I don’t drink coffee. In fact I don’t drink any hot drinks. (I like to think of it as a financial saving rather than social faux pas.) But what I do enjoy is breakfast. I like it a lot. But I don’t just go wandering around the streets of Brisbane looking for a new café to try out. I wouldn’t want to waste my Saturday/Sunday morning and my coin on some soggy French toast, or sub-par poached eggs. Further, as a non-coffee drinker, it infuriates me that some cafes can proceed without offering any non-caffeinated beverage alternatives. It’s a highly researched activity.
How do I do my research? Lifestyle and review sites and blogs: Urban List, Weekend Edition, Zomato and smaller foodie blogs. And then of course there are personal recommendations.
Before I arrive somewhere I know from the hungry souls gone before me whether the service is a strength or downfall, the vibe casual hipster or all hail organic free range cold press organic hemp wearing hipster, or perhaps just whether the French toast is even worth trying at all.
I know this from the star rating, or equivalent, and the comments left behind.
Review sites have changed the way I choose my breakfast cafes, my post-work watering holes and even which food processor I should buy. I could continue with another example from my day job about TripAdvisor and how it’s instrumental in consumers planning their holidays…but I’m hoping you’re with me in understanding the validity and necessity of review sites in ensuring I only experience the best.
However, there is one huge gaping hole: Church reviewing websites.
After moving to Brisbane a few months ago I shared my experience visiting churches. They are two of the most read pieces on this sporadic little corner of the interweb. I did a lot of research but still it took me visiting 8 churches to decide to go back to the fourth one I visited.
Would a review site have saved me some time? I could have read others experiences and determined if it was worth the investment/effort.
Last weekend when I was back in Sydney-town losing my wisdom (teeth), I visited the church plant of a few of my friends. It’s in a huge new suburb in development close to Camden. It was a joy to be with them for their launch back in November and, sadly after some delays with council, Sunday was their first week back in their ‘hub’ aka industrial warehouse.
One of my friends approached me at the end and said he’d love to grab my thoughts on visiting, particularly as they’re now permanently in their building. It’s his intention to work out where the cracks are and to plug them quickly.
He was asking me to review his church!
As someone with little entrepreneurial fervour, (to the point I struggle to identify the purpose of this blog in order to grow it) I realised this could be my new thing.
I could set up a website, visit churches and review them. Church mystery shopping. Church consulting. In time, I could grow it and have other contributors and even open it up to the general public. How efficient looking for a new church could become and, as some astute business owners do, churches could identify the cracks in their church to ensure visitors have the best experience possible.
My church review star rating system? Holy hands.
My website name? Scroll up… but promise me your won’t steal it. I don’t want to be poor Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss and lose my idea to a zealous Zuckerburg-type.
But here’s the thing: while some succeed and others fail, churches aren’t a business. They’re not a service provider that is looking to ensure its attendees have the best possible experience in order to generate new and repeat visitation and loyalty. Churches are a community, a family, an eclectic community of brothers and sisters looking to share the forgiving news of Jesus Christ and emulate him to bring justice, mercy and love to those around us. But churches should be in the business of pointing people to Jesus through everything from how to get there, the people one meets, the words spoken
and the coffee served. Churches should want people to have a good, culturally appropriate experience in order for people to feel like they wanted, loved and belong.
But I see a church review site similar to reviewing your Christmas day festivities. Everyone’s family has a crazy aunt/uncle who they think surpasses the craziness of all others. A cousin who somehow just doesn’t seem to fit in and an old, not-sure-how-they’re-actually-related-to-you distant relative so far off their rocker you’re just not sure what they’re doing at your gathering. It’s the talk around the office before the holidays, but it’s not the kind of thing you ever want to get back to poor aunt Gertrude. And I haven’t even started on reviewing the food! It’s potentially dangerous and relationally damaging.
The thing is there are a few church review sites already in existence (Shipoffools.com, Churchrater.com, Churchfinder.com). While I couldn’t say for certain it’s not the daggy web graphics, they don’t seem to be the next Urban List of churches. They comment on everything from the length of the talk to how the coffee was.
But don’t hear me wrong, although I’m not about to go and buy a domain and DIY a website, I do think there is merit in churches analysing their interactions with new and ongoing visitors and spurred on to consider building their community. The Apostle Paul wrote a fair few letters to the new churches of modern day Greece and Turkey commenting on their behaviour, challenging and commending them for their, for example, community outreach, or lack there of. His words didn’t always go down well.
Late last year I emailed all the churches/pastors of the churches I visited. I thanked them for having me, let them know I had found a new church and shared my blogs with them. I was anxious. It wasn’t all good news. In some cases, I did have bad experiences. And although I was careful not to identify the churches I visited online directly, it would be possible to work it out. Each of the churches I visited were pointing people to Jesus. But some just did a better job at getting me to church and feeling part of a community. I was telling the people responsible for each of the churches what it felt like to visit!
Facilitating a means of commentary has the potential to get ugly; it’s the curse of the old school comments box. But a comment box that’s actually a public community notice board. Is broadcasting the experience of visiting a church for others to read pointing others to Jesus, pointing a society who are fairly critical of the church to the reason why we meet as a church? I’m not so sure it is.
I will share my thoughts with my friend on his church because I love him and the others involved, I want it to grow and see lives changed because of Jesus’ love in that new suburb. However it’s not something I’m going to blog about, nor advertise my reviewing services.
A church is where two or more gather (Matt 18:20) which means there are always at least 2 people who can consider what it would look like to join the gathering and make it to happen. It’s just whether those 2 people are selfishly worried about solidifying their place or outwardly focused in ensuring everyone has a place. Be one of the latter.