What I mean by “open up,” is that the UMC should allow non-United Methodist churches to register on Find-A-Church. I can think of a myriad of reasons to do this and few not to. Here are the best reasons:
1. It would instantly become the worlds largest church directory service with a potential initial listing of 42,000 churches. Wait a second Wil, isn’t this already true? No, it’s currently the largest United Methodist Church directory service, but as the largest directory for all churches, it instantly gains the most authority, the best search engine optimization, and the most users. I have zero doubt this would be the case.
2. People, particularly younger people, care less and less about denominational affiliation. In fact, many see a strong denominational identity as a turn off. This means that users are becoming less likely to want a denominational-based church directory service. There are a lot of studies to back me up on this point, ping me and I’ll reference them for you. In short, we’re investing in a tool that is becoming less relevant.
3. United Methodists would come out looking good on this new service. It will look like we have our stuff together and thus care about visitors because we have the metadata to list all our churches. This is expected when it’s an in-house directory, but is considered impressive on an open directory.
4. Entrepreneurial opportunities are likely to make find-a-church self-sufficient while simultaneously letting us offer the same advanced features to our churches for free. Advertising, preferred listings, add-ons, apps, extensions. It will take some work to figure out what users want, but the possibilities are endless.
5. The change would show respect for the ecumenical principles outlined in the United Methodist Discipline, the rule book for the church.
OK, Wil, so what’s the downside?
1. What if a horrible church wants in? We can have policies to weed out extremist churches. Social communities are good at self-policing (just try adding a lie to wikipedia and you’ll see how it works), I wouldn’t foresee a problem.
2. What if the church across the street gets a higher rating than my United Methodist Church? This isn’t a problem, it’s a sign and an opportunity. Getting unbridled feedback like this is hard to come by, it can be used to engage the community, increase hospitality, and improve messaging.
3. What if there comes a time when there are more Catholics or Baptists then United Methodists on Find-A-Church? This is good problem to have. It means you have a big economic pool and more importantly, it means you were the first mover, and thus keep control. Simply put, the Baptists or Catholics could take this approach tomorrow, and chances are we’d have missed our opportunity to act.
Find-A-Church is looking mighty nice these days. There are a million and one ways we could capitalize on this important ministry, but they all start with opening it up. What are they waiting for?