‘Mystery Guests’ Rank Churches Based on First-Time Visits: Churches with 300-500 in Attendance Perform Best

When it comes to making a good first impression, which church scores best? Mega (1,000+), large (300-500), or micro (<80)?

First-time visitors to churches across the country say churches with 300 to 500 attendees perform the best when it comes to first impressions, according to a recent report. Their experiences at mega churches and smaller-sized congregations weren’t quite as enjoyable.

Faith Perceptions partnered with church leaders and sent out “mystery guests” to rate their first-time visits at churches varying in size from dozens of members to over a thousand. They found that “large” churches – with average weekly attendance of 300-500 – ranked “best in category” in nine out of 15 areas.

Such churches did particularly well with pre-service greetings, pre-service atmosphere, seating, in-service greetings, friendliness, directions and signage, according to how the visitors rated them. The overall experience was good enough that they gave a 7.48 score (10 point scale) on whether they would return – the highest score compared to other churches.

According to the scale used by Faith Perceptions, a 7.01-7.50 is marked as “fair,” a 7.51-8 is “good” and over 8 is “very good.”

But there were still some areas that the “large” churches ranked lower in compared to others. The only “poor” or “very poor” score that “large” churches received was with regard to its children’s ministries.

First-time guests, meanwhile, found children’s ministries to be the best at mega churches (defined as having at least 1,000 attendees). Mega churches also had the highest scores in the area of sermon, speaker and connect-resources.

What mega churches ranked poorly in, however, was the “post-service atmosphere” with a score of 4.73. And that’s where micro congregations (with 0-80 in attendance) did best with a score of 7.88.

In terms of overall experience and whether one would return, micro churches ranked lowest.


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