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October 18, 2019

A 2-year-old birthday letter from Church Clarity co-founders: Why We're Raising Money to Reboot Our Website

Church Clarity Team

Today is Church Clarity’s two-year-old birthday. In this letter, you’ll get some updates from us, but the biggest one is that for our birthday, we’re asking our supporters to make a financial contribution to reboot our website so that we can keep publishing churches! (We grew too fast and broke our website. Sort of).

Church Clarity is a crowdsourced, volunteer-verified database that scores churches for how clearly they communicate their LGBT and Women in Leadership policies on their websites. You know us from our hashtag #ClarityisReasonable. We aren’t here to change policies or theologies -- we just want churches to make them clear and reduce the harm caused by the bait-and-switch rhetoric masking actual policies.

Since we launched two years ago, we have grown beyond expectations. Over 5,000 churches have been submitted to our database. Our volunteer team now consists of 159 people who have published close to 3,000 churches. Our backlog is miles long. See our Appendix for more.

We’ve also published blog-posts and stories challenging some of the largest churches in the world who claim tens of thousands of congregants. We have put church authorities on notice and shifted the terms of conversation in the church world. Perhaps most critically, we’ve become a go-to resource for anyone looking for a church that simply aligns with their values. 

Now at the ripe age of 24 months, our rapid growth has broken our website. Sort of. Our website vendor (webflow) literally cannot handle any more new content (read: no new churches) published on the platform, and after much discussion, we’ve concluded that our only solution is to build a new website from scratch. That’s where you come in!

If you’ve ever…

  • Found a church through Church Clarity
  • Worked at a church where a congregant has found you through Church Clarity
  • Become more informed about a church’s policies through Church Clarity
  • Learned something new about the church-world through Church Clarity 

We’re asking you to help. We plan to raise $50,000 by December 3rd so that we can build a new website in 3 months. You’ll get perks: Thank-you emails, coupons for merchandise, 1:1 time with co-founders, speaking engagements.

Here’s how: Go to our Indiegogo campaign and donate, or share it if you can’t.

As context, you should know that no one “works” at Church Clarity. We don’t get paid to help curate this incredibly powerful database of information. That has been intentional and by design. We’ve been putting in this work because we believe that Ambiguity is Harmful and Clarity is Reasonable. So far, we are almost entirely self-funded, paying vendor and hosting fees out of pocket, including occasionally incentivizing volunteers for their labor. And we’ve done a lot: Churches go through three rigorous levels of review by our remote volunteer team, who have collectively spent an estimated 3,500 hours (or 145 days) to processes church website submissions. But software development is a skill for which there is much demand but little supply, and for us to build the website in the next 3 months, we need an infusion of capital. We want to score every church in America and equip people with the information they need to decide where to invest their time and money.

What’s next: the Utility of Church Clarity

Ok, neat. So we’ve established a solid brand, 7k followers on twitter and we have a cute little catchphrase. So what? Is ‘yelling’ at Erwin McManus and getting blocked by Brian Houston actually all that helpful? We’ll keep calling out Unclear churches, but we don’t want to just be known as that.

This upcoming year and beyond, we want to refocus our efforts and energy on two areas: 

1. Education, thought leadership, and more content explaining the “why” and “how” behind Clarity in all verticals of the Christian industry

2. Positively highlighting Verified Clear churches that are proactively resonating with our mission and who agree that Clarity is Reasonable. As distrust for institutions continues to increase world wide at breakneck speeds, our most valuable asset will continue to be the database of Verified Clear churches -- churches who complete our 10-question policy survey and whose answers are published on our website. Over the past two years, this tool has already helped countless individuals find a church to attend that aligns with their values. 

For Church Clarity, an ongoing emphasis on Verified Clear churches is the most productive and impactful way forward. A renewed focus on highlighting churches who are unafraid of the reality of their convictions — for better or worse — can contribute to rebuilding trust and is already creating a robust alliance among a unique subset of churches. 

When we were first getting started, we personally resisted descriptions of Church Clarity as a “consumer’s guide to churches,” similar to Yelp. This comparison can cheapen the critical work that is being carried out by our volunteers. We are not simply aggregating personal reviews of churches -- in fact, we do not take personal stories into account. We rigorously train our vlunteers in a detailed methodology of scoring church websites and denomination websites for how clearly they communicate their policies. When we score a church, our intention isn’t to provide an “endorsement” or “review” as to what you can expect if you attend -- our aim is to apply a consistent formula in order to establish a standard of clarity.

But as we shift away from calling out Unclear churches and towards highlighting Verified Clear churches, we are embracing more and more how people mainly use Church Clarity: To help them find churches aligned with their values. This doesn’t mean we’ll change our methodology and start accepting personal stories in how we score churches. But it does mean that we will do more positive affirmation of churches who have proactively chosen to become Verified Clear in order to help people find churches that make sense for them.

The biggest conclusion we’ve reached two years into this project is that we’ve maximized our current systems. It’s taken lots of creativity and bootstrapping to get as far as we’ve gotten, and it’s time to admit that we can no longer keep up with the speed of growth we’ve continued to experience as a non-profit that doesn’t actively fundraise. Already, the demand for Church Clarity is so high that we have submissions to our database that are MONTHS old, that we’ve not yet been able to publish. Our backlog continues to grow and simply adding more volunteers to the system is no longer a viable solution to continue scaling. 

As we embark on Year 3 of this journey, it’s clear that additional financial provisions are needed so that we can make a meaningful investment into our technology. We want better search functionality. We want faster publishing times. We want to publish more resources and data. But most of all, we want to keep pointing people to Verified Clear churches and away from Unclear churches. 

The room for expansion and growth is overwhelming. But we want to focus as much energy and attention as possible to the core mission of scoring and publishing church congregations. But we need to be more aggressive with development as we’ve maxed out our current systems. 

As we’ve explored various funding strategies over the past 2 years, we’ve hit roadblocks that would have left us beholden to legacy institutions opposed to the mission of clarity or would have indebted us to the tyranny of continued fundraising and a “business model” that started to sound like a hipster church. None of that is interesting to us. What we want is better technological infrastructure and an upgraded website. Better tools for our volunteers and those visiting the website. More functionality for Verified Clear churches and new ways to leverage the valuable data we’ve been gathering. 

So, for our birthday, we’re hoping to raise $50,000 by December 3rd, which is #GivingTuesday. This will get us a long way down the road in catching up on our backlog and upgrading our website. You can help us here. You can give a recurring gift also by visiting our Contributions page.

Thanks for your support over the past 2 years and for investing in the ongoing work of Church Clarity!

-George & Sarah


APPENDIX:

Two years of Church Clarity in review

2017

2018

  • Mar: Launched Women in Leadership component to our scoring
  • Oct: Launched Verified Clear Membership program for churches
  • Nov: Created Resources for Pastors on how to be clear, and Congregants on how to get Clarity from pastors

2019


We have also published 11 blogposts and interviews with people who have experienced harmful ambiguity in their churches, most notably, “Andy Stanley’s North Point Ministries Church is NOT the ‘Safest Place in the World’ for My Gay Teen” by Jennifer O’Rourke, and “When They Denied My Baptism in Passion City Church” by Erica Ferguson.