In this highly consumeristic culture of ours, I suppose it was only a matter of time before a site like this one came out:

ChurchRater

Now, I am certainly not interested in judging the motives of the Christian man who partners with a non-believer to run this site, but I honestly question the wisdom of allowing anybody and everybody–with motives unknown–to give thumbs up or thumbs down to a given congregation.  I could say more, but my computer is being balky this week, so I will leave it at this…

21 responses »

  1. Derlin says:

    I read a few reviews, and it looks like both of the men running the site are urging people to be specific about what they have experienced, and to do so in a way that is accessible to non-Christians. If they keep that up, I can see some value to the site, though I’m not really sure how it benefits me in particular, even if I was looking for a church.

  2. TylerM says:

    Hi Byron,
    For full disclosure, I co-founded churchrater.com. I’d like to continue the discussion of the ethics of something like churchrater. I’m interested in why you think it’s unwise? I find critiques and feedback on my ministry activities extremely helpful. I mean we don’t let people just come on and just diss churches, that doesn’t help anyone. We critique, not criticize. We promote dialogue not debate. Please read are guidelines, I think you will get a better picture. http://www.churchrater.com/content/rate-or-find-church?q=content/rating-response-guidelines

    Derlin thankful for your hope in us. Jim, Casper, and I stay up late many nights to try to draw out people’s reviews in order that they are helpful.

    • Byron says:

      Hi, Tyler, and welcome to the blog. Let me clarify one thing at the outset: I would not use the term “ethics” in this discussion; I didn’t, and I want you to know that I don’t find your site unethical. I would make a distinction between “unethical” and “unwise”; I have an issue with the latter, not the former, just so you know. I also hope I made it clear that I judge no one’s motives in doing this either.

      Let me also clarify something else: I probably should have been a little more patient and waited to post, because the post was made from my laptop, which I’ve had to operate in “Safe Mode” for the past week because of some currently-being-diagnosed bug in the system. Ever try to doing much word processing in Safe Mode? Everything is bigger, and the way WordPress does things, I was “typing blind” for about a third of each line; I literally couldn’t see the words I was typing. I am an absolute stickler for things like spelling, grammar, etc., and hating as I do to put out anything sub-par in that arena, I only posted a short post in which I amplified little of my concerns.

      Now, to answer your questions, I suppose there are several general concerns I have. I did, by the way, read your guidelines, and they seem good; you have a typo (“minium of 25 words”) that you might want to correct (see my above comment). I do, of course, appreciate your concern with tone, that people are respectful, etc.

      You wrote, “I find critiques and feedback on my ministry activities extremely helpful”. So do I. I wish I got more, frankly! But the question there is the forum; in the words of the venerable eTrade Baby: “it’s not the venue”. I want to hear what people have to say, the good, the bad, and the ugly, but I’d rather speak with them directly rather than having their comments posted for the world to read. Pastors and ministries OFTEN do things that could be misunderstood by the casual observer (in the last hour, I’ve had an email conversation with a friend about this very thing), and I’d rather have the opportunity to speak with a person privately than have to do “damage control” with regard to someone who posted something on your site. Do you have an apparatus for letting churches know comments have been posted about their ministries? If not, I have an even further issue with your site, because for something negative (even if it’s posted nicely) to go unchallenged/uncorrected for a period of time serves no constructive purpose, it seems to me (if you do notify ministries, ignore that comment, by the way). Even if it’s merely a “critique”, offered “nicely”, instead of a fisking, I think that comments ought to be taken, not to the internet, but to the church leadership, at least first.

      Next, I am concerned with the idea of the commodification of the church. Armchair quarterbacks rate everything–and to a significant degree, such can be helpful. I’m glad, for instance, that a lot of folks tell us what has gone wrong with their cars, and that Consumer Reports (taking a large sample, something your site doesn’t do) compiles the information to give us a helpful picture of what will go wrong with certain cars (generally speaking, of course). I don’t mind rating restaurants and the like either; that can be helpful. But when it comes to church, I think that we’ve crossed a line, and here’s at least one of my basic beefs: I think that the ecclesiology of the average American Christian is woeful. Utterly, absolutely woeful. I think that a lot of the fault of that lies with churches that neither teach nor practice decent, Biblical ecclesiology (and by the way, I’m not talking about church polity or governance differences; that’s not my point). The point is that we have woefully failed to teach or to model what it means to be the church of Jesus Christ. We have managed to divorce Christian commitment from church commitment. We have played along with the hyper-individualistic approach that Americans take to seemingly everything, instead of challenging that approach (at least when it comes to the things of God). We’ve positioned everybody as the “expert”, crowned the consumer “king” (“the customer is always right, and when the customer is wrong, see above”). But when it comes to the church, it is charged with saying and doing things in a completely different manner than Burger King. Burger King says, “have it your way”, and we like that. Church says, “have it God’s way”, and if you “like” it, we’re probably not doing our job, because while there are some things that we ought to find refreshing/comforting/etc. about the proclamation of the Word of God, there are plenty of other things that we rebel against, squirm about, disagree with (because of our sinfulness), scream against. My role as pastor isn’t to please the customer, to concern myself with what kind of “review” I’ll get on some website; my role is to love and please Jesus, my Lord, first, and then to help people into a deeper relationship with Him, which includes exhorting, encouraging, and empathizing, but also includes challenging, confronting, and correcting. Will your website further the commodification of the church? That seems likely. We already have a high-enough percentage of “Christians”, buying lock, stock, and barrel into consumerism, with tentative bonds to their local church, who seem ready to jump to the latest, greatest, Super WalChurch that springs up down the road; will your site encourage that? I hate to say this, but the percentage of professing American Christians whose opinions about church I trust is probably somewhere in the teens. That may sound cynical, but who is at the top of the “Christian best-seller” lists? It’s the same clown that CBD calls “America’s pastor” (seriously). Nobody should attend that church–and yet it is America’s largest. That fact alone argues against your site’s basic premise.

      I just read a random review of one of your highest-rated churches. Fluff. Nothing of substance. Nothing about whether or not the pastor is a man who truly preaches the unadulterated Word of God in a careful, honest, compassionate manner; nothing about the substance of the messages, the centrality of the cross, etc. Just “Ilove my Church and I have experienced a lot of love and spiritual growth in my 4 years there. I am a part of the leadership team and I am looking forward to seeing our Church move forward.” That’s a verbatim quote (I didn’t correct the spelling or anything). It tells me nothing of value. Zero. But it and several other similar puff piece quotes have placed that church as one of your “highest-rated”.

      Next, I have a real, legitimate concern with the unequal yoke of Jim and Casper. Full disclosure: I haven’t read the book, though I saw it, thought it looked intriguing, and if I didn’t have a huge backlog of books to read right now, might have given it a perusal. I don’t know that I have a problem conceptually with what Jim and Casper did, depending on what they were attempting to accomplish. It doesn’t hurt to hear feedback from non-Christians, but how much stock ought to be put in it is another question, because the fact of the matter is that the Christian and the non-Christian operate out of two very different playbooks (and if they don’t, then what, pray tell, are we doing as churches and Christians? Why are we wasting our time?). Casper’s motives and Jim’s motives cannot possibly be the same; it’s an utter impossibility. I say that without meaning at all to disrespect Casper one whit; it’s merely a statement of fact. Believers live under the Lordship of Jesus Christ; non-believers do not. Hey, thanks Casper for your input; I’m sure that at some levels, it is of real value. But we’re not on the same team, not working toward the same goal, not united in motive or authority or eternal destiny. And yet, we want to work together to in some way influence people as to what churches are worthy of involvement with, and which are not? The premise is flawed from the get-go.

      Next, a practical question that arises from a visit to the site. Does your site have any safeguards against “ballot-stuffing”? Grab a group of your friends and each post a very nice (or, for that matter, a very negative) critique of a given church. That’s akin to what happens in MLB, and that’s why we have some third-rate catcher starting the All-Star game every so often: fans of a given team stuff the box.

      Finally, in the middle of writing this response, Tyler, I decided to follow up a link to one of your lowest-rated churches. What you’ve allowed to take place in the discussion I read is absolutely WAY out of line. WAY out of line. Allegations are made left and right about the pastor (and look, I acknowledge that they could have a lot of truth to them–but that’s not the point!). There are Scriptural ways to deal with abusive pastors (and there are some abusive pastors, sure!), but posting my dirty laundry on the web for the world to see–hiding behind the cloak of anonymity that the web provides, no way of discerning any hidden agendas I might have, etc.–is categorically wrong. What if, instead of this truly being a “bad seed” pastoring this church, there is a group of people who are out to get him? What if they are in the wrong, lying and inventing things, telling half-truths and interpreting events out of context, in order to do what they will in order to bring him down (because he didn’t do a wedding ceremony for the 7-months pregnant daughter of the head deacon and her LSD-addicted unemployed boyfriend)? Think that kind of stuff doesn’t happen? Please. Of course, I have utterly no clue what’s really going on there–but neither do you, and that’s the point.

      I had to, one time, take some stuff down from this blog; happened about two years ago. I took down stuff that to this day I believe to be true, posted in some cases by people whose integrity I do not question, who I have little doubt were telling the truth. But the pastor about whom some things were said (not things I said, mind you, but things said about him in response to a post I’d made) called me and pleaded with me to remove the post. I didn’t remove what I said–I stand behind it to this day, but it was not per se critical of him–but I removed and closed the comments, because I realized, upon prayerful reflection, that it wasn’t right of me to allow my blog to be a forum for unsubstantiated comments made to besmirch the character of a pastor. Your website is such a forum–and I see it as worse, only because my blog isn’t about rating churches; yours is. To allow such tripe to be posted–even if it’s true–is subScriptural. I Timothy 5:19 is one Scripture that comes to mind, with the problem being that you have neither the time nor the means to investigate the validity of such allegations. Since you don’t, you cannot allow that type of posting to continue on your site; I’d go so far as to say that doing so is sin.

      Frankly, Tyler, I began this post with some relatively mild things to say in opposition to your site, but reading those comments has turned me into a full-fledged opponent of what you’re (at least currently) doing. I’m happy–more than happy, Tyler–to continue this discussion, and I hope you read my tone as respectful. But you asked. And in the course of doing a little more investigation, I’m now more convinced, not less, that your website, while I trust very well-intentioned, is terribly misguided.

  3. Derlin says:

    Byron,

    Your comments remind me of something I’ve seen on computer hardware review sites. They invite official representatives to reply, and the reply is marked in such a way to indicate it came through “official” channels. There’s a lot of value in contacting reviewed churches to let them know and invite them to respond. Churches should have the ability to reply in an official capacity, which could be an obvious blurb in the original review, or a big gold star in the commenting system (or similar). This wouldn’t stop a cabal from trying to push their agenda, but would give a prospective audience more information to use in their own decision making.

  4. Byron says:

    Absolutely. That would be a way to handle ONE of the issues I raise, it seems to me; still lots of other issues, but there ought to be a way for churches to be notified when negative reviews are posted, PARTICULARLY when they are of the nature of the one example I used.

    Interesting: brings to mind one of the longest discussions this blog has seen, involving a positive post I made about Xenos, a church in Columbus, Ohio, which I refer to as the best church in America (as far as I can tell, at least). Lots of people came out of the woodwork, for and against, and eventually the pastor weighed in on many occasions (this, a church of 3000 or so, if memory serves). That post, by the way, predated the post I referred to, in which I closed comments. If a similar thing happened today, I think I might take the initiative to contact the pastor and inform him of what was taking place–although, in the case of Xenos, the allegations weren’t quite of the personal nature as those made in the other post.

    Guess it just points up the importance of being very careful–more careful, it seems to me, than ChurchRater is being–when dealing with criticism of pastors/churches. By hosting a public forum such as this blog, or a website such as CR, we have a responsibility to temper unlimited free speech with Scriptural admonitions on the proper way to speak. I can handle a lot of criticism of myself–if you haven’t read any of the Ronald Weinland stuff, and have an extra three hours to spend seeing how nasty people can be, I “highly recommend” it–but I have to guard the reputations of others in matters of opinion, etc.

  5. Derlin says:

    Looks like you can rate ChurchRater now:

    http://churchrater.com/churches/churchrater

    A reasonable notification the first time a rating is posted regardless of it being “positive” or “negative” is a good idea since it eliminates the need to choose sides and gives the church an opportunity to present its intents and purposes for being.

  6. Hey Byron,

    Thank you for the response and the detailed critique. It really does warm my heart the respect you put into this work. Most of the emails and feedback I get simply call me names and explain how I’m going to hell. So again thanks, I really do appreciate when things stay civil. In my experience that rarely happens with Christians and the internet. Let me finish my Calvin paper and I will get back to you with a full response soon.

    Peace and Hope,
    Ty

  7. Helen says:

    Byron, is the low-rated church rating you read that you were concerned about still on ChurchRater?

  8. Byron says:

    No, it isn’t, as a matter of fact; I wonder if my words made a difference. Hope so; that’d be one step in the right direction. It was a church from FL that ranked as one of the worst; I don’t see it now in the place it held yesterday, at least.

  9. Helen says:

    Yes it did make a difference: after reading what you wrote I looked at some of the lowest rated churches and deleted an entry yesterday.

  10. Byron says:

    For that, I’m grateful!

  11. Byron says:

    Tyler and I are continuing this conversation on the site itself, ChurchRater. Click here to go to that conversation…

  12. Byron says:

    Ah, Helen, I went to your site and see that you’re a helper at ChurchRater, thus your comment about “deleting an entry”. Good for you. That’s a good thing to have done.

  13. Helen says:

    Yes, I’m one of the helpers. I guess I could have been more explicit about that!

  14. Derlin says:

    You and Tyler had an interesting point-counterpoint on the other thread.

    When I came back home after college looking for a church, it never even occurred to me to ask one of my college church pastors where to consider going. Eventually I found my current church through a friend in my old church. I think Tyler (and myself) in this particular case show that to some degree younger people do have a different perspective on “connections” (for lack of a better word), than older people. There are certainly positives and negatives to different perspectives, but in this case I’m not sure if this is just me and Tyler being dumb or if this is symptomatic of the younger generations (or simply that you as a pastor deal with it enough to have answers).

  15. Byron says:

    My guess, Derlin, is that it is symptomatic of younger generations (though ironically, it has typically been younger people–particularly graduating/moving college students–whom I’ve been asked (or in some cases, offered–a offer always accepted) to help. My gut reaction is that this stems from something I referred to earlier: most American Christians have a woeful ecclesiology, a very stilted understanding of the appropriate role of the church in the life of the Christian. Now…I blame the church/pastors for not stressing that more, making it clear, and/or for not providing a living example of what church ought to look like, the role it needs to play in the lives of its people.

    I have a lot of criticisms of the “emerging church”, but I also have a level of hope for it in some ways, and this is one of them: can younger generations begin to recover a genuinely-Biblical sense of what the church is supposed to be and do, and could some of the emerging methodologies be evidence of a recapturing of such a Biblical vision? We can only hope so…

  16. Derlin says:

    The other circumstance that comes to mind is when a churchgoer leaves due to a disagreement with the leadership of the church (local or denominational). The fault could fall on either or both sides, but in any case, it is unlikely the churchgoer would want to consult the pastor for a new church.

    • Byron says:

      Sure, that happens; probably happens more often that it need to, but it’s legit. Would not a friend from that church, perhaps a trusted elder friend, say, be willing to at least steer a person, if not per se to a specific new church, at least to where he might find that help? I’m still not at all sure that in 99 cases out of 100, there isn’t some real, legit help for the person who seeks it.

  17. Derlin says:

    Fair enough. It’s a matter of making those connections in the local church.

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