Top 10 Worst Church Moments from a Church Secret Shopper


I have attended hundreds of church services as a church secret shopper. I’ve had thousands of conversations with volunteers, staff and visitors. Here’s my list of the top 10 worst things people said to me:

10. “Excuse me, but you’re sitting in my seat” It seems cliche but it happens more often than you think.

9. “ya’ not from around here, are ya?” Older man said to me after I asked directions to the restroom. I didn’t respond, but I was thinking: “What gave it away? having all my teeth?”

8. “Follow the blue line. It’s kinda of complicated. Good luck.” Said the two men sitting inside the information kiosk before turning to each other and finishing their conversation. They pointed to a board on the wall with multiple color lines leading to different locations on campus.

7. “Nazarenes are a lot like the Baptists, but holier,” middle aged man at a Nazarene church when I asked him the difference between a Nazarene and a Baptist church.

6. “You’re the prettiest thang I ever seen!” I’m not telling you who said it.

5. “We Lutherans are a homely bunch.” A greeter at a Lutheran church as I asked more information about her church. She was right.

4. “I don’t know anything. I can’t really help you. This is my first day at the information table and the person who was going to train me didn’t show up.”

3. “I’ve got dresses that are older than you!” I don’t really remember how I got into this one, but does it really matter?

2. “It must be a special day, I see a lot of strangers here today.” Misguided Music minister during a Sunday morning greeting time.  No warm and fuzzies for this stranger.

1. “Hey, Mister, come back here! You’re not Catholic, are you? Give me the wafer back!” A Catholic Priest on the rightful suspicion I was impersonating a catholic worshiper during communion. I had to give it up.

I’m sure you have a favorite line you got at church. Please DO share!

  • Steve Wells

    Son, your head is too big. Please seat in the back row.

  • Does anyone have a Bible here?(Pastor from the pulpit at beginning of sermon…sorry to say, it was me….)

  • "Let everything that has BREASTS, praise ye the Lord" I actually said that from the pulpit once. Oh, I never recovered.

  • True story: I get a tug after a church service on my shoulder from a man behind me and this elderly gentleman asks me if I'm new, whether I'm a good Christian man and then asks me if I'm married … because he wanted to set me up with this "nice young lady" he knows.

  • not to mention getting picked up by an "alternative lifestyle" man at my own church while my wife was standing 5 ft away.

  • @Scott,All I can say is that you must be one good looking dude.

  • Deanna Greenwood Hol

    "When I was 7 months' pregnant with my first child the pastor's mother (who attended our church) came up to me at my baby shower and said, "Well, you don't even look pregnant. You just look like a little fat girl!" I have NEVER forgotten that one!"

  • Jennifer Cullimore

    "Jesus Wept…do you know why He wept? Because He saw our offering totals for last week."Another one was a prayer at a church in Philly…it lasted about 20 minutes long and consisted of phrases like, "Lord, please help the poor single people in the church…they are lonely…just looking for anyone to love them…". Seriously, I wanted to slit my own wrists by the time it was over!"

  • This isn't nearly as bad or as obvious as some of the others, but…"We're a family church." Oh really? So can you marry in or do you have to share DNA with the other members?

  • Anonymous

    "The anointing is not in technological advances" so get out of your chat rooms."

  • From a men's ministry leader…"I have a PASSION for men." Followed by a really awkward silence and snickers from the teens.

  • "Satan has the world wrapped in his testicles" (pastor meant to say tentacles)"Moses take your feet off, you're standing on holy ground!" (a misquote)"We don't speak in thongs here" (pastor made a Freudian slip?)

  • "Happy FLippin Father's Day" from our pastor at the start of Father's Day service.

  • I was visiting a church and the youth were sharing about their summer trips. There was a guest band leading worship. The youth pastor got up and said, "Aren't these guys great? I wish we could have them every week."I just thought to myself, "Man, I would hate to be the worship leader today who is apparently not as good as this rock band. Way to support your team."

  • I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.Ann

  • My worst moment actually comes from the church I helped lead for 10 years. After we found a new pastor (and before the ugliness began), he had me come up front for something and then prayed over me for my singleness and made a joke that eventually I would find someone, even if I’m 60 when it happens. As the only single person in that church, I wanted to turn around and punch him.

    • Oh, that was low.

