Gary Lamb, full of grace....

Gary Lamb is more gracious than I am. The twelve of you who know of both of us are probably surprised to see me admit that in print, but after today, I have to.

Gary is vacationing in Florida, and like others, cannot take time off his blog. Uh...anyway. Today he referenced something about a blog by people calling themselves the Church Checkup.

In short, the Church Checkup is a person or persons (they speak vaguely of we) that visits churches in Georgia and offers written reviews. Their reviews seem relatively fair, albeit pithy about some things. They seem to go into spasms when people commit the sin of overdressing, but other than that, they talk frankly about the good, bad and the ugly.

So here's where Gary is more gracious than I am. After their mostly-good review of Gary's church, Ridgestone, he wrote this about them:
I think this type of review is hard to swallow but so needed. When you are in your church every week, you get to where you miss some of the little things. I sent the review of our service to the whole staff to review.
Gary, you're a good man. You're a kind man. But I'll say it...these guys are yahoos.

From the Yahoo's website:
We are not one, but many. We are not the Borg. If you know who we are, you would know when we're visiting your church. We would also get more hate mail. We have decades of experience in ministry and pastoring, and almost two decades of web design experience.....When will Church Checkup come to my church? You'll never know. If you knew, it wouldn't do any good. I'll use an analogy. (That's where you compare two things that are alike.) If the health inspector told restaurants when he/she was coming to check their place out, all the restaurants would score 100.
Understand that I think all churches need to be reviewed regularly, and I think that having non-attendees is the best way to do it. I have one friend who used to pay people fifty bucks to attend his church and tell them what they thought (the deal is no longer on, so you'll have go go back to giving plasma...). I think it's brilliant. At the same time, this website is nuts, for the following reasons.

Reasons Why I Think This Whole Deal is Whack:

1) No leader worth his salt really takes anonymous criticism.
Every leader gets it. Aftere a while, you toss it in the can, because you learn the reason a critic remains anonymous is to mask a) bias or b) fear. Either way, when they sign their name, credibility follows. Checkup Crew, if you really want to help these churches, then tell us you who you are, or simply describe the settings and leave the church names out.

2) It propagates church ala' carte. Reviews are inherently comparisons. "I liked the worship at church xyz, the preaching at church abc, and the children's ministry of pie-are-squared." People who think this way end up nibbling at the banquet table of six or eight places and having to call at least that many churches looking for someone to do their daughter's wedding, then gripe because they have to pay to rent the hall because no one knows them.

3) It makes broad assumptions with little background info.
I only know one or two pastors (planters, of course) who are not saddled with at least one detail about their church that they'd change if they could. Anybody can ride into town and announce "The whole deal would work better if they'd have the brains to move the Icon of St. Guadelupe further to the left...". Especially when they don't know that the former pastor purchased said Icon while on his last trip to Portugal, where he suddenly died of the bends on a diving expedition. Long story short, that Icon's not moving and the pastor can't do squat about it. OK, that's an extreme example, but the principle is that these checkup guys have no CLUE how certain things were decided on, or why the light tree is located there, or why they let that bald guy make announcements. In all likelihood, the pastor doesn't like it either. Get off his back. There are factors you can't understand in one visit.

4) It panders to the kingdom of biggest, best and first. Most pastors think their biggest problem is breaking the 200 barrier, or 500 barrier, or 1000 barrier. These things can be fixed with good websites, clever teaching, or great music. Unfortunately, it's often the least of the pastor's problems. We are nearing a day - some would say we're already there - when biggest, best and first means little to nothing. Churches are becoming larger and less effective, both at atrocious rates, and now with the help of an anonymous checkup, they can tweak their performances to become more of both.

5) If they've got 20 years of web design experience, why does their blog look as dorky as mine?
Sorry. I couldn't resist. I wonder these things. Also interesting, their sidebar says "Don't complain to us or question us." Yikes. That's pretty strong language from people who won't sign their name.

