Jim Henderson is the man who “bought my soul” on eBay a few years ago. The reason he bid on my auction in the first place is because he loved the idea of “unchurched” people going to church and sharing their experiences.
Jim would take those filled-out surveys and share them with the pastors of these churches, explaining what visitors liked and didn’t like about their visit.
I wasn’t the first person to do this for him, and with Jim’s new site, I won’t be anywhere near the last.
Jim has created a full-blown version of his brainchild, ChurchRater.
“We say it’s our mission to reach out, including to nonbelievers,” Henderson, 62, says. “So why would we not want them to tell us what they think of our efforts to influence, change or even convert them?”
One reason might be that it can be brutal.
His Web site is free and open to believers and doubters alike, to say whatever they want. You can post reviews and one- to five-star ratings of churches, much as Yelp or Urban Spoon rank restaurants.
A church in Everett got one star because someone found the pastor too self-absorbed.
“All his stories are centered around his perfect life,” it says, citing a “perfect blonde wife” and Hallmark kids. “And if we sign up for Jesus, we’ll be perfect, too. Uhhhh … is this really what Jesus told you to do?”
So far only 40 churches in Washington have been rated on the Web site, not enough for it to reach a critical mass. Henderson says 30 more have expressed interest in his paid ratings services, which can range from $250 (for two visits by raters plus a written report) on up to $2,950 (for a weekend-long focus group between “outsiders” and church members, moderated by him).
I wouldn’t be surprised if more churches subject themselves to “mystery worshipers” before long — they’re businesses and they want to do what they can to bring in new customers.
These churches could just hang on to the money if regular churchgoers had the guts to tell their pastors what they didn’t like about church — what they found offensive or untrue or disingenuous.
But they almost never do, so I guess it’s our job to tell the truth.