Study: Clues behind first-time church guests

Churches with 300-500 in Weekly Attendance Rate Higher with First-Time Guests
By Melanie Smollen, Faith Perceptions,

After four years of sending mystery guests into churches to evaluate the first-time guest experience, Faith Perceptions has again released their findings in its annual Church Index. It shows that “large” churches (300 – 500 in average weekly attendance) performed better than both their smaller and larger counterparts in nine of fifteen categories. Key areas of strength for these large churches were pre-service greeting, seating, in-service greeting, and friendliness. Large church visits comprise 24% of the 1,152 worship services measured in the Church Index.

Faith Perceptions measures the first-time guest experience at churches across the country. Here is how it works: Faith Perceptions ( partners with church leaders who wish to understand how their church impacts first-time visitors. Typically, church leaders do not disclose their participation in the program to the congregation so that everyone will conduct “church as usual.” Faith Perceptions hires primarily “unchurched” mystery visitors from the church’s local area to attend their services — a different person at each service over several months. Each mystery guest then completes an online survey describing their experience. Faith Perceptions compiles the data and provides reports to the church leaders with qualitative and quantitative feedback. The church leaders use this information to make sure that their congregation is welcoming and hospitable to visitors.

Melanie Smollen, Project Manager for Faith Perceptions explains, “With 1,152 church services evaluated nationwide, we’ve learned that while large churches perform best overall, mega churches (1,000+ in attendance) do best in teaching, speaking, and areas that require significant financial resources. Micro (0-80 in attendance) and small (81 – 150 in attendance) churches do best in providing a welcoming atmosphere for visitors. Medium- sized churches (151 – 300 in attendance) have the most challenges to overcome in retaining first-time guests.”

The Faith Perceptions Church Index can be found here.

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