If I Were a Spy at Your Church This Weekend

If you read this blog regularly, you know that my church consulting company, the Lawless Group, sends “spies” to churches to give us a report of their experience. They generally look for basic things – e.g., Is there adequate signage? Are the people friendly? Is the music well done? Is the preaching biblical? If I were to visit your church this weekend, though, here are some other things I’d watch for:

  1. Does your church seem to be expecting guests? I can answer that question by whether your church has trained greeters in the parking lot, a manned welcome center, and friendly faces at the door. If your folks don’t know what to do with me when I get there, it will be clear they weren’t expecting me.
  2. Does anyone ask me my name? Our experience is that “friendly” churches are friendly to people they already know – not necessarily to others. A wave, handshake, or “how are you?” cannot match a simple, “I don’t believe I know you. My name is _________. What’s yours?” 
  3. Am I comfortable leaving my kids in your children’s area? Here are some things that would make me say, “no”: no adults in the room when we arrive; no check in process that asks about my child’s allergies, etc.; no security process that seeks to assure my child’s safety; easy access for any adult to get to where my child is; rooms that seem cluttered, unprepared, and unsafe.
  4. Does your church seem to enjoy singing God’s praises together? Here, I’m not concerned about the style of music as much as I am the fervor of the singing. I want to know if your congregation loves singing together. In most of our experiences, a church that doesn’t sing with passion usually has some underlying conflicts. 
  5. Do your members have Bibles with them? The copy might be electronic or hard copy, but I still want to know that your members have their own Bible. That way, they make Bible study more personal and they model a walk with God for unchurched guests. I want inquirers and new believers to want to read the Bible, know it, and have their own copy.
  6. Does the preaching clearly call me to respond to the Word in practical ways? Church leaders debate our role in applying the Scriptures, but I’d argue that a sermon without application is an incomplete exposition of the text. I want you to push me to think about how my life should change based on the Word.
  7. Would I turn to your church for prayer support based on my day with you? Is prayer so real, so powerful, and so recurrent when your church gathers that I’d turn to your congregation if I had a need? For too many churches, prayer is only the expected start and end of a small group, followed by being a filler in the service so people can move on and off the stage without being seen. It’s not in their DNA – and it shows.

What kind of report do you think I’d give your church? 


  • Debbie trent says:

    i would love to find a church like your speaking of.

  • Smallchurch Goer says:

    This is a crock!
    Your going there, “spying” looking for something “wrong”…. then yes your going to find something wrong.

    Why all this need to have church grading, consulting, and church spies?
    If your a pastor doing this, then you already have issues with your congregation… put your notice in now. Do NOT stand up there every week, (I say every week but with our leaving pastor it’s not every week, he has missed more Sunday’s then most. Ya, we could really tell the church was his priority.) and act like your trying to preach the word to us when in the back of your mind your wishing you were far away. Just go. I understand most places you don’t want to jump ship with your job until you have something else lined up but if you take the role of a pastor then you should be ready go when you need to. If your not happy at that pulpit it will show and be noticeable to your congregation and you can do WAY more harm than good to them!

    If your looking for a new church home and you have to be greeted at the door and have a welcome center then your looking for a church for the wrong reason.”If your folks don’t know what to do with me when I get there, it will be clear they weren’t expecting me.” What are we supposed to do everyone huddle around the new person and greet them and ask them 20 questions.

    Ask your name! So if you were approached and I said hi I’m Mr or Mrs Smallchurch Goer glad to have you, what’s your name, you give your name, you’re asked if you’re from around here….do you say no I’m just here to spy not really worried about worshiping the lord with you just want to see if you doing it the way I approve.

    Oh I could go on with the issues I myself see with this, but that’s just my opinion and the article states your opinions…. we’ve all got them. But I will say, this kind of, sending in spies and the whole ordeal of are we doing it right, do we have enough signs, are we all singing together, counting how many brought their bible, it’s just nonsense!

    Bottom line… Yes pastors do get spies…. and if your one doing this or thinking of it then just go now! It doesn’t matter what the spy reports back if your to the point you need to do this then your heart has already left this church so go on with yourself and find somewhere else.

    If you’re someone who thinks you can spy on or evaluate a church especially one Sunday, then I don’t know where you need to go. Perhaps you and the pastors asking for your service should all begin your own little church.

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Thanks for your thoughts. 

    • Jim says:

      The idea is to make the church better. A church that believes that it has no need to improve has already started to die. Can your church honestly answer “yes” to each of these points? If not, you have identified a need for improvement. But, you will not have the full picture even then.

      And, the reason for “spies” is that church members (particularly those who have been members for a long time) become blind to the problems in the church. You cannot know how someone coming to your church for the first time sees your church. You have the inside view. You are on the inside looking out. The only way to find out what it looks like to a person on the outside looking in is to bring someone in from outside. You need to remember that we are a witness to the world (whether we want to be or not). And, that witness can either be positive or negative.

      And, to the person seeking Jesus, it is important. It is only nonsense to those who feel that their comfort might be challenged.

      • Chuck Lawless says:

        Thanks, Jim.

        • Smallchurch Goer says:

          This is and endless disagreement

          “You cannot know how someone coming to your church for the first time sees your church.” No… I can not know how someone else feels, but nor can you. You can know only how you feel!

          You Mr. Lawless are judging a church by your standards. Who are you to decide what everyone who walks thru the church doors feels. How do you nominate yourself to be the knower and judger of a good church and a bad church? I can see quite clearly why our leaving pastor is a follower of your blogs and such, as he too has himself set on quite a high pedestal.

          “It is only nonsense to those who feel that their comfort might be challenged.”
          I would say this is wrong, but it’s not really wrong, it’s just your opinion. However in making that statement you are saying my opinion is wrong and I must correct you there Mr. Jim! My opinion that this “spy” ordeal is nonsense is not wrong… It’s my opinion. Also please note I have no fear of my comfort being challenged. You are simply stating that if I don’t agree with the church spy ordeal and with Mr. Lawless’ ideas of what a makes a good church then I’m wrong and that….. that is nonsense!

          Everyone who walks thru the doors of your church or mine, weather they be there for the 500th time or the 1st time has something different that they are going thru, something different on their heart and mind. You cannot say that you know what everyone who walks thru a church door feels, thinks or needs other than to say WE ALL NEED JESUS!

          To say a church is failing because it does not have someone standing there to greet you or signs telling you where to go, or you saw 5 people walk in and 2 were carrying bibles is ______________. (everyone has their own opinion)

          I agree to disagree.

  • Cindy says:

    Being new to a town where my husband was stationed, I knew I needed to find a church. I was only 18 but I went to the first Baptist church I found. They had a good music program and lots of passionate singing. They spent before and after the service visiting with each other. The pastor was pretty good too. He did come to visit us once just after my first visit. I went to that church for a year and not a soul ever greeted me or asked my name. I was not encouraged to join a sunday school class or get involved. I was military and therefore transient. I was lonely. My husband refused to go. But I went because I knew I needed to be in church. No one noticed when I left at the end of our assignment. That church could have used a ‘spy’ to point out that one deficiency. I have never encountered that since, but it was one lonely year for an 18 year old in a strange town/state. Spying may feel like subterfuge, but isn’t that what every visitor to our church is doing? They are checking out what we are about and deciding whether or not they want to be a part of our church.

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