I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a meeting with a pastor, told him what I do as a consultant and watched him perk up. I recently had a meeting with a Senior Pastor who formerly had led the Guest Services ministry at a huge church. When I told him what I do, he put his hands over his face and said, “Greg, I would have paid any amount to bring you to our church if I had known about your services.”

It’s no secret that pastors love their churches. They want their church to be healthy and to grow. There’s no shame in saying or thinking that—every pastor wants their church to grow and make an impact in their community.

But many times, a church needs an outside set of new eyes to visit and report the first impressions a newcomer receives. That’s what I do as a Church Secret Shopper. Many pastors love the idea of such a service but don’t know who to hire, where to start or what questions to ask.

If your church has the budget (despite size), hire a Church Secret Shopper to come to your church for a weekend. You won’t regret it. That’s my sales pitch. I’m done. But whether you call me or another Shopper, get to know them and what they offer. Here are some questions you should ask (and for comparison’s sake, I’ve included the answers I would give):

  1. Can you give me an overview of your service for churches?
    Reason to ask: We don’t all do the same thing.
    [I offer extra (included) services like an online presence evaluation (social media and website) that not all Shoppers provide.]
  2. How much do you charge?
    Reason to ask: Some secret shoppers have one flat fee. [I charge a rate that my services are worth and can benefit either a small or large church. If you are a church of 500 and have a small facility, small parking lot, and one service, you shouldn’t have to pay the same amount as a church of 15,000 that has a giant campus and multiple services.]
  3. How will you give feedback?
    Reason to ask: Some mail you a written report and don’t provide a verbal discussion. Some do a phone call with no visual interaction. [I do a video conference and, after I go over my report, I answer any questions the leadership may have.]
  4. Who should I tell that you’re coming to visit?
    No one! Well, I understand that your admin needs to take care of arrangements, but really only 2 to 3 people should know about it. Usually, it’s the Senior Pastor, Executive Pastor, and an admin.
  5. Who should I ask to be in the feedback meeting?
    Reason to ask: Some churches have just the Senior Pastor attend the meeting; some have just the Senior Leadership Team. Others have all staff or all elders. Think through who your church wants in the room. [I can offer some suggestions based on church size.]
  6. What churches have you worked with (size, denomination, worship style)?
    Reason to ask: Some Shoppers just work with traditional churches. Some work with small to medium-sized churches. Some concentrate on a particular denomination. [I have worked with just about every denomination and I’ve worked with church plants. I’ve visited giga-churches and old, historic churches. I’ve worked with cutting edge churches in their early, explosive years and with plateaued and declining churches. I’ve experienced worship styles that include acapella, pipe organ, choir and orchestra, and rocking band music.]
  7. Why should I go with you instead of another Church Secret Shopper?
    Reason to ask: A secret shopper should earn your business, your trust and your respect.
  8. How long have you been doing this?
    Reason to ask: Experience matters. [I’ve been doing Church Secret Shopper consultations around the country for ten years. I would stay away from any consultant that is just beginning and doesn’t know what to look for or report on.
  9. Are you biased in any way?
    Reason to ask: Integrity check. [Yes, we’re all biased. I love my home church and I’m thrilled with all their ministries. Would I try to get your church to feel and look like my church? Absolutely not.]
  10. Will you try to get us to be something we’re not?
    Reason to ask: A good Church Secret Shopper consultant just observes and points out things that confused or intimidated him or her. [I have no plans to change your vision and mission. I want you to be who God has called you to be. I’ve always said, “God uses all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people.” Hear this: Excellence transcends. I don’t care what style of music you do, as long as you do it with excellence and to the glory of God.]
  11. How long will the whole process take?
    Reason to ask: It’s a no-brainer to state that the church needs the report ASAP while the results are still current—the results should be delivered within a month. [I was talking with an Executive Director at a massive church who had narrowed his options down to two Secret Shoppers. He asked me, “After you visit our church, how long will it be before we can go over the report?” I said, “Could be two weeks or one if you need it sooner to make changes for some deadline.” He replied, “Wow! The other company said their process takes six to nine months.”]
  12. How would you define our relationship moving forward if we went with you?
    Reason for asking: Forming a long-term relationship is important. [I like to have long-term relationships with my clients. I want them to call me a year later and say, “We’re going to redo our branding or website or facility. Who do you know that we could talk to?” I have a lot of strategic partners that I trust and respect. Also, some churches like to be secret shopped yearly. Some multisite churches like all their campuses to be visited. Some have the main campus visited and then later have the satellite campuses visited also. My point is: I’m not going anywhere. I’m here for you. You’ll have my contact info and you can reach out to me whenever you have a question. No charge.]

I hope this gives you some concrete facts to think through as you make a crucial decision to bring in an outside Church Secret Shopper. We must be good stewards; do your homework and don’t settle for anything other than excellence.

Note: If you can’t afford to hire an outside Church Secret Shopper, I have good news. I wrote a book that comes out the Fall of 2016 entitled, Secrets of a Secret Shopper. In the book, I tell exactly what I look for when I visit a church and how you can do the same to improve your church.