Maybe it’s not right to “rate” churches. Maybe it seems consumeristic. Maybe one visit to a service can’t get the feel of a community.
But what if a view from the outside, from an atheist, shed some light on a few of your blind spots? What if it caused a little conversation? What if it shook some presuppositions?
I’ve been reading some of Matt Casper’s ratings of a few churches. He’s an atheist who has traveled and visited churches with Christian Jim Henderson. Their recent book is Jim and Casper go to Church.
There’s a comment on the ratings site that nails down an important thought:
I love all this conversation…it’s all very challenging for me right now. First things first, I’m a Christ follower, but I’m having my doubts about my association with the Christian religion right about now.
Matt your book is more than intriguing to me because I’m a newer Christ follower (5 years) who works in a mega-church in the Midwest. I understand your points completely about the ‘lights, camera, action’ approach to a church service. I’m the guy in my church who’s in charge of making sure that all those things work each Sunday. In all honesty, I pushed to have a lot of those things installed in our building. I love production…what else can I say?
I honestly believed when I was pushing the budget to the elders so that these things would do something ‘good’ for the church and it’s ability to reach non-believers. I thought I was going to take all those media elements and create an environment that would create a ‘this isn’t church’ feeling to non-Christians leading them to give the message a chance.
The irony is that I created a great ‘performance’ that the traditional church people hated at first. I thought I was on the right track…they hated it, so the non-believer might give us a chance now! The reality is that the traditional members came around pretty quickly and (along with the rest of the church) almost ‘demanded’ a new and more innovative program each week…with more ‘special’ elements to keep them entertained.
My goal was to entertain the average atheist, agnostic, and seeker enough that they would hear a message that I believe with all of my heart…now, I spend my days ‘entertaining the saints’…a group of Christians that come each week to be entertained, not to become equipped with the message that Christ came here with…a message of loving and building a relationship all the ‘average’ people out there.
People are different, but the churches that impressed these two writers were the ones that were authentic and were serving the community.
Here are some of his thoughts on Imago Dei, a postmodern church in Portland, OR:
There was no clearly identifying characteristic of the people, but together, they seemed a forces for good, telling stories about what they’ve done and will do. And all in the name of Jesus.
They came together because they have a shared understanding about what it means to follow Jesus. And they went out–and go out–into the community to make it better. Pretty simple, really, And pretty effective.
As you can tell by the simple ratings, I was not all that impressed by their friendliness, their singing, or even the preaching part of it (the actual sermonizing), but I was duly impressed by the mission of the church: to make the world a better place.
And whether you’re making the world a better place because you believe that’s what God wants, or whether you’re doing so for the sake of your family, friends, self, and/or everyone else in the world, you are–in my opinion–doing the right thing.
And this about Lawndale, a church in Chicago:
That’s why I like Lawndale. As far as I can tell Jesus’ message was not “build large churches… get into politics… go on TV… get rich.” But “do I as do… love God… love your brother.”
And, again, as far as I can tell, those weren’t opinions Jesus had: they were commands for all who follow him. And Lawndale seems to be heeding those commands.
One person’s opinions aren’t everything, but too often we only talk to people who agree with us. It’s worth stepping out and considering what church is all about – not to criticize others, but to ask where God is leading us – in this place – at this time – for the people all around us.