A TALE OF TWO GOOGLE REVIEWS
Have you ever had an experience so utterly horrible – so absolutely, soul-crushingly awful – that you felt compelled to leave a scathing review online? A few weeks ago, this happened to a woman named Gina*. Probably not super uncommon, except for the fact that the object of her disappointment was not a bad meal or a disappointing Amazon order – it was our church’s Christmas Eve service.
“Very very disappointed in the Christmas Eve service. I brought my family to feel the joy of Christmas and the pastor even said more than once, why are you here! That was not what some of them needed to hear and to top it off, the testimony of the man on drugs! Totally improper for Christmas Eve service. I have a granddaughter that only took away from that was…..see, I can play now because he enjoyed it, why can’t I. Absolutely a disgraceful evening! I also can’t believe we are to the point of calling a church sanctuary a “venue”!
Her review popped up, with its sad single star, in my inbox on Christmas afternoon. Let’s just say it wasn’t exactly what I hoped to see after months of praying and working alongside the rest of our church staff to create a Christmas serve that would point people to Jesus.
And while my first reaction (internally at least) was a mix of defensiveness and frustration, I quickly fired off a compassionate and gentle reply, apologizing for her negative experience, asking her to let us know if there was anything we could do for her, and wishing her a merry Christmas.
And then I chose to put it out of my mind – until a second review popped up in my inbox. This time, all five of the stars were illuminated with a happy yellow.
“My friend invited me here to celebrate Christmas Eve with her,” wrote Sabrina*. “I’m not religious, but I had the best time. It was my first time inside a church, and I could completely understand why my friend and so many others love this place. The music, decorations, and the entire vibe in general were all incredible and enchanting, and if I was religious/Christian, I would bring my kids here too!”
Wow – talk about a contrast! This time, I wanted to do a happy dance and high-five all my coworkers about our amazing execution of great music, awesome decorations, and managing to pull off a vibe that was “enchanting.” But once again, God quickly readjusted my emotions and reminded me that it wasn’t us Sabrina had encountered on Christmas – it was Him.
And therein lies why I ultimately feel like both of these reviews are a win for us. Our efforts had not created a feel-good experience for the religious, but an inviting experience for the seeking. We didn’t shy away from telling a story of how God transformed a man trapped in the darkness of addiction for fear of offending people with the reality of drugs on Christmas – because we were more interested in sharing a glimmer of hope with others who were struggling (watch Alejandro’s God story). Our pastor challenged people to examine why they had come not because they weren’t welcome, but because he wanted them to have more than just an obligatory feel-good religious moment but a true encounter with Christ.
Has your church gotten negative reviews, too? Chances are, you probably have – or will soon. It’s a topic commonly brought up in church communications forums so you’re definitely not alone. It’s impossible to please everyone, and while reviews can provide an awesome opportunity to evaluate and readjust, they’re also not always a reason to despair.
Here are some ideas for receiving, responding to, and leveraging reviews for your church.
When a bad review pops up, it’s tempting to want it to just disappear. A lot of people even look for ways to remove or hide it. But understandably, businesses do not have the option to hide or delete unflattering reviews. (After all, if you were searching for the best coffee mug on Amazon, you wouldn’t want to buy from a company that was able to delete its hundreds of one-star reviews and leave only its ten five-star reviews, would you?)
Instead of hoping it will go away, the best way to handle a negative review is to be responsive. If the person is complaining about something specific, address their concerns. This does not mean getting into a heated debate about theology or worship styles online. But referring them to a specific part of your website that addresses that topic, and/or providing them with an email address to reach out privately with more information, goes a long way. It also shows other people seeing the review that you care about taking their concerns seriously.
People are smart. If they’re checking out your church and scrolling through reviews, they can tell which negative reviews are valid and which are just somebody with an axe to grind. (For example, we’ve gotten several variations of the “I don’t recommend this or any church, there is no God” reviews over the years.) But it can raise major red flags when somebody shares a legitimately bad experience and nobody has taken the time to respond or apologize.
Even the most amazing church is going to get a negative review from time to time. You simply can’t please everyone! If the majority of your reviews are positive, respond to the negative ones kindly and move on.
But if you’re getting a ton of negative reviews – especially if they’re all about the same thing – maybe it’s time to start taking them seriously. If a lot of people complain that they couldn’t find the main entrance, maybe it’s time to invest in updated signage. If people are having negative experiences with kids’ ministry, pass those concerns on to the appropriate staff to see if there is anything they can tweak to improve the experience.
In this era of being asked to provide feedback about every experience, people are used to sharing their opinions about everything. They’re not trying to be rude or attack you – they’re probably trying to be helpful to someone else, or at least honest.
At the end of the day, you answer to God and not Google. If He is putting a mission on your heart for your church, it doesn’t matter if other people don’t like it. I’m sure if Jesus had a Google Business listing, he would have had plenty of one-star ratings. But that wouldn’t have stopped Him from doing the work His Father sent Him to do.
Ironically, some of our all-time worst reviews have been about our Christmas Eve services. Year after year, we have been publicly and privately accused of ruining people’s Christmases by bringing up realities like child loss, addictions, poverty, war, and natural disasters as well as – *horror* – rearranging classic carols in modern ways. This year, we sorely disappointed somebody by having the room lights too bright during Silent Night, and they were sure to let us know on Facebook.
However, year after year we also hear an amazing number of stories about people who found their way to our church – and to Jesus – through coming to a Christmas service. So year after year, we continue to be the church that God calls us to be – rooted in the truth of the Bible and real about our lives and the difference Jesus has made for us. If that means ruining Christmas for a few people every year who want church to be an escape from real-world problems instead of the answer to them, then we will gladly continue to do so! (I mean, maybe not gladly – I promise we really don’t like ruining people’s Christmases. But we have to be faithful to our calling!)
At the end of the day, Jesus loves Sabrina AND He loves Gina. He is pursuing both of these women in different ways, and our hope and prayer is that both of them will see this, whether at our church or somewhere else. Both of them will continue to be welcome here, if they choose to come back!
*Names have been changed
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