The Imperfect Church

“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32)

They’re out there you know.  Hiding in the shadows. Lurking just where we can’t see or acknowledge them.  No it’s not the new M. Night Shamalayan screenplay, although it would probably make a pretty good movie.

We are being invaded. Not by aliens, monsters or ghosts. No we are being invaded by secret worshipers.  It’s a strategy many denominations and even local churches are beginning to engage in. They are employing people to come, sneak in and report back what they experienced in worship that Sunday.

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It’s a great strategy really. Many businesses have used secret shoppers for years. A company hires someone to go to a store and shop.  They then report on their experience.  Where the people helpful? what seemed odd? Would you come back?  It’s a great way to have someone on the outside bring back some objective data.

The church is now beginning to use secret worshipers to do the same thing. Come to a church, worship and report on what they experienced. We all know what we think people experience. But to have someone on the outside come and share from their point of view what they experienced can be eye opening.

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Last week a friend told me their District was sending out secret worshipers to churches.  He asked “Does your district use secret worshipers?” I thought for a moment and said,”I have no idea.  I mean, if they are secret I’d have no idea they are there.  If we have them no one has told me about it.

That same week my wife showed me an article about a company that uses secret worshipers. They pay $45.00 a service, so if you worship three times on a Sunday you can pick up some good money all before noon. Apparently the business is doing well because they were recruiting more people to work for them.

But what struck me was the comment made by a secret worshiper.  He isn’t a believer. He’s been doing this job for several months now. And he commented I really haven’t seen anything or experienced anything that would make me want to join a  particular church.”

When I first read this my knee jerk reaction was the church isn’t doing it’s job. How could he worship that much and not want to be a Christian. He went to church sometimes more than once every Sunday. I have church members who don’t do that.  He must have not been to church that takes Jesus’ words at the top of this blog seriously. They must not have been lifting up Jesus.

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But the more I thought about it, the more unfair that seemed to me. I’m sure most of the churches he visited were full of good, Jesus loving Christians.  I hope he heard a Biblical sermon sharing the truth of Christ every single week, maybe more than once a Sunday.

The problem was not in the church’s witness as much as in the objective of the secret worshiper. In truth, he isn’t a worshiper. he didn’t come to lift up Jesus. He didn’t come to find answers for his life, to be made whole. he didn’t come knowing there was a need in his life only Christ could fill. No, he came to see how well he was welcomed. To see if he “liked” the music.  How good was the choir or the band? Did anyone shake his hand? Was he overwhelmed or underwhelmed with attention?  In short his day, was about him , not God.

Thankfully, I believe in Prevenient Grace. So I fully hope that while this man doesn’t plan on it, at some point Jesus is going to break into his life. And I don’t disparage what he does. he ask some important questions. We do need to make church a high quality, welcoming place.  But while they are important questions, I’m not sure they are the most relevant ones.

The more relevant question would be how can I lift up God and praise Him this morning? What does Jesus want to do in my life and am I willing to let Him do it? What does God have to say to me today? How can this body of Christ bring me closer to Jesus? How can  I bring them closer to Jesus?

As I said I don’t want to be too harsh with the secret worshiper. Mostly because I see too much of him in me when I worship somewhere.  What about you? When we come to church what is our goal? Do we let too long a line for coffee, or the fact somebody took the last maple bacon donut (You know who you are, and so does God…just saying) deter us from what worship should be? Do we complain because a baby was too loud, or we sang an unfamiliar song?  Do we leave disgruntled because the communion bread wasn’t to our liking?

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Truth be told the church and worship are never perfect. But that’s the beauty of  it. So many little things go awry, and yet, some how God still comes. His Holy Spirit still blesses.  In an imperfect moment a perfect savior shines.  I’m glad.  Because in my moment of imperfection, I need to know God still uses me.  He still has a place for me.

As we enter into the season of Lent, We come to a time of introspection and reflection. Perhaps this year we should take time to reflect and marvel at the imperfection of the church and how God still uses her, as well as marvel at how God uses an imperfect us.


In Christ,

Rev. Brian Jones <><


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