Was I in your group last Sunday? Lessons learned from my “secret shopper” experience

Some retailers hire what they call “secret shoppers.” These people are hired to shop and secretshopperevaluate the store’s personnel. They measure everything from employee response time to employee product knowledge. At the end of the visit the secret shopper records their experience and the results are provided to store management and used to train employees to be better at their jobs.

On an out-of-state trip last week, I found myself walking into a church this past Sunday to worship and attend a Bible study group. They didn’t know me. I didn’t know them (I was an unintentional “secret shopper”). Was I possibly in your Bible study group? Let’s hope not based on the experience I had! Are there some lessons for all of us to learn from my experience? Definitely! Here goes.

  1. The group gathered no information about me. The teacher and group members had no idea that I was “just a guest” and not a real prospect for their group. I was in the room with them for over an hour, and no one asked me to give them any information they might use to reach out to me (such as home address, phone, email, Twitter handle, etc). Opportunity lost.
  2. The room was set up in 3 long rows of chairs. The rows of chairs definitely hindered any discussion in the group. As I counted people who spoke up, in this group of approximately 30 people, only 4 talked. Too many group members sat in silence and listened to a small handful of people exchange friendly banter about the lesson. Perhaps several smaller circles or a couple of bigger semi-circles could have gotten more people talking about issues raised in the Bible study.
  3. The teacher criticized the Bible study materials. When a group member whined that the publisher of the curriculum “skips all the controversial stuff” (he lamented the fact that the lesson hopped over one chapter in Genesis that could have been used to support the practice of capital punishment); he interpreted that as a “weakness” in the material and accused the publisher of being “chicken” to address such topics. Unfortunately, the teacher affirmed his line of thinking and the two proceeded to pummel the curriculum for a few minutes. This does not help group members think positively of the Bible study materials, and it took valuable time away from the real purpose of the gathering: Bible study! Any by the way, the teacher and his all-too-vocal group member were wrong in their interpretation about the curriculum and things it skips over; there’s a good reason for not addressing every little possible topic. Maybe we’ll address that in a future blog post.
  4. The lesson wandered. The focus of the lesson was supposed to be on second chances. Noah and his family were spared from the flood while the rest of the people of the world were punished. The teacher never addressed this and guided the lesson in that direction. Instead, we were treated to a verse-by-verse exposition and commentary by the group leader. Anyone in the group who was in need of a second chance in life today missed out on this valuable truth – that God offers us a second chance.
  5. My name was mispronounced when I was introduced. Not a big deal, but it is nice to have your name spoken correctly. The teacher didn’t really care who I was or that I might be a prospect for his group. He heard my name once and  then added a couple of letters when he pointed me out and said my name to the group. I’ll answer to anything close, but come on…it’s not that hard to get someone’s name right.
  6. The room setup faced the two entry doors. The entire room should have been flipped to face away from the entry doors. Why? So that when people came in late they wouldn’t disrupt the Bible study. And about six people got up and left with ten minutes to go in the lesson because they were members of the worship choir – and they all marched out in full view as the teacher was “landing the plane” and making his final points.  A better setup would have been to make the focal wall opposite the entry doors so that people exited the class to the rear, and late comers could have entered without distracting the group or calling too much attention to themselves.

Now, those are 6 “negative” things that happened during the Bible study. Did anything good happen? Yes.

  • Jesus’ name was lifted up.
  • The Scripture was studied.
  • People were friendly.
  • The classroom was nice and nicely appointed.
  • The teacher was prepared.
  • A visitor center host walked me to the classroom.

But with just a few minor tweaks, the group’s experience could have been so much better! If your group did any of the 6 things above, commit now to change that before the next time your group meets.

And by the way, my “secret shopper” experience took place in West Texas. So all of you in the other 49 states can relax – I wasn’t in your group.

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One thought on “Was I in your group last Sunday? Lessons learned from my “secret shopper” experience

  1. I had to wipe the sweat from my brow after reading this. I was so glad you listed 6 positive notes at the end. I do like the “secret guest” concept. After all, we all have a special guest sitting in with us every Sunday. (The Holy Spirit)

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