I heard a fascinating segment on All Things Considered during my long commute home yesterday. It was about a new website called Church Rater.
The basic idea is that when you move into a new community and need to find someplace to worship, now you can see what others are saying about the local churches. Interesting right? Then you quickly zigzag into the other associated questions. Who is writing the reviews? Why are they reviewing that church? All the same questions that businesses dealt with a few years ago.
If I run the hardware store on Main Street and my competitor writes a review saying I stink, well, such is life as a private business. With religion, there’s a lot more tied up. People call some churches cults, or certain pastors are singled out as oppressors. Should that type of stuff really be in a church review?
I’m a huge fan of Yelp style reviews, and I think that a site like ChurchRater.com is on to something. I also think that it will become a lightning rod.
When I moved from Massachusetts to North Carolina I had to find a new church, and it meant I had to spend a few weeks sitting in different parishes until I found one I liked. I would have appreciated a little guidance.
One of my favorite parts of the report was a quote from Dwight Friesen, who teaches theology at Mars Hill Graduate School. He says it reduces it to a sort of Ecclesiastical Bandstand, “Yeah it’s got a good sermon, easy to worship to. I’ll give it an 8.7.”
I think the problem stems from the plethora of terrible church websites. I look at my own church’s website and cringe at how terrible it is. If someone takes the time to keep up the church website, you’ll end up getting better, more targeted worshipers into your church, and less angry people who bash you at ChurchRater.com.
This is another case of a business that lagged to far behind the web, and the web hates a vacuum.
I’d love to hear your take on an open church rating system.
Photo by: Ed Yourdon
I think there’s a difference between reviewing a restaurant (or a poorly designed toaster oven) and reviewing a house of worship. And if the top priority of church leadership is to please its customers — err, congregants — they’re in the wrong business.
Certainly there are people who’d prefer to read a bunch of reviews rather than do the difficult thing, which is get out from behind the computer, visit the church in person, and draw their own conclusions. That said, I couldn’t really say that something like this is a bad idea. I agree that a lot of church websites are pretty terrible and don’t do much to give any clear picture of what the congregation is like.
Phil Buckley says
@Rachel – I’m with you that it’s a much murkier thing to rate. The reality of the situation is, that’s the way society is moving. I don’t want to waste a month finding a church if I can immediately cross 2 off the list.
Jim Henderson says
Thanks for noticing us and for taking time to share your thoughts
At ChurchRater we hear two complaints and one major concern (only) from churchgoers
1) This isnt fair – dont judge us on a Sunday morning
2) Encourages Consumerism (ala Dwights Eccles. Bandstand comment)
3) Concern: this will turn into a platform for petty Christians ( we find it fascinating that they anticipate this behavior and wonder where they learned to worry about this issue)
1) – Its fair because Sunday morning reflects at leats 80% of most churches budgets and it is by thier own choosing the #1 they present themselves to the community
2) Consumerism is to Christianity in America what oxygen is to breathing – We didnt start it – we just let people notice it – We dont encourage or discourage it – it is simply somethign Christians have been trained by their systems to do
3) Christians arent as petty as predicted. But when they do go off we block them (see our policy). Our actual #1 challenge is “churchvertisements” – churches who cut and paste info from their homepage onto the ChurchRater site (assuming that this will somehow attract people) they ususally give themselves 5 stars – say nothing personal and thats it
Again thanks for noticing us