Our rice cooker died this past week in a dramatic foul-smelling meltdown. I think it was a wedding present (that would be almost 15 years ago), so it had definitely lived a perfectly reasonable and useful life. But it still needed to be replaced. So my wife did the logical thing and went to Amazon to order a new one.
“How ’bout this one?” she asked. “It’s only $23.95, it’s rated four stars, and 157 people have reviewed it.”
“Sounds good. Go for it,” I said. Click. And done.
How did we ever live before Amazon? I don’t know anything about rice pots (other than that the rice always seems to stick to the pan… maybe that’s a function of my tendency to buy the $20 versions), but in a matter of seconds, I had the recommendations of 157 people right before me, giving me the confidence I needed to make a quick decision. (Though I had to discount the opinions of those 13 poor souls that gave it one star. Hmm…) All in all, it’s a consumer’s paradise.
I thought of our little rice cooker adventure when I learned about a new website that offers the ability to rate churches. Ah yes, you move to a new town and need a church (or when you burn out of your old church in a dramatic, foul-smelling meltdown), you look for a church that’s highly rated. It’s a consumer’s paradise, right?
Ugh. That’s just the problem. I can see why the Amazon mentality in each of us might think that’s a good idea. But I can’t see how it’s a good thing to reduce church choice to such a consumeristic perspective. I just don’t see it ending well. Already, you have comments such as:
This church is misogynistic. I would never take a visitor here. It is close minded and dogmatic. They do not believe in learning or educating their leaders. They are a place to “see and be seen” by Christian young people.
Yikes. Not exactly edifiying, is it? Is there even an edifying and helpful way to air complaints about a church online? I’ve yet to see it. Now I know that I prefer some types of churches over others based on my own convictions and experience. In my own mind, I’d give some churches one star and others more. (Would I ever give a church five stars? Hmm… haven’t found the perfect one yet. I love my church, but I’m not sure I’d give it five stars.) When I think back to moving to this area 10 years ago, I remember visiting several churches before we settled on our church home. Would anyone really have been helped by my views after one or two visits? Even if I went beyond the shallow assessment of Church X “…decent preacher, music pretty boring, piano out of tune, etc.”, that’s not the kind of feedback to put online in a relatively permanent format.
And I shudder to think what others would say about my own church. I know there are those who haven’t had a particularly good experience. Maybe they caught us on a day when no one greeted them warmly (we know that’s a weakness and we’re working on it). Or maybe there was a conflict that just didn’t turn out the way they’d hoped. There’d be plenty they could say about my church that wasn’t exactly flattering, and old grudges would come pouring out. Once someone starts, it’s really easy to pile on.
(I’m going to mostly sidestep the other issue with this site in that people who aren’t Christians are also doing the rating. It’s definitely a good thing to know how outsiders view your church. We should all be open to hearing that perspective. But there’s a certain sense here that, unlike the Amazon ratings for my rice pot, people who never eat rice are rating the rice cooker (and being paid to do so)! “I can’t stand rice. I don’t understand why anyone would want to eat it. But let me tell you what I think about this rice cooker.” )
I am somewhat relieved to see that it hasn’t gotten any traction yet (last time I checked, the most ratings a single church had was 13–my new rice cooker beats that by a mile!). And despite what may well be good intentions in getting it started, I really hope it never does.
I’m not saying there’s not a place to raise concerns about a church. (Ken Sande’s article on approachability gives some helpful thoughts on how to invite that kind of feedback as a church). I just have yet to see a way to do that online that is really helpful and God-glorifying.