It is a brick built former gospel hall, with an interesting double staircase entrance. Inside, the main meeting place is painted a cheerful yellow and white. Otherwise it is rather plain, with a stage and a projector screen, and a tea and coffee serving area at one end.
The Crowded House is one of a group of churches dedicated to ministering to unchurched urban areas, with a major focus on reaching out to the local community in mission. They run courses for those interested in knowing more about Christianity and are involved in other local outreach projects.
Sheffield is the largest city in South Yorkshire, a former industrial hub, famed for its steel manufacture in the past. The church is in a mixed housing and business area in suburban Sheffield, fairly close to Sheffield Hallam University.
The preacher was Steve Timmis.
What was the name of the service?9.30 Service.
How full was the building?
The building was pretty full once the service started. It was difficult to estimate numbers maybe a hundred or so. Most were young families with children, with just a few grey heads visible in the crowd.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
As I entered the building, I was greeted by a welcomer stationed at the door. As I stood inside wondering where to sit, someone else came up and introduced himself, and pointed me in the direction of the hot drinks. Later, during a break in the service, someone else came and chatted. One of the friendliest churches I have been in.
Was your pew comfortable?
Most people were sitting on padded chairs, but as these were all taken by the time I sat down, I was seated at the back on an old pew against the wall. It was not very comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The noise of chatter hit you like a wall when you entered.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
There were two or three worship songs sung. Then the anonymous person leading the service said, "Welcome this morning to the Crowded House."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The songs were projected onto an overhead screen. There were New International Version Bibles available.
What musical instruments were played?
Piano and guitar.
Did anything distract you?
As the service started more people entered, and some people put extra chairs out. This was very distracting for someone sitting right at the back. There was also a constant stream of parents with small children wandering around, though I should mention that considering the numbers involved, the children were not particularly intrusive.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
There was no set liturgy. The format included some hymns and songs, then some prayer for the church community, then the sermon. The hymns were sung with enthusiasm.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Steve Timmis spoke very clearly and his talk (which was on a very challenging subject for a preacher) was obviously tailored for an audience that included new Christians.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The text for the sermon was 2 Samuel 13-20 (Amnon lusts over his sister Tamar) and the subject was how, in a world of disappointment and dashed expectations, do we make sense of life. From this rather sordid collection of stories from the end of David's life, the preacher showed how God uses seemingly random events to work out his purposes for humanity.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I found it very uplifting that the place lived up to its name as a very crowded house, filled with young people.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
A couple were invited to the front during the sermon to share at length what God had done for them and their plans for the future. For a visitor this was frankly boring, as were the prayers for various members of the church community.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Someone came up and spoke to me. I also had a very interesting conversation with someone who had a connection with my home area.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was tea served in mugs and proper coffee served in paper cups. Both were very good.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – I get the impression they do not believe in women's ministry, but apart from that I would love to be a regular member of this church.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I drove away from Sheffield with a real buzz from this service.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The genuinely friendly welcome I received.