Monday, January 07, 2008

How would you find a church?

I'm in the early phases of working on a church directory website. I'm hoping to make the site work in such a way that when a person wants to find a church in a particular area they could select certain items that are important to them and find churches that meet that criteria. So, here's my question: if you had just moved someplace new - say Seattle (since I know most of our readers don't live there) - what criteria would you use to find a church that fit you? What doctrinal issues are important to you? Does church size matter? You don't have to mention denomination or worship style since those are kind of given as criteria (though if there is a very particular nuance that's important to you then you can mention it).

I look forward to hearing your responses.


Nomad said...

One thing that I would be careful to avoid is asking the churches themselves for reviews. Most church staffs want to be all things to all men, and will claim they fit any definition if they believe it will lead people to attending. I would encourage you to consider a community reviews approach where attenders provide basic ratings, supplementedby surveys of the individual churches on unarguable issues like "congregationsize" and "hours of operation."

For me, the #1 factor in choosing a church is doctrine. Then #2 is a group of people I feel I can worship with. #1 is easy to research, #2 is so completely subjective, I am not sure you can capture it in a website.

Sam said...

First I'd like to know what doctrinal issues are most important to any given church. Congregation size/composition and financial transparency would occupy the number 2 and 3 spots. Proximity to my new home would be next (I've been spoiled by being a 5 minute drive from church for the last several years). The length and order of services is also something that I would like to know before I show up for a visit. Church governance structure is also something I'd like to know.

Independent assessments of these factors would be great.

Anonymous said...

But be sure not to use too much jargon. I am so sick of asking what someone believes only to be told they are a pre-trib, post-mil trans-substantiated dispensational anti-incarnate methodistic arminian, and they assume I automatically know what all that means. Your jargon is not my jargon.

CRCHAIR said...

I'd like to see:

1. Brief statement on how someone gets to heaven.
2. Brief description of worship style.
3. Size of the congregation.
4. Length of services.

Sean said...

Nomad, when surveying church's it will be basic multiple choice options like:

Do you believe in limited atonement? y/n

It's the type of question that will make many theology nuts go nuts, but it's necessary to get a good feel. I've been on a church staff before and I know how it works. But it is also beneficial for churches to be honest about what they are or people that come b/c of the misinformation will be highly disgruntled and it'll lead to bad word of mouth - the way most people hear about churches.

Nonetheless your suggestion for user reviews is something that I will think about. The big problem is when someone gets burned by a church and they write a scathing review that actually has little to do with the church other than that they hurt the person's feelings. So, there will need to be a moderation aspect to it.

@anonymous: I'm going to try a limit the amount of jargon, but with some church's their jargon is part of the way they identify themselves - it's dumb but true. But, thanks for the heads up.

Nomad said...


Doctrine is not as big a deal for for "shading the truth" as worship styles and ministries. As for the user reviews, I'd recommend you make it something you have to review before posting. That way, you can preserve the good without the bad.

quizwedge said...

Lots of good ideas above. Doctrine is a must and if you do the y/n then you can have an app set up like the presidential candidate matching apps. Worship style, service times and lengths, and ministry areas are important too. I like the idea of having the church budget on there so that you can see what focus a church has. It'd also be good to have the church's constitution. Church size doesn't matter too much to me (though I wouldn't want to be 1 of 10 nor would I want to be 1 of 10,000), but it'd be good for the site to have.

From the programming side, I'd make it so that you could easily have it expand to other areas of the country. Whether thats vs or just a box to enter your city and state, I could see this being a useful site for more than just Seattle.

Sean said...

quizwedge: seattle was just an example. it'll probably be tacoma first and move out from there. but your point is well taken. i'll definitely use the method in a craiglist type way.

i want to find a way to get every church in the area cataloged, so that it's easier for people to find a new church. i'm also hoping to build some more tools (e.g. events calendar, email lists, etc...) into it for churches that don't want/can't afford the expense of a website.

if you have any suggestions for tools for churches i wouldn't mind hearing them either.

quizwedge said...

don't have many suggestions, but I'd check and see what both Google and Yahoo offer. I know Yahoo has some free code that they offer for different things and a church should be able to use Google Calendar and also host their e-mail with GMail (using their own domain) all for free.

Wacko! said...

I'm intrigued by the comments offered so far. Keep in mind who your target audience is. Are searchers mature Christians, seeker, etc.? If in the latter category, some of the doctrinal issues my be off-putting (too much information), so you may want to have a "basic" and "advanced" search.

My advice would be to hammer out a basic search as the primary use case and then work on an advanced search use case for the second version.

Some variables for basic search should include (1) proximity to home, (2) denomination, (3) worship style, (4) church contact info, (5) service times

Some variables for advanced search should include (1) search by ministry offerings, (hmm...not sure what else).

Then advanced information you provide can include things like budgets, doctrinal statements, ministry offerings, missionary activities, etc.