Get Paid to Go to Church… No, Really!

You know how large chain stores will pay people to be “secret shoppers” to see how well their employees perform? Well there’s a company that does this exclusively for churches.

I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.

It’s called Faith Perceptions:

The Mystery Guest Program tells church leaders what first-time visitors think and feel during the worship experience. We hire primarily “unchurched” individuals to attend church services and they provide numerical and written feedback on their experiences.

Faith Perceptions refers to unchurched people as “individuals who do not regularly attend another church,” but I think they are actually referring to us godless heathens. After all, who better to test the waters of friendliness in unknown religious territory than an atheist?

[Note from Hemant: Been there. Done that.]

This idea is either a stroke of genius or completely absurd. I can’t decide which. Would you secretly shop a church if you got paid for it?

About Lauren Lane

Lauren Lane is the co-founder of Skepticon, the Midwest's largest skeptic student-run conference and remains a lead organizer today. She has not one, but TWO fancy art degrees and is not afraid to use them.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553145445 Gordon Duffy

    I suspect it is actually a lure to “reach” the “unchurched”

    • Annie

      I think you’re right.  On the website, under testimonials, I found this:

      “I highly recommend Faith Perceptions to any church or denomination interested in reaching the unchurched.” -  Bob Farr, Director of Congregational Excellence

      Though I don’t think many atheists would get sucked in as easily as people who believe in god/s and just don’t go to church.  Sure, they are using this to collect data, but also to get more butts in the pews.

  • http://sunombreenvano.blogspot.com/ Diego, El Mapache

    I guess I would, or at least depending on how much they’d be willing to pay. Although I don’t know how unchurched I could consider myself (former catholic here). But it would be nice to see how loving these places are.

  • Marco Conti

    Where do I apply? I would love to treat it as an anthropological expedition and I have enough experience with catholic churches, business and marketing to at least give them some decent feedback.

    I am afraid I am too expensive for them though :(

    • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

      Looks like you can apply here:

      https://www.faithperceptions.com/BecomingMysteryGuest.aspx

      They pay $45 per completed survey. Not a bad price, actually. I do consumer taste testing  from time to time, and they only pay around $25.

      • Sindigo

        I was about to come on here and say they couldn’t pay me enough to give up my Sunday mornings but $45 isn’t actually that bad for an hour’s work. However, I’m in the UK so I suspect that an hour singing silly songs and listening to a fairly apolitical, rather feel-good sermon in an overwhelmingly friendly Anglican congregation followed by sherry with the vicar might be more bearable than some of the fire and brimstone in a US church. At least, that’s what is was like when I was a kid. That and draughty. God, was it draughty in that church.

  • Ashley Will

    Looks like your book must have inspired this idea. 

  • NCBill

    I agree with Marco, could be an interesting study. Also, having not had a job for three years I think i could handle working for four or five hours a week and getting something for it!

  • Pessimistic Applicant

    If the requirement is to be ‘unchurched’ I fear I may already be overqualified.

  • cipher

    I’d be able to take it more seriously if those using the term “unchurched” didn’t happen to be unintelligent.

  • cipher

    Of course, we could all start going and fill out the reports with comments like, “I was offended by the pastor’s conservative political leanings”. Let’s see how seriously they take it.

  • newavocation

    God, it would take a lot of cash to get me to sit, kneel, and stand again. Or I would be happy to attend a UU church, where I could go in shorts and flip flops, drink coffee and text in the pews with the rest of the crowd.

    • http://boldquestions.wordpress.com/ Ubi Dubium

      I doubt that a UU church would be participating in this “secret shopper” thing, though.  They don’t need to bribe people to “reach the unchuched”. 

      • newavocation

        I don’t know the UU churches I’ve been to are getting more churchy all time. Questioning atheists and humanists are not welcomed much anymore. 

  • http://twitter.com/fester60613 Fester60613

    Yes I would – and perhaps donate the cash to FFFR

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

    Another one?

    We had a thread about a different group doing this a few years ago:

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2010/02/08/a-yelp-for-churches

    Incidentally, I e-mailed that group at the time, but I never heard back from anyone. I think it’s a neat idea, even though this company obviously has ulterior motives. Still, if they’re willing to pay me, I’d be happy to jump on board. Better me than someone who might actually be conversion fodder, LOL. I’d just treat it like a big sociological experiment, and I wouldn’t mind critiquing their services.

  • Losieslav_xlt_jr

    Absolutely!
    Imagine the things you get to see and hear in all kinds of different churches.
    Where do I sign up?

  • JenniferT

    Only if I can heckle.

  • graingert

    I participated as a mystery guest in a uk scheme run by the church itself.

    They invited the whole Southampton Atheist Society to participate and we put the money towards reason week speakers that year.

  • I_Claudia

    I dunno, the moral dilemma is complex.

    On the one hand, it could be good to tell them, in a context they might listen to, that attitudes like homophobia and sexism are huge turn-offs. If you can help churches move away from these damaging attitudes, you’ll be doing a good thing. On the other hand you are basically helping a church make itself more attractive to the secular, and therefore collaborating in steering people towards religion, which is a terrible thing.

