Contact: Melanie Smollen


Phone: 573.986.8840

After four years of sending mystery guests into United Methodist Churches across the country to evaluate the first-time guest experience, Faith Perceptions has again released their findings in its annual Church Index.  It shows that large churches (300-500 in average weekly attendance) performed better than both their smaller and larger counterparts in nine of fifteen categories.  Key areas of strength for these large churches were pre-service greeting, seating, in-service greeting, and friendliness.  Large church visits comprise 24 percent of the 1,152 worship services measured in the Church Index.

Bob Farr, Director of Congregational Excellence was one of the first UMC leaders to send Mystery Guests into churches of the Missouri Conference. Farr explains If we are serious about growing healthy churches, then we have to look at what outside visitors think and feel. Great leaders listen to voices outside their own systems.

Here is how it works:  Faith Perceptions ( partners with church leaders who wish to understand how their church impacts first-time visitors.  Typically, church leaders do not disclose their participation in the program to the congregation so that everyone will conduct church as usual.  Faith Perceptions hires primarily unchurched mystery visitors from the churchs local area to attend their services a different person at each service over several months.  Each mystery guest then completes an online survey describing their experience.   Faith Perceptions compiles the data and provides reports to the church leaders with qualitative and quantitative feedback.  The church leaders use this information to make sure that their congregation is welcoming and hospitable to visitors.

Melanie Smollen, Project Manager for Faith Perceptions explains, The United Methodist church was the first denomination to fully embrace Faith Perceptions unique methodology.  With 1,152 church services evaluated nationwide, weve learned that while large churches perform best overall, mega churches (1,000+ in attendance) do best in teaching, speaking, and areas that require significant financial resources.  Micro (0-80 in attendance) and small (81-150 in attendance) churches do best in providing a welcoming atmosphere for visitors.  Medium-sized churches (151-300 in attendance) have the most challenges to overcome in retaining first-time guests.   

The Faith Perceptions Church Index can be downloaded at,_2012_FINAL.pdf

For more information, please contact Melanie Smollen at 573-986-8840 or via email at