Starting late. Our secret shoppers know to be present in the worship center prior to the publicized starting time and to record what time the service actually begins. A late start may be unavoidable, but too often the tardiness is seemingly due to disorganization and apathy. A late start seldom strengthens an attitude of worship.
Poor sound and/or video quality. Occasionally this problem unexpectedly happens when the system malfunctions. At other times, it seems clear that either (a) rehearsal never occurred to detect and correct any problems or (b) leaders chose to ignore problems. Either one is unacceptable.
Excessively loud music. I suspect my age is apparent here, but even some of our young secret shoppers have commented negatively on this issue. Increased volume may be appropriate in some settings, but it does not automatically strengthen worship. Sometimes, worship occurs best in the quiet.
Incomprehensible choir or praise team words. The lyrics are probably great, but we cannot tell. The sound system may be poor, the singers may not enunciate well, or the music may drown out the words – but we miss the message while straining to understand the words. Simply including the lyrics on a Powerpoint would help.
Grammatical and/or spelling errors on the screen. Granted, this error should perhaps not be a distraction. Surely, we can overlook an omitted apostrophe or misspelled homonym. On the other hand, God – and worshipers who are often well educated – deserve our best in presentation.
Poor synchronization of presentation slides. The operator gets caught up in the worship and fails to progress to the next slide. Or, activity in the sound booth becomes itself a distraction for the operator. Nevertheless, it’s difficult to worship in song when the lyrics on the screen are measures behind the worship leader.
Unclear directions. Worshippers – especially guests or unchurched attenders – do not readily follow everything that takes place in a worship service. Even our best secret shoppers sometimes feel awkward over such questions as: Who is the person speaking (no one introduced him)? Will they recognize guests (and will I be put on the spot)? Am I permitted to partake of the Lord’s Supper (no one explained it)? If the church does not take an offering, how do I give (again, no one guided us)?
Poor lighting. The problem may simply be weak lighting; that is, uneven lighting in the worship center creates dim sections where reading the Bible is difficult. In some cases, delayed maintenance results in burned out bulbs. In others, a darkened room intentionally creates worship ambience – but also reflects a wrong assumption that all worshipers will be reading the Bible only on the screen.
Bad preaching. This conclusion is subjective, but nonetheless truthful: worship is challenging when the preaching is boring or disorganized. It’s even more taxing when the sermon covers everything but the Bible.
Crowd movement. To be fair, I admit that worship should so focus on God that crowd movement is not distracting. In addition, many folks we interview sit toward the back of a worship center, where the movement is likely more noticeable. Nevertheless, folks coming and going from the worship center – especially during times of prayer, reflection, preaching, and response – can be disruptive.