Yelp your preacher!?

Posted Aug 23, 2011 | New Media Project


By Lerone A. Martin

Social media and online communities have given birth to the first consumer review website solely dedicated to rating and evaluating clergy.

Product review websites have flourished with the advent of social media. Platforms such as Yelp, CNET, and Angie’s List allow online communities of consumers to swap testimonies and appraisals regarding an array of services and products ranging from housekeepers and restaurants to the latest tablet computer.

Now the German website Hirtenbarometer (translated “The Shepherds’ Barometer”) provides a tool to evaluate the performance of clergy. Similar to other product review sites, the Shepherds’ Barometer allows “consumers” to evaluate the proficiency of clergy and the services they provide. Using a rubric of shaded sheep and a scale of 1 to 6, The Shepherds’ Barometer rates clergy according to their abilities in worship leadership, outreach, rapport with congregants, credibility, relevance, as well as the degree to which respective clergy are imploring cutting edge techniques.

The site has proven popular with German Christians. In just under five months, the site has already registered and appraised 25,000 parishes and approximately 8,000 Catholic and Protestant clergy.

The founders of the popular German site told Reuters that they created the online rating system for their country’s clergy because they believe that "pastoral work should be qualitative.” In addition to providing qualitative evaluations, site founders also hope that their social platform will help prevent clergy abuse by providing a platform where reviewers can report early warning signs.

Leaders of the country’s Catholic church have yet to comment on the site. However, the local Protestant church praised the social platform in a recent press release as a “positive development.” This is not a surprising sentiment from the country that birthed the Protestant Reformation.

Here in the US, some might find the idea of rating clergy entirely too secular or perhaps even sacrilegious. To be sure, such a website does possess great potential to help curb abuse, but it could also be a means for gross character assassination.

Nevertheless, in many ways a website devoted to consumer reviews of clergy performance is indeed the next logical step in an American religious culture that is saturated with religious commodities, products, and apps for sale and download.

One question looms large: What would such a site reveal about its users and their expectations of clergy? For example, what might the Shepherds’ Barometer reveal about the changing nature of American Christianity and clergy? What, exactly, do Americans expect from their local clergy today given the emergence of online religious communities, podcasted and webcasted worship services, religious commodities, and the growing normalcy of megachurches.

The answers to such questions will have to wait. Shepherds Barometer is not offered in English … yet.

Lerone A. Martin, a research fellow for the New Media Project, is Assistant Professor of American Religious History and Culture at Eden Theological Seminary in Saint Louis, MO.

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