Imagine! Rating churches.
A new online organization is doing just that.
This has always been done to some extent, but the ratings were usually behind church leadership doors, judgments passed by church leaders and made public only on a need-to know-basis—a pastor considering a call, for example.
Now an organization called ChurchClarity.org is not only rating churches but it is publishing findings on the internet for all to read.
Relax, small churches. The focus is on large churches—at least for now.
Nevertheless, it should give every church pause. What ChurchClarity is doing could soon affect your ministry. Consider Yelp. It’s already there asking for ratings. Right now, people are rating pizza shops. Sooner or later, they’ll run out of pizza shops.
How will congregations respond? How will the regional bodies respond? Will outside voices influence how we do “church”?
Church leaders tend to get pretty nervous at the thought. It just isn’t done! There are protocols that MUST be followed!
Warning! These ideas are now past tense. There WERE protocols to follow.
A few years ago, our church visited more than 80 churches—more than half the congregations in our regional body. We had been locked out of our own church by a bishop who had “prayerfully discerned” that it was our congregation’s time to die and for her to take control of our property and endowment funds.
We resisted. Wouldn’t you?
It was ugly. Eventually, we were locked out of our building and members were pursued in court for another five years. For a year or so, we held home church. It wasn’t the same as having our own space. One day a member sighed and said, “I just don’t understand why they (ELCA Lutherans) want a church without us in it.”
We decided to visit churches to try to find out why we were so unwelcome in our own denomination.
We went with no agenda to rate churches. We went first to worship. We followed our own rule: to engage congregations with our story only if asked. We weren’t asked very often. In about eight of the congregations we left a letter in the offering plate telling our story. We thought they should know our experience since most of them (as we were finding) were not very different from us and might soon find themselves in our shoes. We asked for no action. We just wanted other churches to know there were two sides to the stories they were hearing.
The reaction from the regional body and the bishop that had locked us out was swift and strong. The second church we visited reported our presence to the bishop. The bishop then wrote a letter to all pastors and congregations advising them how to welcome us and how to report any trouble we might cause. Her letter opened with how biased our letter was and finished with how personally hurtful our actions were. She offered that churches usually cooperate with her efforts to close their doors. If true, a sad commentary, indeed.
We never rated any congregations we visited. We used our visits to understand trends—common problems and strengths. It was enlightening! I’d recommend to others. We enjoyed all of our visits and found value in every ministry—even the smallest.
One of the over-riding findings was few congregations (none, in fact) are effectively telling their stories in ways that reach modern audiences. That leaves congregations vulnerable to outsiders defining their mission. Their input could help us shape our mission, but it is more likely to make us more guarded.
Churches contain criticism. Unhappy members either leave or stay home. Unhappy clergy look for new calls. Problems are swept away; dirty linen bleached. Not to deal with criticism is the norm.
Neither the Church nor individual congregations can thrive in isolation any longer. Dialog will no longer be exclusively internal. People will share their experiences. They will go online. Some will love us. Some will not. Any protocols we think are in place are gone. We can only share our story, using the same media.
Are we ready?