    • Nette

      Haha, that totally happened to me.   He needs to brush up on what Jesus said about being single.  It’s a good thing!

  • LisaAR

    While these are all really unfortunate comments and experiences, I have to say it struck me as well that your thoughts were things about “having all your teeth” and agreeing with the homeliness judgment. Though what these people said to you certainly isn’t warm and fuzzy, it make me wonder what vibe you were giving off.

    • I must confess I’m not the most warm and fuzzy kind of guy, but I can play one when I need to and in most of these cases, I was being compensated to be charming.

      • sngrjul

        You have been completely uncharming in this blog.

        Why not report on the insulting behavior without engaging in it yourself?

    • Brianscrazylife

      Who cares what vibe anyone walking in the door put off. We are God’s representatives!!!!

      • sngrjul

        Yes, and Maurillo is God’s representative here. And he is making hurtful comments on a blog. Even if these people were rude, there is a way to inform about insulting behavior without engaging in it oneself. I would say in this case, Maurillo failed to do so.

  • Mike B

    As Catholics we believe the “wafer” is the actual Body and Blood of Christ (near John 6:30, Although it might seem a bit odd / awkward, if you don’t actually believe that the “wafer” is the body and blood of Christ then you really shouldn’t receive it (sorta like someone downing a quality beer like its a natural light). 

    Great post though, just had to make that clarification 🙂

    • Brittany_pierre

      If we are all born again Christians and know what the body/blood/wafer does in correllation the fact the catholic priest told him to give it back is… I dont even know the right word to say. To be “denied” participation in communion is, just, well… Crazy!!!

    • Mike, the theological term is transubstantiation and I was aware of the way the Catholic Church views it. While I have a different view, I was trying to have communion as a believer. But I guess even though I was a former altar boy, that no longer counts.

    • Living in a city where two bishops and and an archbishop of the Church of England were put to death by fire for their refusal to recant on this very point of transubstantiation,  I have followed this debate with interest all my life.

      Personally, I wouldn’t take bread in a Catholic church, out of respect for them, I’d just ask the Priest for a blessing which certainly in my experience in England at least, they always make clear that this is on offer before administering the communion.

      On the other hand,  if I knew I was about to go onto the next place and a Catholic priest was the only one available, I can’t say how I’d react.  To deny someone the bread and wine (for any reason) does seem wholly unreasonable.

  • Anonymous

    This a hilarious post. Thanks Maurilio!

  • Anne Mann

    Very Funny…good for laughs….the body of Christ are a strange bunch of birds!

  • Tim

    As a Nazarene, I’m embarrassed. 🙁

    That’s “so not” what John Wesley would have said.

  • Dude, I’m a Nazarene pastor & I’ve heard people say that. Makes me sad.

    But worst line I’ve heard is, “We shouldn’t allow them in here. They are dirty.”

    They were referring to a homeless pastor.

  • Albert Lew


    Well, there’s always the world’s greatest backhanded compliment of “I don’t know why such a nice, charming man like you would still be single all these years.”

    [cue in atom bomb explosion]

    • You should come up with something like “I don’t know either. Maybe it’s because of my jail time or all the years in rehab.”

  • Deb P

    Two worst church moments … one was a safety demonstration at the start of the service (like an in-flight safety demonstration) with the advice that in the case of fire, parents should leave the kids. (Thankfully this was clarified that the Sunday School teachers would bring them.) That gave my daughter a good laugh when she attended that service–but she didn’t have kids. 

    The second thing, in a different church, was a lot more damaging. The pastor was away, and a “helpful” gentleman took my son and daughter-in-law on as his project for the evening, telling them (with a good deal of pleasure) that their pastor has been known to tell people to leave the church because they didn’t attend church often enough or weren’t as involved as they should be. (Think the pastor may not have been thrilled to know that sort of thing was being communicated to visitors.) Not surprising, the newly-weds didn’t go back, although they probably weren’t hearing the full story.No perfect churches, and foot-in-mouth disease is often on display when it comes to welcoming newcomers. 

    • I had a helpful volunteer tell a first-time-couple visiting the church that they had to volunteer for nursery duty or they couldn’t be “members in good standing.” which meant they could not vote during church meetings. Can you say “run like the wind?”

      • Jon

        So you don’t have to change diapers and don’t have to go to meetings?  Actually, that last one sounds alright.

