The Pauline Kael of Churches

When I grow up I want to be a church reviewer. If I was not preaching every Sunday I would like to visit other churches and write reviews about them—like movie, or restaurant reviews. This would make a great topic for a blog. It would be fun to see the different sorts of churches and the review would be helpful for persons shopping for a church as well as for the preachers. Just the idea that someone may drop in and write a review of my sermon strikes terror in my heart. Maybe a little pressure would help us all improve.

There is a website that does publish some church reviews. Ship of Fools ( is an England based site that “…aim(s) to help Christians be self-critical and honest about the failings of Christianity, as we believe honesty can only strengthen faith.” Through parody, satire, and discussion the site raises a mirror to self-important church people to see themselves in a new, and more humble, light. One of their features is the Mystery Worshipper. Volunteers from around the world visit local churches and then review them using a standard form. There are only a few reviewers from the United States ( so the reviews are sporadic and scattered around the country, but a number are from the New York area. I find the reviews fun and informative.

If you read the reviews you will notice that the form includes three questions about how the visitor was welcomed and the coffee hour. The most critical comments seem to be about the warmth, or cold, of the congregation. Churches are their congregations. We are first of all a community. I point this out as a reminder to our folks to remember to be open to newcomers. It is easy to always talk to the same folks—I know, I do it, too.

I hope no one from CCH gets any ideas from this to be gone every Sunday visiting other churches. But, if you do, let me know what it was like. I am very interested in what goes on in other churches. In most any other profession you can observe colleagues at work and learn from them. Not so for us single pastorates. I only see my own church in worship.

And if any Mystery Worshipper wants to visit our church and write a review, bring it on. I would match our music, friendliness, and coffee with any other church. And the preachin’ ain’t half bad either—if I do say so myself.


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