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AOL Tech Helps Worshippers Find the Right Spot for Them

If you're looking for a great restaurant, you can go to Yelp or any other review site to browse through thousands of individual culinary recommendations. And if you're in the market for a great church, you can do the exact same thing, thanks to a growing number of sites devoted exclusively to consumer-rated houses of prayer. On, users exchange opinions and insights on their holy hangout of choice, and see how local churches rank against one another. Co-founder Taylor Mahoney is careful to point out, though, that while church raters are encouraged to be candid in their assessments, the site is centered on discussion, not disparagement. "We don't want people to criticize churches, because that's just not that helpful," Mahoney explained to NPR. "Don't tell me what I'm doing wrong; tell me what I can do better."

So far, it seems like Web-savvy worshipers have warmed up to the idea of peer-reviewed parishes, as both Churchrater and Yelp have compiled hundreds of reviews. Others, however, remain concerned over what they perceive as a trend that attempts to quantify the unquantifiable. Dwight Friesen, a theology teacher at Seattle's Mars Hill Graduate School, worries that sites like Churchrater implicitly reduce a church to being yet another commodified good. As he says, "The church, at the end of the day, is not a commodity -- it's more like a family."

A church, like any religious community, definitely means a lot more to certain people than any peer-reviewed dog groomer could ever mean to somebody else. That doesn't mean, however, that people can't apply economic principles of peer-review to a non-secular, non-economic setting. On a very fundamental level, the curious churchgoer is in very much the same situation as an agnostic consumer looking for the best baked ziti in town; both have to make a choice, and both want to make an informed decision.

People have always consulted other humans before making big decisions; but now, instead of chatting with someone over the backyard fence, we can hop online and flip through hundreds of opinions. There will always be controversy whenever religion starts to nudge up against business-oriented technology. In this case, though, it's a matter of humans using the Internet to participate in a very natural part of any decision-making process. It just so happens to be against a religious backdrop. [From: NPR]

Tags: church, churchrater, religion, review, top, yelp