Do you want to try a new barber, mechanic, or dry cleaner? How about a florist, dentist, or sandwich shop? Whatever you’re looking for – you can find user reviews for it online. In years past critical reviews were the work of journalists who spoke mostly about movies and upscale restaurants. Nowadays online user reviews are what most people turn to for a wide sampling of opinions on just about any sort of business there is. Such is life in a networked, consumer society. Everyone is always comparison shopping in their quest to be pleased. In such a climate it was only inevitable that people would start giving online reviews of churches. Not only can you read church reviews now on places like Google and Yelp, there is even a website just for reviewing churches called churchrater.com. In giving these reviews church shoppers reveal just what is important to them in a church.
Here are some examples:
- “I am quite impressed that this church lacks all the pressure and preaching tactics of traditional churches. Very relaxed atmosphere. Car show on father’s day.”
- “It’s such a cool place to be a part of, they allow you to be anonymous as long as you wish. Valet parking!”
- “They wear jeans. The pastor tells funny stories. I like the edgy praise music. Great coffee.”
- “The most appealing to us is the childcare.”
- “It’s like watching a concert with neat lighting effects.”
- “After visiting we received a letter in the mail from the pastor with a $5 gas gift card for us to come back to visit them again.”
What a sad commentary these reviews make on the consumer mentality that dominates many modern day church goers. However, the act of reviewing churches isn’t a false [or new] practice. It is indeed quite important to review, or, to use a better term, evaluate a church. At issue are the standards of judgment. At issue is the disposition of the reviewer.
To learn how to soundly assess a church we need to turn to the book of Revelation where Jesus evaluates seven churches. In Jesus’ “reviews” he shows us what is truly important. His review of the church in Ephesus emphasizes love, works, and endurance. He also expresses the necessity for the church to correctly discern sound teaching from false and to reject false teachers (Rev 2:1-6). In his review of the church in Pergamum Jesus speaks of the importance of faithfulness to the Lord’s name, which requires faithfulness to his gospel (Rev 2:13). Jesus also speaks again of the importance of discerning true teaching from false (Rev 2:14). When looking at the church in Thyatira Jesus speaks of faith, love, works, and service. At the same time he condemns those who tolerated false teaching (Rev 2:18-23). The church at Sardis seems to be a church that received a lot of positive comments from people as Jesus notes its good reputation. However, Jesus finds the church lacking because of their incomplete works (Rev 3:1-3). As for the church in Philadelphia, Jesus gives them a glowing review because they had been faithful to keep his word (Rev 3:8).
What we find in Jesus’ evaluations of the churches is a focus on truth, faithfulness, love, and works. What we don’t find is any mention of childcare, gift cards, lighting effects or a casual atmosphere. Perhaps however, it’s all too easy for us to point out the sorts of things that unstudied people outside the Lord’s body consider important when visiting denominational churches. Could it be that sometimes we are also tempted to think like fussy shoppers and place a too much emphasis on matters of preference and convenience? Granted, things such as good parking and comfortable pews have some importance, but their importance is secondary. Do we ever get so caught up in being pleased by such secondary matters that we fail to give proper attention to what truly matters to the Lord? Furthermore, are we ever tempted to try to appeal to visitors on the basis of things that are of no meaning to God? How easy it is for us to slip into the mindset of our society!
Most online reviews these days use the star system where reviewers give a business or a church between one and five stars. Jesus also uses stars in his reviews, but it’s only one star, the morning star (Rev 2:28). This is the only star that matters. If we would seek this star rather than the stars of the world we must keep our focus on what the Lord addresses in his evaluation of the churches. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches (Rev 2:29).
— By Derek Chambers