Holy spies to rate the vicars

How would St Vincent’s rate?

British vicars rarely grumble about people joining their congregations, but a number might be dreading a visit next month by a "mystery worshipper" – the Church of England equivalent of the restaurant critic.

In an unprecedented move, as many as 100 specially recruited researchers will turn up incognito in pews across London on April 24 to judge the quality of the Sunday service on offer.

The volunteers, using pen names such as "Church Mouse" and "Dunelm" to protect their anonymity, will then post their verdicts on the Christian website at www.Ship-of-Fools.com.

The exercise has been inspired by the market research techniques of supermarket chains, which send mystery shoppers into their own stores to gather consumer feedback.

Churches will be judged on the warmth of the welcome, the length and content of the sermon, the music, and even the after-service coffee and the softness of the pews.

Mystery worshippers will also be asked to describe the moment that brings them closest to heaven and the moment closest to "the other place".

Ecclesiastical "Oscars" will be awarded in categories such as best sermon, best use of music and best overall church.

Simon Jenkins, the editor of the website, said: "Our volunteers go to a church they have never been to before and experience the service as an outsider.

"For the church being visited, the only clue is the calling card dropped discreetly into the collection plate, bearing the picture of a masked man in Lone Ranger pose."

The project began seven years ago and the 1000th report will be published next week on Palm Sunday. This is the first city-wide inspection.

The Telegraph, London

Source: http://www.smh.com.au/news/World/Holy-spies-to-rate-the-vicars/2005/03/15/1110649202448.html?oneclick=true

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