I count Jim Henderson as a good friend, he's had a big influence in my life, so the critique of his latest site re-launch 'Church Rater', needs to be placed in that context.
Also that he asked me to post publicly my critique of it. Normally I don't review sites/resources I don't like, and just avoid them. But for Jim here are some of my thoughts about the site and why it's problematic for me.
Most of these comments I have already run by Jim in private when we first talked about the site, that was eventually closed down in February 2008. So dusting those thoughts off and updating them for the Church Rater relaunch, here goes:
1. Why Focus on Sunday Services?: When Off the Map has sought to promote the notion that church is more than a Sunday Service, why the focus on reviewing Sunday Services? I'm sure many of the churches reviewed have a lot more going on in them than a their Sunday Service. How about the reviewers enter into the life of church communities and review things other than Sundays?
2. Consumerism: Then there is the nature of 'rating'. I know I'm not interested in someone visiting one Sunday service and giving us a 5* rating. I fear it undermines something else Off the Map was set up for, deep and thoughtful reflection and critique of Church. Church needs critique and I love the kind that Off the Map introduced me to. However this way of assessing churches, seems captive to the problem of the way we select out church involvement, and undermines the best (at least for me) of Off the Map.
3. Polarisation: So those people who like their churches will get on the site and give glowing reviews, those who hate churches will give their scathing reviews, and maybe some thoughtful ones will take place in between. Because of no 1 & 2 above, I think polarisation is more likely the outcome of rating sunday services.
Perhaps, non emerging church fundamentalists, could set up a 'missional church rater' system, visit some non sunday service meetings of groups, and let slip that they are 'evangelicals' to see what happens. Then they could post the horrifying judgmental responses from the 'tolerant' missional people, and easily pour scorn on them, and miss all the good taking place in those communities.
I fear church rater as it is set up, preaches to the choir on both sides.
4. Location of 'raters': Now this isn't an ad hominem argument I'm about to offer and remember the context of my friendship with Jim Henderson mentioned above, and this is something I have run by Jim before. Given Jim's own post-church ecclesiology and non commitment to a local congregation (unless that has changed recently), what is the qualification for rating a local congregation? Again that doesn't mean Jim and Off the Map can't critique church in valuable ways, they do, but through so many other ways than 'Church Rater'. Why would someone convinced that for themselves and for many others that the nature of church is non-particular, critique Sunday services when they don't take part in one themselves, outside of giving a reviews or guest speaking at them?
Also Casper the Atheist. I've never met him, and I'm sure he is a great guy, and I'd like him. But once the novelty has worn off of an atheist reviewing your Sunday service, what is left? Has Casper become a professional atheist sunday service reviewer? Again I'm all for us understanding how church seems to people outside, especially those trying to find God and faith. But if Casper visited my community, I'd take his feedback with a pinch of salt.
I want Casper to find faith in Christ, to hand over his basis for reality to Jesus to order his life around the mission of Jesus with others, which our church is trying to do, and I'm sure get's wrong many times. But I have no interest in a good write up from a professional atheist church reviewer, no offense Casper. I doubt if it would help people looking for a church to take part in our community, or atheists to give us a try.
Now if Casper visited us, I'd say please come to something other than a Sunday service, and don't bother if the only reason is to put a review up on Church Rater of our Sunday service. Come along and see if you can find Jesus with us, and serve him with us, and write about your experience of Him instead.