Granted, I'm in Kansas City, far out of their target zone, and don't have any sort of church that they could review, so maybe that gives me a bit more boldness, but I think these guys are doing more damage than some poor pastor whose website needs help, so I'm sayin' it: These guys are playground bullies wearing ski masks....and my name's on the blog and my email's in my profile.

Of course, we have absolutely no clue who these guys are, so I'm going to guess.

1) A church planter who is touring Georgia with his core group and seriously thinks he's being helpful or
2) A college professor.
2) A former pastor.

If it's #1, woe to the dude, for these things have a way of reciprocating. He is training his peeps to be connoisseurs that he will be forced to cook for soon. If it's #2....it's because those who can't, teach. If it's #3, I'm not even going there.


jen said...


Charlie said...

I guess you got to 'em...their page is down this morning!

Nathan said...

Randy, these posts are great! You are I'm sure familiar with the "Mystery Worshipper" at www.ship-of-fools.com or org. They do the same thing.

Randy Bohlender said...

Charlie - I take no responsibility for their site being down. It may have been an act of conscience. Or an act of God. Or a fluke. My guess is they're leaning on their 20 years of web design experience to roll out a spiffy new site for us to critique.

Craig Lee said...


I think you're missing the point. I have asked these guys to visit my church. I am not a poor pastor, but one who wants to get it right. I serve in an area where excellence is not a value, not that people don't care, just that they have never been exposed to what could be. I can say things about the changes we need to make, but to hear it from a totally neutral prospective will possible help us move on. I do care about reaching and breaking the attendance barriers, but not for the reason you might believe. The County in GA where we have planted a church is strongly rooted in Religion. Most people believe they are followers of Christ, but have no evidence of following in their lives. The average church size is under 100 and less than 10% of those living in the county are in church. This means that 32,000 people could potentially spend an eternity without God, I can't not do something! That something is to see a church that matters in their lives, not by programs or gimmick, but by helping them develop spiritually through God's Word. I will use an old and worn statement here: God gave his very best, so why will we not give our very best? From the reviews I have read Church Checkup seeks to give a fresh eye. They "RIPPED" our website apart, but when changes were made they gave encouragement and even suggestions. Do I know who they are? No Neither did Gary Lamb, but they later called him to help with a web problem he was having. I don't think they are being annonymous like you and I know it, but I do believe they keep their identity close until they do their deal and then seek to give improving suggestions that you can either take or leave.

Finally, I have served in the SBC for over 20 years. I have asked for stuff like this for years. We fear it! I have even asked for coaching and critiqing from larger churches and organizations only to hit the PRICE wall. I am so sick and tired of the "BIG" guys (conference speakers) standing up and say things like this, "I have a heart for pastors!" and "Part of my ministry is to small church pastors, helping them grow their churches", I can't stand it. Most of these comments are only meant to WOW, but very few have legs. How do I know? I have asked and been ignored. If these guys are willing to come and tell me some things I might do to improve, then I welcome them with bells on. I am just looking for some help even if it might be different at times than I believe. I do believe I am spiritually discerning to determine what I should and should not do at my church.

Just my 2 cents

Elizabeth Kosorski said...

I think you're right. No wunnda tha maidens love you....

Randy Bohlender said...

Craig, thanks for your comment. My response to some specific things you said :


You wrote: I do care about reaching and breaking the attendance barriers, but not for the reason you might believe.

In my post, I made a mistake: I failed to clearly give most pastors the benefit of the doubt in this area. I should have been clearer. I think 99% of pastors have pure motives. I also think most of them are slightly misguided in them - but that's another post.

You wrote: ...I have served in the SBC for over 20 years. I have asked for stuff like this for years. We fear it! I have even asked for coaching and critiqing from larger churches and organizations only to hit the PRICE wall. I am so sick and tired of the "BIG" guys (conference speakers) standing up and say things like this, "I have a heart for pastors!"...

