THEY have supermarkets everywhere quaking in their boots as they scrutinise every aspect of their service.
But now the dreaded mystery shoppers can be seen walking down different aisles; those of local churches.
As part of a scheme being launched in churches across the Wakefield Anglican diocese mystery worshippers will be dropping in to gauge the standard of warmth, welcome and fellowship.
It will be modelled on the mystery shopper schemes used by researchers to assess the service offered by hotels, shops and other retailers.
The mystery worshippers will focus on how welcoming the churches are, with a checklist including how comfortable newcomers are made to feel they, whether coffee and biscuits are served and the level of friendliness before and after the service.
However, the specific content of the services will not be under scrutiny by the mystery churchgoers.
The six-month project has been launched in response to the success of last year’s Back to Church Sunday (B2CS), which saw 71 parishes take part and 260 people returning to church on that day.
Recent research by Christian relief agency Tearfund revealed that 3m people are open to an invitation to church.
B2CS is seen as a good opportunity to involve more people in the work of churches.
The mystery worshippers will be visiting the churches ahead of this year’s event to ensure that they are doing all they can to encourage members of their community to attend.
Jenny Lowery, co-ordinator of B2CS, said: “Back to Church Sunday has transformed the lives of many people and still could.
“It is not about reinventing worship, it’s about putting churches back at the heart of our communities and that starts at the front porch.
“We want to make sure that we are creating a good experience of church that the visitor will want to repeat.”
Results of the mystery worshipper project will be out before the summer, although the churches involved will remain confidential.
Informal welcoming workshops will be offered to parishes interested in taking part in the scheme.
Wakefield was the second diocese in the country to welcome B2CS, when the last Sunday in September is designated as one when churchgoers personally invite one friend, colleague or neighbour back to church.