Brandon at Out of Ur has written an insightful article about churches turning to marketing agencies and “mystery worshippers” (cf. “mystery shoppers”) in order to bolster attendance and block attrition.
The Friday (Oct 10) edition of the Wall Street Journal contained an article whose title and deck pretty much say it all: “The Mystery Worshipper: To try to keep their flocks, churches are turning to undercover inspectors, who note water stains, dull sermons and poor hospitality.”
Two of the best thoughts were made by commentors:
This is more of that corporate/marketing mentality that is often distracting from the gospel message itself. Is it possible that Church A has top of the line technology and media and yet fails to bring people closer to Jesus Christ while Church B across the street lacks budget, has stained ceiling tiles, and lacks mega church status and yet is fully engaged in the mission of God? Church A would get an A+ in a survey like this while Church B would be mediocre at best. So it seems to me that these services are asking all the wrong questions.
Sue makes a good point, too:
What are the implications of viewing a worship service as a product to be consumed? When folks are asked to rate the service according to their own personal preferences, then isn’t the focus of the worship service actually the person, not God? Isn’t it like saying, “Have we wrapped God in a pleasing enough package for you to keep coming back to our package, and maybe experience God along the way?”
Or should a worship service be rather viewed as a community which brings THEIR “packages” — the good, the bad, and the ugly of their lives–to unwrap before God each Sunday, confessing the bad and the ugly and then offering to God and to one another whatever good one has for the benefit of all?
How, how, how, how, how can a visitor or a company RATE that?
My friend and fellow blogger, Seaton, recently posted a quote from A. W. Tozer that addresses this issue. Keep in mind that he wrote these words in 1955:
Much that passes for Christianity today is the brief bright effort of the severed branch to bring forth its fruit in its season. But the deep laws of life are against it. Preoccupation with appearances and a corresponding neglect of the out-of-sight root of the true spiritual life are prophetic signs which go unheeded.
Immediate “results” are all that matter, quick proofs of present success without a thought of next week or next year. Religious pragmatism is running wild among the orthodox. Truth is whatever works. If it gets results it is good. There is but one test for the religious leader: success. Everything is forgiven him except failure.
A tree can weather almost any storm if its root is sound, but when the fig tree which our Lord cursed “dried up from the roots” it immediately “withered away.” A church that is soundly rooted cannot be destroyed, but nothing can save a church whose root is dried up. No stimulation, no advertising campaigns, no gifts of money and no beautiful edifice can bring back life to the rootless tree.
With a happy disregard for consistency of metaphor the Apostle Paul exhorts us to look to our sources. “Rooted and grounded in love,” he says in what is obviously a confusion of figure; and again he urges his readers to be “rooted and built up in him,” which envisages the Christian both as a tree to be well rooted and as a temple to rise on a solid foundation.
The whole Bible and all the great saints of the past join to tell us the same thing. “Take nothing for granted,” they say to us. “Go back to the grass roots. Open your hearts and search the Scriptures. Bear your cross, follow your Lord and pay no heed to the passing religious vogue. The masses are always wrong. In every generation the number of the righteous is small. Be sure you are among them.”
My conclusion: The church’s love for “pleasing men rather than Christ” (Galatians 1:10) was just a sapling fifty years ago, but over the years it has deepened its roots and spread its limbs, and now the American doctrine of progress and the idol of popular opinion have come to roost in its branches.