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996: Hope Family Church, Swinton, Salford, England
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Hope Family Church, Swinton, Salford, England
Mystery Worshipper: George.
The church: Hope Family Church, Swinton, Salford, Greater Manchester, England.
Denomination: New Frontiers.
The building: The church meets in a typical, single-glazed primary school hall.
The church: This is a relatively new church plant – one member told me that it is only three years old. The demographics of the congregation are heavily weighted on the under 30s.
The neighbourhood: The church is involved in the Eden Project in the local council estate, which is a small area of deprivation in Salford. Eden aims to show people the love of God through restoring their community.
What was the name of the service?
There was no specific name for the service, just "Church".

How full was the building?
The small school hall was almost full, with at least 100 people. I got the impression that the church is on the lookout for larger premises.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I arrived late and received a "Christian" smile and a hello from a young bloke at the door, but never received a service sheet. I saw that other people had these upon entering the "sanctuary".

Was your pew comfortable?
There was an assortment of seating arrangements. Most people were sat on plastic school chairs, but some were on movable wooden crates, and I got stuck with a bench at the back. A classic primary school bench. What I'd have given for a pew!

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I was late, but I imagine it would have been noisy with people chatting away. This was not a formal church.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
I missed the very beginning of the service, but the words after the first song are worthy of a mention: "I think we have donuts – ooohh, we don't have donuts."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
There were no hymn books, and people who read (it seemed that random people picked random verses to read out loud between songs) read from their own Bibles. Song lyrics were projected onto a screen using Zionworx 2.0 and PowerPoint. This was also used to announce when the children should leave, and for headers during the sermon.

What musical instruments were played?
Typically for a charismatic church, they had accoustic and bass guitars, a keyboard, drums and a singer.

Did anything distract you?
A lady who was filled with the Spirit proved a distraction. I can never get used to shaking and wailing during worship.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Happy clappy, but without flags. There was lots of movement, and there were readings and prayers between songs. The worship band was typical of the congregation – the males all had gel in their hair with varying styles, and the girl who was the lead singer did a most brilliant pained-face expression.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
34 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – The preacher was nervous to start with, and at that point he used the word "OK" a lot, but he soon got into the flow. His sermon was full of personal stories which succeeded in keeping my full attention (hence the 9 for a very long sermon), but was also full of church in-jokes.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was preached alongside Colossians 1:15-20, and was about Paul compelling the Christians of Colossae to rethink their understanding of Jesus. The preacher viewed his congregation to be at a turning point and was urging them to reflect so the church could move forward.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The informality of the service was very refreshing.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
All 8 minutes 17 seconds of the worship song, "At the foot of the cross".

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The coffee break was taken in the middle of the service, and lasted 15 minutes. I used this time to get lost and found it impossible. Every time I wandered off, someone pounced on me within 30 seconds. "Who are you?" "Where do you come from?" Etc.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Polystyrene cups, instant coffee, pre-poured and white – so I had to request a black coffee, which was far too hot. And I was just in time to get the very last biscuit.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 – The church community is fantastic, but it's a bit too intense for my taste. And from browsing the website, their 'statement of faith' leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Glad would be too strong a word. It made me wonder why people attach so much Christian baggage onto helping people.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The numb bum encountered half way through the sermon.
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