Went home last night and listened to The World Tonight With Robin Lustig, who introduced a report about a mystery worshipper in some evangelical church somewhere in England by pointing out that the ‘mystery worshipper’ concept was borrowed from mystery shoppers in the business world.
Whether intentionally or not, that comment encapsulates an enormous set of mistakes in current thinking about what church is for.
It might, of course, on some level, be interesting to know what people think when they visit a new congregation for the first time. (It would admittedly be very useful for many deacons courts to be more sensitive to how comfy the seats are and whether the microphone is working properly.)
But the church doesn’t provide a service, like supermarkets do. What’s on offer is not at all primarily determined by what people want or perceive themselves to need. Success in a church isn’t measured by profits or numbers of attendees or visitor satisfaction. Last night’s mystery worshipper didn’t feel comfortable with the message that you’re a bad person for not keeping the ten commandments, for example – which is unfortunate, because it’s exactly one half of the message which the church only exists in order to proclaim.
Churches (and individual Christians) need to perpetually resist the inclination to feel that they need popular approval for survival, and to think that if people aren’t comfortable with the gospel and its implications that we need to change things in order to remove that discomfort. It’s basically just a lack of confidence in the scriptures and the methods that the God of the Church has set out for us to follow. ‘Woe to the wicked, for it shall be ill with him,’ is never an appealing message – but of course it never needs to be proclaimed as a stand-alone message: ‘Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord; though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.’
The how of making sinners into saints isn’t for the church to perform, but the church needs to retain the full conviction that this is what God does through its preaching of the gospel. This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
It’s too bad if people’s disinclination to hear about sin and sinnership makes them fail to realise the significance of the salvation that’s available for sinners. Comfy seats and warm welcomes and a decent cup of tea need to be practiced all round, but if the complete gospel message isn’t there for people to listen to, they aren’t really ultimately worth the effort.