A bishop who attempted to attend a service at his own church disguised as a homeless man was given the cold shoulder by his loyal congregants.

David Musselman, a Mormon bishop at Taylorsville Fourth Ward church in Salt Lake City, Utah, enlisted the help of a local make-up artist to disguise himself as a homeless man so he could teach his congregation a lesson about compassion just before the American Thanksgiving holiday.

Even Musselman's own family was deceived by his dishevelled look, which included a false beard, fake scar, thick spectacles and a woolly hat.

While Musselman said many congregants were pleasant to him, he noticed that many ignored him completely, with one person telling him that he should leave the church.

"The main thing I was trying to get across was we don't need to be so quick to judge," Musselman told his local TV station KUTV. "Many actually went out of their way to purposefully ignore me and they wouldn't even make eye contact."

"He was dirty, he was crippled, he was old [and] he was mumbling to himself," said church warden Jaimi Larsen.

It was only when Musselman stepped up to the pulpit and removed his disguise that church members realised they had been tricked and a hush fell over the congregation.

"I started feeling ashamed because I didn't say hello to this man," Larsen added. "I didn't offer him anything because I didn't feel like I had anything to offer."

Musselman said his experiment was not aimed at embarrassing his church members or wanting them to feel ashamed, but simply to encourage them to remember to be kind to people from all types of backgrounds all year round.

Despite the general cold reception Musselman received from his flock, the bishop was touched by the reaction from the younger members of the church. "I could see in their they wanted to do more," he said.

Why did David Musselman want to teach his congregants a lesson? Watch the video here: