Church Rater, Transforming Church into Product

December 16th, 2007 / 23 Comments

Attending church used to be about participating in the Kingdom of God. It served as the place of corporate worship and a resource for learning how to act and speak as a people set apart. Churchrater.com reduces the practice of attending church into a self-centered, consumer driven activity akin to visiting a restaurant; where the ambiance, menu, and service are focused on providing the guest with little more than a positive experience in the hopes they’ll return.

In a manner similar to amazon.com (and the myriad of social rating systems it has spawned), churchrater.com operates as a social tool that has users rate churches on a scale of 1 to 5 using such quantifiable categories as “friendliness,” “singing,” “preaching” and an “overall” category.

While Church Rater deserves some credit for recognizing the opportunities of the social web (something most of the church is missing), I think the problems with their approach outweigh their use of recent web technology. Yet rather than detail the many errancies of Church Rater I thought it might be more insightful to actually go through the process of rating a church myself. Visit Church Rater to read my review of the church in Corinth.

The site also includes heavy-handed marketing for the book “Jim and Casper Go To Church,” a book that:

“…provides a close up of how church looks through the eyes of an Atheist and offers insights any pastor should want to hear.”

Personally I think any pastor who models church in the interest of satisfying atheists ought to have their ordination revoked.

Likewise, anyone who thinks they are helping the church by evaluating it through a superficial, secularly derived rating system ought to question whether they properly understand the mission of the body of Christ.

Update: 12-18-2007
It appears my review of the Corinthian church has been removed.

Updated: 12-20-2007
I have resubmitted the review along with an email explaining the reviews intent.

Comments (23)

  1. Isaac / December 18, 2007

    Taken from the featured review on the first page of the site….

    “After the Prayer Requests - the Pastor preached on Revelation 1:9-2:3 or thereabouts. He preached for about 75 minutes. Much longer than any church that I’ve attended recently. I think that he could have condensed the message down into about 25-35 minutes if he didn’t travel down so many rabbit trails. :-)”

    I’d say that about sums it up…..

    I feel like throwing up….

  2. matt casper / December 18, 2007 / http://www.churchrater.com

    Hello!

    I’m one of the authors of Jim & Casper (the atheist), and I am curious about why you dislike people simply discussing what church was like for them. Granted, it’s unusual, but you’ll see that it’s honest and polite.

    It’s not our website or our book that has truned churchgoing into a consumer-driven activity: it’s the churches that have done so.

    Light shows? Fog machines? Dancing bands? Fake Jesus tombs? Incessant demands for cash (tithes)? That’s consumer to the bone and that’s what was there before we visited or talked about it.

    We actually liked churches that were more about the message of Jesus, which had little or nothing to do with waht you call “corporate worship.” (What is that anyway? Sounds like something the Pharisees would have loved…).

    The reason more and more church leaders want to hear what I have to say is not really related to me being an atheist. It’s about me being objective. And that’s a gift.

  3. Scott Lenger / December 18, 2007 / http://scottlenger.com

    Hey Matt, thanks for dropping by.

    In response, I don’t have a problem with “people simply discussing what church was like…” I have a problem with people discussing rating church based on superficial, and ambiguous, rating systems as was alluded to in my post and demonstrated in my own rating of the church in Corinth which churchrater.com has, for reasons unknown, removed.

    I’m glad to hear we share a preference for churches concerned with the “message of Jesus” :) but it also makes me ask why the rating categories at church rater don’t serve to illuminate this concern? (Perhaps as an atheist you’ve simply misinterpreted the message of Jesus as: friendly, singy, and preachy?)

    That being said, you are right to blame churches for making church a consumer-driven activity, of which churchrater.com is an unfortunate by-product.

    Likewise, while I meant “corporate worship” in the sense of “a collection of people identified by a particular activity” the business-like implications you highlighted suggest a term less prone to misunderstanding may be in order.

    Lastly, if your legitimacy as an “objective” church observer is not tied to your self-identification as atheist, then why is your atheism promoted as one of the key selling points of your book and DVD?

  4. Jim Henderson / December 19, 2007

    Scott

    Nice work using the web- you are a pretty good writer

    We simply give voice to the millions of Christians who rate church services every Sunday over coffee and in doing so provide you and other Christians a mirror to look into to see if you see what you like in the church and in yourself.

    You obviously dont like what you see

    Thanks for promoting our site

    Jim

  5. Isaac / December 19, 2007

    Jim,
    I detect a air of sarcasm. I am not Scott, and I won’t speak for him. I just find it ironic that you need to defend your web venture with biting words. I think you would do well to spend some time on this site and take into consideration the intention of this blog and why it is so important to the author of it that we not as Christians let the status quo of what we as American’s understand as “Church” go unchecked and unchallenged.
    Your Website may not be responsible for this slide towards superficiality and away from genuine spiritualism, but creating a rating system where we count how many times our hands were grasped by the greeting team doesn’t seem to do anything but contribute to where we are and where we are heading.

  6. Jim Henderson / December 19, 2007

    Issac

    Thanks for your thoughts.

    I can certainly understand why you would disagree with our tactics(ie holding up a mirror -which btw we learned by watching how the founder of our family business, Jesus interacted with the religionists of his day)

    But given that and considering the passion you obviously have for the kingdom what is your strategy for stopping the tidal wave of christian consumerism that previals today?

    Hey, how about we continue this conversation over on Church Rater?

    I’m sure that you and Scott (for whom you don’t speak) represent the feelings of many people who visit our site.

  7. Jim Henderson / December 19, 2007

    Scott you asked Casper

    “if your legitimacy as an “objective” church observer is not tied to your self-identification as atheist, then why is your atheism promoted as one of the key selling points of your book and DVD?”

    Answer: Because Christians see red when they see the word Atheist and are essentially disinterested in the vies of run of the mill lost people - so we knew it would attract eyeballs if we used a lost Atheist (which btw I think we should capitalize if we want to continue capitalizing Christian (another name not given to us by Jesus) instead of a normal lost person.

    Essentially Matt qualifies on three levels
    1) He is a lost person
    2) He is a person
    3) He is an Atheist (which makes him doubly qualified to critique us)

  8. Jim Henderson / December 19, 2007

    (Perhaps as an atheist you’ve simply misinterpreted the message of Jesus as: friendly, singy, and preachy?)

    No actually that is something he picked up from watching Christians talk about church

  9. Scott Lenger / December 20, 2007 / http://scottlenger.com

    Hi Jim,

    I believe my post sufficiently explains why I find churchrater.com problematic.

    I don’t doubt that you and the rest of the team behind churchrater.com are sincere in your desire to help pastors and churches, however in this case I’m not sure that the end justifies the means.

    As a final thought, what if, instead of trying to connect people with the “best” church possible, we encourage them to go to the worst church they can find and commit to help make it better?

  10. Helen / December 20, 2007 / http://conversationattheedge.com/

    Scott, I’m not sure where you got that part about ‘trying to connect people with the best church possible’ from. I don’t recall ChurchRater saying that’s its goal. Certainly people are welcome to seek out the churches rated lowest on ChurchRater and become part of them in the hope of making them better. That sounds like a great idea for people who can handle the worst churches out there.

    I think ChurchRater’s goal is to make church better by facilitating honest conversation about church in which everyone who is willing to refrain from being mean is welcome to participate. Have you seen a different goal stated on the site?

  11. Jim,
    I prefer to keep the conversation here, as I feel it is relevant to this website and discussion that Scott is trying to foster.
    I have spent quite a bit of time on your site in the last few days, and I have to say that the more I read, the more my concerns were confirmed. Most (not all) of your visitors seem more interested in promoting their own home churches. I realize that that is not the intention of your website, but you have to pay attention to the crowd you are drawing. The idea of rating a church seems to be the kind of idea that draws the superficial opinions of biased church attendees. And those who take the time to actually write more than two sentences about how great their home church is went on to write vindictive tirades about how they were treated at some church that they attended for way too long; issues that you yourself encourage people not to write about. I think that your goal was to provide a way for people to give feedback about churches and to be relevant in today’s modern age. The appeal of your website is its simplicity in its rating system, its platform for people to voice their opinions (there is never a shortage of opinions, or people willing to give them - myself included), and its apparent relevance to today’s culture. In my opinion, the last of these reasons is its inherent flaw, as being relevant to the culture seems to me to be the downfall of many of today’s churches. As someone who is currently looking for a church family - I purposely avoided the phrase “Church Shopping” for its obvious consumerism connotations - I have attended a lot of churches lately. It has been my experience that the churches that try the hardest to be relevant to this modern age, are the ones who have strayed furthest from the message of the cross, the teachings of Christ, and the whole point of church in the first place. Joining the ranks of the relevant does not add anything to the mission of Christ, which is why I humbly abhore your website.
    Personally, I would prefer to see for myself what a church is like before I make a decision on whether or not I feel like I should be a part of that congregation. I would not let other people’s experiences dictate my opinion’s and my decision on whether to try this church or that.
    This is just my opinion.

  12. Matt Casper, I have a quick question for you, as an Athiest. In your first post you said, “The reason more and more church leaders want to hear what I have to say is not really related to me being an atheist. It’s about me being objective. And that’s a gift.”

    I want to know who you think gave you this “gift” of objectivity? Gifts are traditionally bestowed from one person to another. If you are on the receiving end, who was on the giving end? I am not trying to be rude here, but I wonder to what depths the sincerity of your belief - or non-belief, whatever you wish to call it - goes.

    And I think you are mistaken in your understanding about the desireability of your services to churches. You are exactly the kind of person that churches profess to want to attract (and “save”), the non-believer. Why wouldn’t they value your opinion as an athiest? You are the customer.

  13. Helen,
    Connecting people to the best church possible is the de facto goal of Churchrater. Do you see anyone one there saying anything like, “This church was really bad, I would encourage people to attend to make it better”? No, most of what you see is, “My church is so great, you should all come to it.” The proof is in the pudding, as they say.

  14. BMer / December 20, 2007 / http://www.bmerco.com

    stop your bizness…yea…check it….catch the bad man

  15. Helen / December 20, 2007 / http://conversationattheedge.com/

    I’m confused…

    Scott said “Personally I think any pastor who models church in the interest of satisfying atheists ought to have their ordination revoked.”

    Isaac said “You are exactly the kind of person that churches profess to want to attract (and “save”), the non-believer. Why wouldn’t they value your opinion as an athiest? You are the customer.”

    Should churches seek to attract atheists or not?

  16. Aaron / December 20, 2007 / http://www.519music.com

    I’ll go ahead and weigh in here as the “unobjective” person (I work at a church, shhh)

    I think that the goal of making folks AWARE of local churches that they hadn’t known of before is fine, and helpful even.

    The problem, for me, comes in the ratings system and encouraging the “shopper” mentality. I’ll give you guys the benefit of the doubt that your intentions are pure. I’m sure that they are. But, we cannot simply throw our hands up in the air and say “this is the way culture is. . . . we’re just using a language folks can relate to” (which, ironically, makes you guys another “store” where folks are shopping.)

    In my opinion, this consumer mindset is something that we should be trying to change. We should encourage mutual “building up” within a church and a spirit of cohesiveness and community. . . . not a spirit of “evaluation”. We should not give folks the means to feed into their western/american consumeristic bent. We should humbly try to lead them out of it.

    And, to the other point. . . . Casper. . . with all due respect, if you liked the church I was at completely and had no problems with it, then I would be very concerned. See, we know that at times our commitment to the Gospel is going to draw a proverbial “line in the sand” for folks, and may even be offensive to them.
    Hopefully, in our methods we are less offensive. . . but our message may at times be. So, I would also humbly submit that I would actually want a really low score from you,. . . if my church was on the site.

    And as for methods,. . .I think all churches could use a healthy dose of Andy Kaufman methodology which centers around “contempt for the audience”. We just need to make it not easy to come to believe something that’s not easy, . .we need to make it not fake to believe something that’s not fake. And, frankly, we need to not always be nice when trying to help people believe something that isn’t always nice. Thanks for your time. . . everyone’s posts have been great.

    Aaron

  17. “I’m confused…

    Scott said “Personally I think any pastor who models church in the interest of satisfying atheists ought to have their ordination revoked.”

    Isaac said “You are exactly the kind of person that churches profess to want to attract (and “save”), the non-believer. Why wouldn’t they value your opinion as an athiest? You are the customer.”

    Should churches seek to attract atheists or not?”

    There is a difference between “satisfying” and “seeking/saving”. Wouldn’t an Athiest be satisfied if he went to a church and had all his presupositions confirmed by his experience? Conversely, wouldn’t he be attracted to a church if he found a message of such deep meaning and importance to him that he could not resist the call to the cross? He would not be satisfied with his Athiesm if he was compelled to saving grace by his experience, either emotional or intellectual - depending on your brand of athiesm.

    And please don’t confuse Scott’s beliefs with mine, we disagree on a number of topics, we just happen to agree that Churchrater.com does more harm than good.

  18. Scott Lenger / December 21, 2007 / http://scottlenger.com

    Helen:

    Church teaching suggests that Christians should be people of love, generosity, and forgiveness. I’m not an atheist so I have no basis to determine whether subscribers of atheism would find these attributes attractive.

    Aaron:

    Bonus points are bestowed for the Andy Kaufman illustration. :)

  19. Helen / December 21, 2007 / http://conversationattheedge.com/

    Church teaching suggests that Christians should be people of love, generosity, and forgiveness. I’m not an atheist so I have no basis to determine whether subscribers of atheism would find these attributes attractive.

    It’s not that hard to ask atheists and find out.

    Anyway in my experience most atheists (there are some different people in every group) would be very attracted by love, generosity and kindness.

    They would love to see Christians living out these attributes.

    They object to Biblical Christianity because they disagree it’s loving, generous and kind to give an ultimatum “Believe in me (worship me, serve me) or you’re going to hell”.

    If all Christianity comprised was ‘be loving, kind and generous’ lots of atheists would be Christians.

  20. Helen / December 21, 2007 / http://conversationattheedge.com/

    SOrry, typo - didn’t mean to change forgiveness to kindness.

    Atheists like forgiveness, too, when appropriate (I forgive you for something you never did doesn’t really count)

  21. Aaron / December 21, 2007

    Aaron,

    Just to balance this last thread. The most loving thing we can do for an atheist is to somehow introduce him/her to the infinte God. Now, as we do that,. . .yes, . . let’s be kind, gracious, generous, etc. . .

    But, at the end of the day, they desperately (as do I) need Jesus.

    Aaron
    ps. Scott. . . . . I’m working on my new church book

    “How to have contempt for your congregation that isn’t seeking God so that they meet Him”

    care to contribute? :)

  22. Mattt Casper / December 21, 2007 / http://www.churchrater.com

    Howdy all…

    I think the overall goal of http://www.churchrater.com and “Jim & Casper Go to Church” is simply to create dialog, which is happening more every day. As Borat would say, “Great success! High five!”

    Isaac: by gift, I meant from me to churches, not from a god to me. Every organization trying to reach people outside their organization will ALWAYS benefit from the gift of feedback from an objective outsider.

    So far as measuring the depths of my sincerity… well, that would mean that sincerity is quantifiable, which it isn’t. As in every case when two people talk, it’s up to each to decide if the other is sincere/honest/whatever.

    Aaron: I can’t speak for others, but I personally find love, generosity and forgiveness attractive attributes. Why? Because they are constructive behaviors and constructive behaviors lead to healthier societies, smarter kids, less crime, and on and on.

    The beauty of being an atheist is that I can practice love, generosity and forgiveness with anyone, not just people who believe in the same god I do. And no one can say I’m wrong because right and wrong are purely subjective.

    The beauty of people calling themselves Christians is that I can hold their feet to the fire and say they are wrong as the rules they must follow are available to me as well (in the bible, of course).

    Jesus was very specific about what his followers must do, and so little of how we live our lives in America is in tune with his teachings: we are greedy, we are self-centered, we are mostly immune to the sufffering of others (why else do we tolerate poverty, sickness, and war?). And I would bet that Jesus–were he here today–would be very unhappy with most every so-called Christian in this country.

    Yes? No? What do you think?

    Matt

  23. Aaron / December 21, 2007

    Matt,

    Thanks for your thoughts, I agree with most of it. I think this probably isn’t the best format to discuss religion and healthier socities, etc. . . But,just know that I agree with that, and I also enjoy love, generosity, and forgiveness. Since Jesus is the source and basis of all forgiveness, and was said to actually be “love”, I think he would agree!

    And, I also agree that Jesus would have some issues with some American Christians, as he would with some American atheists as well.

    I hope I haven’t come across crass or harsh,. . . . .I just think that we need to let Jesus define himself and I hope you know that I respect you and your point of view, a great deal.

    Thanks,
    Aaron

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