Craig, did you expect an honest review from your organization? This isn't a slam on the SBC. I have operated within denominations and other organizations, and in most (if not all cases) they are completely incompetent at giving honest feedback about their own churches. SBC feedback builds typical SBC churches. Ditto for the A/G (I know this well...), Vineyard, and independent churches. You need feedback from outside your world.

As for the big name speakers who make promises they don't keep, I have no excuses for them. Neither do I blame them for my own lack of soliciting feedback from the people I'm trying to reach. The last thing you need is the perspective of a consultant or an expert. You need a real, live, lost person with a face and a name and a hot cup of coffee.

I wrote very strongly in favor of feedback in my post - especially from outsiders. Jim Henderson, the guy who held my slot before I had it at the Vineyard, is notorious for inviting 3 unbelievers to a symposion where they verbalize what they feel when they visit a church - it's riviting. You can find the video at www.off-the-map.com .

My issue with these cowards does not center on their feedback - I said they were pretty fair - but rather with the anonymous and rather snide manner that they operated with. If their goals were simply to help people, they wouldn't need to do the anonymous, dramatic grandstanding. They'd be the ones buying you the coffee.

I love your teachable spirit. I'm glad you gleaned from their comments. I'm more concerned with what this means to the body as a whole than individual congregations who may or may not learn that their website is subpar.

Gary Lamb said...

They are down. Emailed me and told me they had been getting threats and it wasn't worth it. Not sure what the threats were or what that means but that is what they said.

Your a hard man Randy. Just wait to you get that sweet little girl, it will soften you up. :)

Randy Bohlender said...

Gary Lamb just called me a hard. I feel like a rockstar. Would someone please cue the fat lady because it is time for her to sing.


And G, we're excited about that sweet little girl. The home study is just about done.

Craig Lee said...


Very cool website, this is the kinda stuff we are doing now and want to learn to do more.


Isn't that like the church, make threats instead of allowing something new to challenge the process of church. I think we hide behind our laziness.


I understand your concerns, however I do think there is a need for this or something like it. As you stated in your rebuttal the SBC machine builds more machines like themselves in an attempt to stay alive. In the past I believed the SBC salvagable, however due to the unwillingness to change and take criticism it just might die and that really does hurt.

I will be by from time to time to learn from you.


Randy Bohlender said...

Craig, there is a need for something like this, providing the communication is done in a healthy way, not under cloak of secrecy or by appointing oneself some bizarre clinic director, administering checkups and publishing the test results in a public forum.

Yikes. It took this to prove Gary was a kinder, gentler guy than me. Who knew?!?


carl said...

I am going to disagree with you (mildly). I doubt any pastor would put up a site like this. I cannot imagine any person who went through a church plant (which I think you did, right?) publicly ridiculing a church plant for not advertising the free coffee well enough. What type of person does that?

If you look at church marketing sucks, they do something similar but in a far more biblical way. They call it peer review (http://www.churchmarketingsucks.com/peerreview.html)I think the idea has real potential, just done differently.

Imagine a site where people could request a team to visit their church and rate it (while stating who you are and what your background is and the rating criteria. remember: youth in loby preparing for drama = bad church). The people running the site could then put the reviews together and post a comprehensive review and forward the individual reviews to the pastor. This prevents the singular slander method displayed on the current site.

Who knows who these people are? They obviously penalize for attendees wearing suits and dresses and not having the ability to hang lights from the ceiling (and maybe hair loss), who knows what doctrinal issues they penalize for (or reward)?

I think that if God were in it there would be far more transparency. my $.02

Randy Bohlender said...

you wrote: I think that if God were in it there would be far more transparency.

Very well put.

And I don't think it's a crashed planter - it could be a church planter in the works. They know way more than the guys doing it.

carl said...

They know way more than the guys doing it.

I almost spit up my lunch when i read that.