As the Christmas season got under way, reporters from The Sentinel Sunday in Stoke went undercover to check out their local churches.
The Sentinel team marked services out of 10 for categories including sermon, music, relevance, humour, accessibility and parking.
Sentinel head of content Martin Tideswell said: “The idea came on the back of one of the bishops saying, ‘we’ve got to engage young people because our services are really boring’.
“We thought it would be interesting to go undercover and chose three young people who are not churchgoers to do it. We picked three Church of England churches and said: ‘Review it – do it as you would a performance or a restaurant review.’ “It made a nice piece. All came back and were fairly positive which surprised us. One of them even said they felt quite uplifted afterwards. It made good copy.”
Nick Coligan said in his piece: “Prior to last weekend, the only thing I considered sacred about my Sunday mornings was my lie in.” Although he wasn’t won around, he gave the church high marks for sermon and parking.
Elizabeth Pegg said of her experience: “There was a genuine feeling of warmth between people which I would argue is more valuable than ‘entertainment’.”
Although the visits were unannounced, the paper contacted the relevant vicars afterwards and gave them space to respond to the criticism.
The exercise has been welcomed by local bishop the Right Reverend Christopher Hill, who said: “The reporters seemed to find a genuinely friendly welcome and some thought-provoking ideas. I am delighted the reports were so positive. It shows that proper priority has been given to the awesome worship of God whom we see in Jesus and whose spirit is, indeed, alive in our hearts.”
By Dominic Ponsford