  • Romey Ritter

    how about the ten best moments…some perspective on the great things people can find in church would be great…

    • That would be a great blog. Not quite as funny, however. 🙂

  • Growing up in a Church of Christ (don’t forget the first big “C”) we had a guy who would always pray “…and be with those who are sick of our congregation.” It always made me giggle.

  • Shawna

    “You can’t sit here, this seat is saved.” 

    • And it didn’t matter if you were saved or not, the seat was. Nice double entendre.

  • Lee

    Thanks for sharing.  Visiting churches often reminds me of showing up at someone’s Country Club or company social hour uninvited.

    • Lee, in the real of churches I work in, these are the exceptions, not the norm. These are inclusive, gregarious churches that you would feel at home right away. From time to time, however, I get some of the not-ready-for-prime-time experience. But truly, these are the exception.

  • John

    In Brazil, about 15 years ago, I heard a Brazilian pastor scold a boy about 6 years old for wearing shorts to church.  As this happened, I could “hear” a missionary scolding the pastor for the same offense about 60 years ago.  Some of our “church” culture is not Biblical but habitual and seems a bit out of date, certainly to those who may enter who have been unchurched.

    • I was scolded in Brazil by a missionary for going dancing as a teenager. You know that taking dance away from a Brazilian is like stripping him of his nationality. 🙂

  • Matthewhabuda

    Sadly churches have become businesses with poor customer service. Unfortunate as someone who loves Christ but is hurt by the way “christians” carry themselves.

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  • Jennifer Hale

    The worst ever was about five years ago, a few weeks before Christmas, when our then-pastor got up to speak and opened his sermon with “Do you remember how you felt when you found out Santa wasn’t real?” Needless to say, he’d forgotten that our very large congregation was FULL of children. To make matters worse, he said it AGAIN about 3 minutes later. He did some serious apologizing after that.

  • Carrie

    Definitely gotta share this one: As first time visitors, my mom, daughter and myself walked into the vestibule and was approached by a greeter who first introduced herself while handing us each a bulletin. She then pointed into the sanctuary and announced, “Right there is our pastor. And that man right over there? That’s MY husband!!” Immediately after “marking” her territory, she stepped away to chat with someone else who was standing nearby listening to the whole thing. She never bothered to ask if we had come to man hunt or even if were were already married or otherwise spoken for. She just spoke for hers and stepped off!  Lol!! Needless to say, though service was fair, we didn’t feel comfortable enough to attend a second time.

  • Rick Hand

    As a student pastor hoping to reach more teens in the community, one Sunday when we had several unchurched and fidgety teens in attendance, I was disheartened to hear my Senior Pastor admonish the congregation with a slightly different slant on an oldie:

    “It’s certainly good to be here today. I’d rather be here than the best jail in the county. (pause – then pointing a finger toward the section where most youth sat, he continued) But that’s exactly where some of you are going to be if you don’t settle down!”

  • JenL

    Well, there was the time my mom & dad walked into a new church (same religion, just one we’d never been to before, because we’d just moved into the area).  There were some floormats in the lobby – the kind that office buildings put out when there’s been rain and the floor could be wet.  Mom assumed that they were there because the forecast said there could be rain – and the mats didn’t lead where mom and dad were headed.

    Just a few steps into the lobby, mom’s legs went out from under her, and she fell – badly.  Dad wasn’t in the best of health, and couldn’t lift her back up by himself. 

    A couple of people nearby came over, helped my mom get back up, and essentially said “that’s why you’re supposed to stay on the mats – the floor’s pretty slippery when it’s been waxed”.  No “are you okay”, no “oh, my goodness, so sorry this was your first experience in our church”…   No apparent thought that maybe the safety of guests might be more important than a high-gloss floor.

    Dad asked mom if she thought she’d be okay going in and sitting down, and she said no – that she thought she was going to feel pretty bad in an hour or two, and thought they should go home.  At which point one of the hovering gentlemen immediately asks for contact info so they could get in touch “and make sure she was all right”. 

    A week or so later, the pastor calls up, asks enough about how mom is doing to be sure she didn’t go to a hospital or doctor, and isn’t planning on trying to sue them.  No invites to come back, no religiously-oriented questions, no interest at all beyond determining that the couple *who’d come to visit his church* weren’t going to ask the church to take any responsibility for an unsafe condition …

  • Wow…the cringe factor on some of these is just way too high to laugh, because they really do happen every single Sunday. My favorite: #1 for the mental image.

