allow them in their schools and churches.

All the world hates the Jew, and will not endure him except when he is rich.

I ask you to note all those particulars.

In Letter X, Twain quotes from the Old Testament:

1 And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,
2 Avenge the children of Israel of the Midianites: afterward shalt thou be gathered unto thy people….
7 And they warred against the Midianites, as the Lord commanded Moses; and they slew all the males.
8 And they slew the kings of Midian, beside the rest of them that were slain; namely, Evi, and Rekem, and Zur, and Hur, and Reba, five kings of Midian: Balaam also the son of Beor they slew with the sword.
9 And the children of Israel took all the women of Midian captives, and their little ones, and took the spoil of all their cattle, and all their flocks, and all their goods.
10 And they burnt all their cities wherein they dwelt, and all their goodly castles, with fire.
11 And they took all the spoil, and all the prey, both of men and of beasts.
12 And they brought the captives, and the prey, and the spoil unto Moses, and Eleazar the priest, and unto the congregation of the children of Israel, unto the camp at the plains of Moab, which are by Jordan near Jericho.
13 And Moses, and Eleazar the priest, and all the princes of the congregation, went forth to meet them without the camp.
14 And Moses was wroth with the officers of the host, with the captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds, which came from the battle.
15 And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive?
16 Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the Lord in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the Lord.
17 Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.
18 But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.
19 And do ye abide without the camp seven days: whosoever hath killed any person, and whosoever hath touched any slain, purify both yourselves and your captives on the third day, and on the seventh day.
20 And purify all your raiment, and all that is made of skins, and all work of goats’ hair, and all things made of wood.
21 And Eleazar the priest said unto the men of war which went to the battle, This is the ordinance of the law which the Lord commanded Moses….
25 And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,
26 Take the sum of the prey that was taken, both of man and of beast, thou, and Eleazar the priest, and the chief fathers of the congregation:
27 And divide the prey into two parts; between them that took the war upon them, who went out to battle, and between all the congregation:
28 And levy a tribute unto the Lord of the men of war which went out to battle….
31 And Moses and Eleazar the priest did as the Lord commanded Moses.
32 And the booty, being the rest of the prey which the men of war had caught, was six hundred thousand and seventy thousand and five thousand sheep,
33 And threescore and twelve thousand beeves,
34 And threescore and one thousand asses,
35 And thirty and two thousand persons in all, of woman that had not known man by lying with him….
40 And the persons were sixteen thousand; of which the Lord’s tribute was thirty and two persons.
41 And Moses gave the tribute, which was the Lord’s heave offering, unto Eleazar the priest, as the Lord commanded Moses….
47 Even of the children of Israel’s half, Moses took one portion of fifty, both of man and of beast, and gave them unto the Levites, which kept the charge of the tabernacle of the Lord; as the Lord commanded Moses.

Twain comments:

Take the case of Jeroboam. “I will cut off from Jeroboam him that pisseth against the wall.” It was done. And not only was the man that did it cut off, but everybody else.

The same with the house of Baasha: everybody was exterminated, kinsfolks, friends, and all, leaving “not one that pisseth against a wall.”

In the case of Jeroboam you have a striking instance of the Deity’s custom of not limiting his punishments to the guilty; the innocent are included. Even the “remnant” of that unhappy house was removed, even “as a man taketh away dung, till it be all gone.” That includes the women, the young maids, and the little girls. All innocent, for they couldn’t piss against a wall. Nobody of that sex can. None but members of the other sex can achieve that feat.

I can understand why he pokes fun and mocks the Bible. And if Twain were alive today, he would really be upset with Jewish Noahide Laws that say all non-Jews must be exterminated.


How Famous Is Your Church?

January 2, 2012
Pope Benedict XVI near Madrid Spain, Aug. 21, 2011

Pope Benedict XVI, Spain 2011

How famous is your church? Do you want the whole religious world to know if your church is happy clappy? Horror of horrors, just maybe your church has been downgraded by that mystery worshiper who sneaks in the side door and slides into the back pew to record his or her impressions. If you’d really like to know what others feel about your church, visit Ship of Fools. They roam the world and your church might be listed.


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