    On balance, I think I’d probably decline.

  • Sheila

    Is it just me or did anyone else look at the requirements to sign up? The want just your religious affiliation and your social security number. Really? I don’t think so. 

    • Annie

      I didn’t make it past the first page, because I didn’t enter any info. so it would let me see.  It does ask if you believe in god too.

      I have been thinking about visiting churches in the next few months, mainly because I want to see if any pastors are telling people who to vote for come November.  But, I think I’ll just go on my own…

      • amycas

         I went through the next page and they make it very clear that you are not allowed to evaluate any church with which you or anyone you know is involved. The language used in explaining how you fill out the forms and what you fill out doesn’t seem to indicate that they are trying to help churches convert.

    • http://boldquestions.wordpress.com/ Ubi Dubium

      I’m guessing that the SSN is because they have to behave like an employer, since they are paying you.  So they have to get your SSN, and maybe even withhold taxes on your paycheck, or at least issue you a 1099 for taxes.  So that’s not surprising.  I can also understand asking religious affiliation, since they probably are not planning to send “secret shoppers” who are of the same affiliation as the church being reviewed.

  • Wildcrafter

    Yes.

  • Blanc_Slate

    Hell yea I’d “shop” a church if money was involved. Why not, I’m broke and I need money from any source available, even if it’s a church. 

  • Jamie

    I do it from time to time. Don’t worry – it’s not a trap to sway heathens to believe in god. It’s mostly United Methodist churches who I think are probably a bit concerned that their parishioners are dying off, and think maybe they better check how they’re coming off to newbies. Maybe there is some motivation to “reach” people, but really, there have been sad few attempts to reach me when I visit these places. 

  • JamesM

    Every church service I’ve ever been to has been almost unbearable (almost because I was able to make through the service). Maybe someone could pay me to go, but it would have to really be worth my time. $800/service minimum, and I don’t think I could do this regularly.

  • Jim

    I signed up with them a few months back as an open atheist. Unfortunately, there was only one church in my area to survey and I opted out. Part of the requirement is to remain anonymous  and I didn’t feel that being a giant ginger that I am could pull that off in the all black church. Part of the job is to also stop and ask for directions nearby the church as to see if the locals even know where it is.

  • Lana

    Well, it’s a nice turn on the usual story — instead of paying, I get paid? I might, just to try and make back all those years of 10% tithing per paycheck. 

  • Tinker

    I like it, $45 and I can tell my in-laws I went to church? Too bad I work on Sundays.

  • http://www.atheistrev.com vjack

    I might if I was unemployed and desperate. From the standpoint of the churches, it isn’t a bad idea. I just wouldn’t want to subject myself to all that superstitious nonsense.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke, orphan

    in all fairness, this is just good business practice. i worked in food service and i knew people who did this with restaurants. it’s totally logical to get an “unchurched” (love that word, heh) person to check one out. after a while i suppose the perspective would change, which is to say if someone paid me to go to 12 sundays worth of churching after that point i wouldn’t be so “fresh” a perspective. but at least a few times i would have that outsider viewpoint, and that can be valuable data to a business looking to grow. which of course all churches really are. how much does it pay, that’s what i’m curious about. the restaurant testers were pretty well paid, when all was said and done. 

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/FDGYHBEWVNGUG763L5X4TON3JQ Nazani14

    A Sunday morning is a terrible thing to waste.
    I endured services in various churches when my Dad was no longer able to drive.  It’s all about the quality of the refreshments, so go for an ethnic congregation, such as Filipino.

  • http://churchofthecasualchristian.blogspot.com Pryopizm

    I suppose it’d be slightly less painful than selling plasma.

  • Robster

    Even more bigotry. Quote “Bob Farr, Director of Congregational Excellence”. Congregational Excellence? What if you’re not excellent? Does that mean you’re unwelcome? But, yep even though I’m not excellent, I’d go for a giggle.

  • http://www.lxndr.com/ Alexander Unwyn Cherry

    I will be visiting a church this Sunday in Phoenix as a result of this post. Forty-five bucks for two hours (plus a 40 minute round trip). Not bad, but not great either.  I’ve been totally upfront with the Faith Perceptions people. They ask specifically ”
    Do you consider yourself a believer in God?” and I’ve said ‘no.’ 

    If interested, I’m happy to write about my experience.

    • Anna

      I’d definitely like to hear about it! I haven’t contacted Faith Perceptions yet, but it sounds like it might be interesting to do one of these visits.

      • http://www.lxndr.com/ Alexander Unwyn Cherry

        Well, the service I went to was somewhat droll (although the rest of the church experience was interesting). And I did get my promised $45. The survey they have you filled out is interesting and detailed (and also includes several activites they’d like you to do BEFORE the visit, and AFTER the visit, so… it’s good to review the survey before attending.)

  • kez

    I would totally do that, no qualms.
    But wouldn’t it make sense to recruit religious seekers (not sure if that’s the right word, but people who are searching for a church to join) instead of ‘unchurched’ people who presumably wouldn’t be attending if  they weren’t being paid?


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