Last night, I googled a church that I was thinking about visiting… and the first result was a yelp review with the actual church website about 4 results below. I was a little taken aback by this result.
I just became a yelper in January, and I’ve been having a lot of fun reviewing mostly restaurants that I try out. I’m very opinionated, and it’s fun to share my experience with others. And that’s exactly what it is… they’re mere opinions of my experiences… from customer service to ambiance to actual food. I also read other people’s reviews, but I usually take them with a grain of salt unless there are like 200+ reviews. I recently ordered something I never would have ordered off the menu because fellow yelpers had raved about it. I tried it, and it was good, but it wasn’t to die for just as other had indicated. But it definitely influenced me in ordering that item off the menu. I believe everyone is entitled to their opinion of their experience.
So when I read this church review, I started searching other churches I had visited to see what people were saying (i know, i have too much time on my hands). It was really interesting to read… It was a whole range of positive to negative experiences… One thing I observed was that 5-stars usually came from someone who had been attending that church for some time… 1-star usually came from someone who just visited once or twice. And all of a sudden, I started to empathize with these reviews…
For the past 4 months, I’ve visited close to a dozen churches. It’s been an interesting experience as it’s something I never get to do. I’m not looking for a church to commit to (yet), but I wanted to get a feel for what churches are doing out there… I wanted to learn from them, talk to the kidmin and family pastors, observe… call it research!!! So I found myself with a visitor’s lense when I visit these churches. What an experience!!!
Before you continue, please know that I’m very opinionated, blunt, and critical. I do have very high standards for myself and for everything else… but I don’t expect perfection. And I don’t mean to discourage or criticize churches and pastors. That’s not my intent at all… I just hope that churches put themselves in the place of visitors, and see how they might discourage visitors from coming back. And also know that I’m not the type of person who would make the effort to go to church and never make it inside just because I can’t find parking nor am I the type of person who would walk in 30 minutes late to service. I have high regards for corporate worship. So here it goes…
In the past 4 months, I have visited churches of different denominations. I have experienced a pastor in a 3-piece suit to a pastor with a nose ring and tattoos. I have heard topical to expository to doctrinal to apologetic sermons. I have experienced seeker-sensitive to very seeker-insensitive. I have witnessed baptism at 4 of those churches. I have taken communion at about 6 of those churches. I have sat through about 30 scientific facts that I won’t remember to feel-good and emotional stories to alter calls. Trust me, I have a lot to say about all of this… and thankfully different churches are for different people, so this church thing works for some people. But for now, I want to share my experiences as a first time visitor and my thoughts…
- I live in LA, and I’m used to having to look for a parking space. But when a church has about dozen parking spots on church grounds, and they are all reserved for the church staff, I wonder who they really value. When I worked in retail at the mall in high school (first and last time in retail), we were told to park at the far end of the parking lot so the customers can have dibs at the closer spots… I hated having to walk all the way across, but it made sense to me… One church expected me to pay money at the parking structure to come worship at their church… Even before I stepped into the church, I already felt like I didn’t want to come back here.
- In about 3 of the churches I visited, I was one of 15 people that were there when it was time to start worship. Eventually the church filled up to 100 – 200 people, but this says a lot about the church… I served in a church that was like this, and it always bothered me. But it felt much worse when this happened and I was the visitor. And to make it worse, I was stuck in the parking lot of one of these churches for close to 30 minutes. I was blocked in by all those that came late, and the owners of the car right behind me was nowhere to be found. That’s a definite negative.
- Because I believe my vocation is in kidmin, every church I visit, I try to check out the children’s ministry. Now, every church I have visited, I have checked out their website pretty thoroughly… and half the time, the website does NOT reflect my real experience. Every church has claimed “children’s ministry.” Well, unfortunately, I get there only to find out that some only have “childcare” as in “we watch your kids.” That’s a BIG disappointment to me. I also feel disappointed when the children’s ministry is put in the dungeon or in the attic (obviously they haven’t thought of emergency plans). Most of all, I’m concerned when the churches allow me, a first time visitor, to walk into children’s wing without asking to help me. I am obviously walking in without a child, and yet they don’t seem to care. Most of the time, I try to let someone know that I just want to observe as a children’s pastor who is on a break… but when there isn’t that person to talk to, I find it alarming. If I had children, I would never want to go back to that church.
All of this is even before experiencing worship in that church. Trust me, I have been in the place where I thought worship experience is what brought people to church… but having been on the other side, I realized that if initial experiences are negative, they’re not likely to come back, or worse, even stay to know what this church is all about. Being a first time visitor is difficult, even for a committed church goer like me! But if we want our churches to grow, and especially welcome non-church goers and non-christians, we should at least welcome them so that they want to come inside and stay.
Now, I have also been to churches that were EXCELLENT in these areas… and yes, I have gone back a second time! I can probably go on for another hour, but I shall spare you of my rant for now… I’m sure it’ll come up another day. But all this reminded me of an article I read few weeks ago “The Importance of the First 5 Minutes.”
After my experience, I can see why people would give 1-star rating on yelp even for churches. They are REAL people, sharing REAL felt experiences. I probably could never bring myself up to write a yelp review on a church… but I can always blog about how I feel… but as you can see, I don’t mention any names… 😀