Mystery worshippers rate church services

First there were movie and restaurant reviewers, then mystery shoppers. Now, people called mystery worshippers are reviewing the best and worst church services.

They also have a forum – a London-based website called Ship of Fools, dubbed "the magazine of Christian unrest" when it was launched as a now-defunct magazine in the 1970s.

Kenneth Moyle of Hamilton, Ont., is adding some Canadian content to the site. He says he got involved after reading several U.S. and U.K. reviews and not seeing any Canadian churches.

The Pentecostal-born man says writing about the services he attends is also a way of organizing his thoughts about religion.

"I'm a Christian. I think in one of my mystery reviews I mention being an atheist, and I probably was at the time," he told CBC Newsworld. "I vacillate. I suppose I wouldn't be jumping around from church to church if I knew exactly what I believe."

The reviewers surreptitiously take notes and report back to the website in a very strict format.

"We don't have a lot of choice there. We have to answer very specifically, how long the sermon was in minutes. We rate the preacher on a scale of one to 10.

"We're asked to describe the neighbourhood, to describe the opening words of the service – and there are the free form parts of the questionnaire, such as, what part of the service was like being in heaven and what part of the service was like being in the other place."

St. John's church a slice of heaven

Moyle says the church service that was closest to heaven might have been one at St. John's Cathedral in Newfoundland.

He says it was a quiet service, with only about 20 people in a beautiful cathedral, on a sunny afternoon.

"There was a real feeling of community. I got to talk to almost everyone there. They were incredibly welcoming."

He rated as a "very cold experience" a service at another church in St. John's, where he said, "No one said 'boo' to me."

Moyle says he leaves a card in the collection plate, telling church officials where they can read the review.