Churches and Yelp Reviews, 1 of…

The other day Arwa was sitting next to me in our staff meeting.  She often takes notes during these meetings, and she was typing away on her laptop.  I noticed that she was looking at a few windows.  I got nosey and leaned over.  She whispered something.

“What?” I asked.

“I’m looking at Yelp reviews.”

You’re what?  I was thrown.  Why are you looking at Yelp reviews?  That’s what I wanted to say, but she saw my confusion and tilted her laptop in my direction.  She was reading reviews for our church.

I was, in a word, stunned.  Perhaps that tells you more about me than about Arwa’s browsing during our meeting.  Anyhow, I waited for a pause in the discussion going around the room; one came quickly because I was making a silent scene, flailing my hands the I do in these meetings when something is absurd.  I was starting my own personal tantrum.  I’m learning how to conduct them from a nineteen-month old expert.

We were discussing strategy, particularly strategy for next year.  This was our first discussion of what will likely be many as a group.  So, we mentioned that the church had (only two) reviews.  One was really old, one was from last year.  I kept saying how I couldn’t believe that the church had yelp reviews.  I complained aloud that I was too old, that I was from a different time, that I wasn’t fit for ministry in an age when churches were reviewed on the internet.  I told them that I needed a moment of silence or a visit to my office to pray.

Much–maybe all–of what I spouted in those moments was true.  I often feel caught between the world of my body and older one in my soul.  I am happily and unashamedly an old soul as I’ve been told.  I stayed at the table, but my mental wheels were spinning.

I don’t know how many posts I’m going to write about yelp and church reviews.  I’m not going to write them consecutively.  I’m going to think through the meaning of this new-for-me finding.  And I’m going to blog as a guy who stands with one foot in a church culture that completely understands and gets and accepts yelp and what it brings and another foot in a tradition that bucks up against that very cultural understanding.

Here are a few things I know:

  1. Yelp is helpful.  I use yelp.  I like yelp.  Though I think that Grace Han is personally much more resourceful than yelp when I’m looking for a restaurant.  I mean that about Grace with all my heart.  She’s better than yelp.  Nonetheless, yelp is great.  I wrote a review on it for my acupuncturist.  One of my mechanic’s, the one by my job who fixed my window when it wouldn’t go up one day, asked me to review him on yelp.  It’s probably like google, not going away.
  2. Churches need feedback.  The local church is served well when it listens.  Churches should hear and pay attention and respond in order to continually do ministry well.  That doesn’t mean that the church is focused on changing to the sentiments and opinions of people.  The opposite is actually the case.  But it does mean the church can determine how well it is living into its mission by attending to feedback.
  3. People review church regularly.  Whether leaders know it or not, people evaluate our churches all the time.  Every week evaluations are posted, be it online or inside a dozen conversations.  I get it.  I know it’s happening and I think it’s lovely.  But this feels different, for reasons I’ll write to.
  4. Ministry requires that people adjust.  Often adjusting can’t be done without discomfort.  Often it’s done while learning culture, critiquing culture, and being critiqued by culture.  I don’t think this is bad at all.  Again, I think this is normal and I think it’s already in the church’s history.  There has never been a time when the church, conversant with its culture wasn’t pressed to adjust itself in order to minister.
  5. Communicating requires precision.  Churches communicate a message.  And when we’re paying attention to ourselves, we communicate with precision.  The thing is, we express and relay our message in a culture.  Online reviews are common in today’s culture.  Indeed they are as common as craigslist and groupon.  There’s not much more value in my criticism of culture relative to a church being reviewed on yelp than there is me objecting to google.  Not that I’d object to google.  These vehicles are instruments for a church’s use–in a perfect world–tools which assist us in relaying and communicating with people.
And yet there are things that I don’t get.  I’ll ramble about them in upcoming posts.  Be patient with me.  By the way, have you ever reviewed a church on yelp?  Have you ever used a yelp review to choose a church?  Maybe we can be conversation partners.
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