  • One morning the pastor at a church we formerly attended, asked the congregation to look around and make note of who wasn’t there that Sunday (this is a small church, mind you. Who wasn’t there was pretty obvious). He then declared that there were people who weren’t there because of sin in their life. He didn’t bother to clarify who it was, instead, we were all left to wonder of the people not there, who it might be and what the sin was.

    I have many more from this same church if you ever want them…

  • Yvon Prehn

    Demeaning, sexist and rude….not their comments, yours. Your attitude of superiority is offensive, arrogant, and ultimately sad. We can share the mistakes of others in a much kinder way.

    • I’ll give you rude and even demeaning, but sexist?! Really?!

    • Oh, you must be Lutheran.

      • What’s you point with this response? Seems you’re generalizing and offensive with that comment, Many churches cringe when we read observations that you have encountered, and are struggling to change, but you step back in and slap a specific faith community. Yes, I am a Lutheran who tries to help people see others in a Christ-like way. So, now you can go ahead and make fun of me.

    • Matthew E. Morgan

      Wow.. talk about needing to take one’s own advice. I certain did not read in rudeness or arrogance … just a report of an uncomfortable truth.

  • Matthew

    I have to admit I enjoyed the local church I visited where the greeter greeeted me with “Has anyone told you, you look like Jack Black?”

    Then there was the saved seat story that resulted in my 8-month pregnant wife having to move seats…

    And a plethora of stories of being ignored, gawked at, or left to navigate the campus maze on our own. I know you said these are the exceptions, but our latest church hunt has left me somewhat misanthropic about our churches. But at least I look like Jack Black.

  • Nikkicody

    hmmm i’ll bite…try attending church with a special needs/handicapped child.  no words necessary, the stares and keeping distance is a mouthful. 

  • Bart Austin

    I love all the Pharisees who came out here to trash the author. Clearly you don’t get it, and most likely your church doesn’t either. 

    • byHIsgrace

      Careful with that finger pointing…I recommend reading The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller…you may be surprised.

  • Jake

    We moved to town on a Tuesday and chose to visit a church on our first Sunday that met on the campus of a local Christian college. Can’t go wrong, right? My wife and I were about to begin graduate school. We were in our mid-20s, and figured a church on a college campus would probably be lively and full of people relatively close to our age. Turns out, this was a congregation of exactly 11 people (including worship leaders, announcement givers, and the preacher), all of whom were older than 60. The two of us were publicly recognized by the pastor before he began his sermon. After the service we were invited to stay for a potluck lunch, which we did. One of the women sat down beside the two of us and told us how she’d prayed and prayed that God would send some young folks to their congregation who could jump-start a young adult ministry there… and this morning he had told her that we were it! All 11 of them were very pleasant folks, but we didn’t go back.

    • Jake, I think I used to work for that church a long time ago. 🙂

  • Anonymous

    So you are a CEO to do consulting to ministries – better hope potential or current clients don’t Google your blog nor read your comment replies as you confess to being phoney and fake.

  • Just Visiting

    I attended a Catholic mass and I approached the altar for communion.  When I got to the server (a lay person) I crossed my arms across my chest and said, “I’m not Catholic, but would you bless me?”  The server looked around nervously and whispered, “I’m not supposed to, but God bless you.”  I almost laughed out loud.

  • Just Visiting

    I attended a Catholic mass and I approached the altar for communion.  When I got to the server (a lay person) I crossed my arms across my chest and said, “I’m not Catholic, but would you bless me?”  The server looked around nervously and whispered, “I’m not supposed to, but God bless you.”  I almost laughed out loud.

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  • byHisgrace

    I attended a Catholic Church as a way to get my C&E RC sister to join me…pretty friendly place. AND, the priest was actually giving hte best sermon I’ve ever heard from an RC…till he said, “YOu know, this ‘Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior make sfor a good bumper sticker…’ and went on with his sermon. My take, carrying my Bible in was a give away, Satan new the HS was in the house…at brunch my friend (her church), brought it up…”I don’t know why he said that, he has never said anything like that before…’ and i debated going to communion or not, wondering if he would stop me…he didn’t. Oh the tales I can tell you about being welcomed at different churches…

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