Now, We Can All Review Churches May 14, 2010

Now, We Can All Review Churches

***Update***: The story appeared on the Chicago Tribune’s front page (at the bottom):

And if you turn the pages to read the rest of the story…?

Freaky, no?

The folding of my shirt as I lean over makes my body look oddly-shapen. Oh well. Still kinda cool!

I’ve mentioned ChurchRater before — it’s a website where you can rate worship services that you attend, kind of like a Yelp for churches:

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.

The Chicago Tribune‘s Manya Brachear has an article about the website in today’s paper and I’m mentioned in it:

A graduate student at DePaul University, atheist activist Hemant Mehta avoided being a church hater by becoming a church rater.

Enlisted four years ago on a lark to attend about a dozen Chicago-area churches and honestly rate his experience, Mehta’s beliefs did not change, but his attitude toward organized religion did.

His journey inspired an interreligious group of entrepreneurs to recently launch ChurchRater, a new approach to church shopping modeled after Yelp, a popular Web site where users rate local businesses. By inviting ordinary worshippers to post reviews from the pews, the site aims to help Christians navigate the more than 330,000 churches across the U.S. to find where they fit on Sunday morning.

Mehta, who lives in Naperville, said he is pleased that the idea didn’t stop there. Even as an atheist, he appreciates a mechanism that holds churches accountable for practicing what they preach.

He sees potential for ChurchRater to make society a better place by opening a dialogue for the religious and nonreligious to collaborate and serve others.

“I’m not trying to make it better for the churches. That’s definitely not the goal of atheists,” Mehta said. “That said, all of these churches are not horrible places. Even if people may not convert to Christianity, there’d be a lot more collaboration and cooperation between the Christians and non-Christians.”

The article doesn’t elaborate on that comment, but I was referring to things like the community outreach and volunteer work that many churches do — they don’t proselytize as they help others; they just see it as their “Christian duty” to do good for others, something I would consider a “Humanist duty” as well.

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  • What might be an unintended result of efforts like this is to consolidate power in the hands of a fewer number of churches. As those with greater attendance convince their flock to rate and review their experiences, the greater their pull will be on those who are searching for a new church “home”.
    I predict that it is only a matter of a decade or two before we see a Walmart-like chain of churches popping up all over this country. For now, we just have the Catholic Church, but it’s bogged down in bureaucracy and run more like a state than a big business. There’s a niche to be filled and it looks like someone is looking to fill it.
    If it can be abused, it will be.

  • Jenea

    It’s a shame that the site’s interface is so bad. That will be a serious impediment to adoption.

  • Thanks for posting the article, Hemant! (And, as always, for selling your soul, which ended up quite well for me… sure, I’m also soulless, but I got to write a book w/Jim.)

    Jenea: we’re working on it! We have a new data layout that will make the site “swing.”

    So, um, anyway… most folks use the site to pimp their churches, like putting a brochure online. We’re hoping, thought, that this will give folks–God believers, non-God believers–a place to talk.

    Say what you/we will about faith, it’s fascinating.

  • Richard Wade

    The folding of my shirt as I lean over makes my body look oddly-shapen. Oh well. Still kinda cool!

    It is oddly-shapen, but you’re still cool anyway. 😉

    This is a much better picture than that old one looking up at you with your arms folded in front of a church. That one made you look like a gang member.

  • “The folding of my shirt as I lean over makes my body look oddly-shapen. Oh well. Still kinda cool!”

    You’ve got hair, you’re good looking and you’re young. You’re doing a helluva lot better than some of us!!!

  • JulietEcho

    Eh, I didn’t even notice the weird shirt-folding until you pointed it out, because your handsome face is so distracting 🙂

    I reviewed my home church that my parents still attend. I tried to be objective and describe what the teachings and atmosphere are like.

    I think the site would be improved if there were some categories for rating – like ratemyprofessor has. Like rating them for “warmth/friendliness” and for “formality” and so-on. Although maybe that’s too simplistic when you’re talking about churches.

  • Sandra

    Near the end of your article, you mentioned churches doing community outreach. It reminds me of 10 years ago (approximately) when I moved into the area my parents lived and was expecting. My mom asked her church to put together a gift basket for me of baby clothes and stuff, and they told her I’d have to join them first. I said “forget it” and went to a second hand store.

  • Hemant you’re such a rock star. And how cool is Manya? She called me last month to set up the story.

  • Jim Henderson

    pimp my church

  • Have your views really changed?

    You still seem to hate Christianity (especially any version that doesn’t parrot liberal rhetoric) and there’s a conspicuous lack of criticism of Islam on this site.

  • Aaron

    @OneSTDV: Troll.

  • Aaron

    So, this sure seems to suggest that a “good church” is one you like, not one that is “correct”, which suggests that religion is not really about truth but about emotions. That is not too surprising.

  • JulietEcho

    @OneSTDV: Where were you less than a week ago when there were about a million posts about how stupid it is that Muslims expect non-Muslims to refrain from depicting their prophet?

    Also: Troll.

  • muggle

    I’ll echo Juliet re: the shirt thing. I only know about it because you were overly conscientious about it.

    I think this a good idea. Would certainly help people find the kind of church community they want. And, hey, let the young do some shopping around rather than automatically going to their parents’. It’ll broaden their minds.

    Hell, everything else is rated on-line. Why not churches?

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