I am going to attempt to be as broad minded as possible, and attend churches from different denominations. I am baptised in the C of E and have some sympathy to it, but I’m going to try not to let that get in the way of reviewing different churches in Manchester.
The criteria I judge a church by is pretty wide and varied, but I think all of these are pretty important if you view the church-going-experience holistically.
These criteria are;
Music- traditional hymns, gospel music, Christian rock? Music is a pretty important part of the whole church experience. For some people it is make or break, whereas I suppose others can take it or leave it. I am definately in the former category. I think that music really creates the atmosphere of a place, either making it majestic or adding to the casual, relaxed vibe. I will attempt to suspend my aesthetic preferences to a degree, but there is only so much Christian rock I can handle.
Sermon/preaching- Although its difficult to fully qualify, how good was the sermon? Was it based entirely on an exposition of the bible, or was it an anecdote about a time the preacher went to the shops?
Style of worship- do people lift their hands in the air like they just don’t care, or do they get down on their knees? Is it focussed around ritual and Holy Communion, or does the sermon take the main part? How much time is spent singing? My aim is to describe this part so that people know what they are getting- an hour of casual conversation, or a “fire and brimstone” demagogue.
Congregation- the type of “crowd” attending a church will likely form a large part of your opinion of it, and so the church shopper will let you know if its suitable for you. Some people like a mixed congregation, some churches are more suitable for families, while some students would never be caught dead worshipping with “coffin-dodgers”. However, shallow judgements based on age and lifestyle are not all that matter. How welcoming the congregation are is far more important. Do they invite you for tea or to the pub afterwards?
“Objectivity” aside, I do have a few preferences that will probably be relevant to disclose. In particular, the role of women in the church is something I try and pay attention to. If 90% of the congregation are women, but all the readings and rituals are performed by men, then the church shopper will not approve. Also, as a good repressed member of the middle class, I have in the past felt a bit uncomfortable when people become so overwhelmed with the spirit that they proceed to do ballet at the front of the church, but then again that might just have been the fault of a particularly poor ballerina. And I’m sure I don’t need to mention my aversion to certain cringey types of music.