It’s winter, and you’re visiting Minneapolis, of all places.
You’re probably staying in or near downtown. You have a hangover. It’s Sunday morning. You need some church.
You can’t just go out and walk around until you find one. You will get frostbite. You have fifteen minutes to figure this out. Don’t even worry.
Yelp is here to help.
Please forgive me. This is by no means a real guide to Minneapolis churches.
It is a guide to a guide: A story for those who may be distracting themselves by reading articles before picking a church. Since at least 2009, people have been quietly contributing Yelp reviews of churches, including ones in Minneapolis.
Good news! If you want your church to attract new people you can spend less time going door-to-door, and more time worrying about your Yelp score. There aren’t quite enough reviews to decide which really is the best church in town. But there are enough that you could get curious late one Saturday night, and find yourself sitting in a well-reviewed pew by Sunday morning.
Yelp’s reviewers don’t try to assure readers that a particular church believes in God more than another, though they will reiterate again and again that each congregation is “Christ-driven” “Jesus-based” “gospel-driven” and “Bible-centric”.
Maybe this weeds out the “cult-based” or “anti-Jesus” churches? Or the churches that just are not that into the Bible. They will also assure you that their church has a supportive community of worshippers. OK, so we have Jesus, the Bible, and people: Every church under review has all those things.
But what else are people looking for? A lot.
Because nothing is sacred, I’ve reviewed Yelp’s local ratings, with an eye on some of these less-obvious church perks… ones which I had never considered before wading into the weird world of church reviews.
1. The Basilica of St. Mary
88 17th St. N.
Full disclosure: my rescue dog was blessed at this church before I got her, so I might be biased.
They don’t have doggy daycare yet but they do have a yearly mass with a blessing of animals.
The people of Yelp ranked this as the third best church in Minneapolis. Mostly for the architecture. Did they even consider that the stained glass windows filter the sun so you don’t have to wear sunglasses indoors? Probably not.
Snacks, I soon learn, are among the most important part of church reviews. If you don’t at least have some donuts, you might as well shut it down. This woman included snack ratings in each of her reviews, but was not going to be bound by the rigid 5 stars of Yelp. She employed her own rating system at the end:
First of all, tart lemonade is going to be much, much better for your hangover than sweet lemonade.
But let’s go back to that music thing.
As a former Catholic, I appreciate the soothing, droning sounds of various hymns that I’ve sat through in 10-plus different Catholic churches, but I have never thought it was mystifying. I can understand being awed by a pipe organ though. And really, you don’t want to have a catchy riff in your head and realize it’s a church song.
Or maybe you do? Jesus is supposed to be an accessible human. Shouldn’t we want to be “partying down with him”?
2) Spirit Garage
3100 Minnehaha Ave.
This church totally parties down with Jesus. Maybe you woke up, went for a jog, and drank too much coffee. Your mind has 47 ideas at once, and 15 of them are about church, and you need a little more stimulation but you can’t possibly run anymore. Also, something loud to distract you from your coffee brain. How about rock music? Even secular rock music? Try this church.
Spirit Garage doesn’t have its own space, but the congregation now meets Sundays at the Hook and Ladder, formerly Patrick’s Cabaret. That means it’s pretty much completely opposite of St. Mary’s Basilica, but you can never predict what kind of hangover you might have.
Maybe yours needs to wear off gradually in an intimate, casual environment with guitars and drums. Maybe yours won’t even let you out of the house that day? You can watch the broadcast live or later on Periscope, and tweet at the church while you do.
Yelpers rated them high for inclusivity.
…plus snacks and MORE COFFEE!
Or maybe a small congregation doesn’t feel right to you. You had breakfast with your in-laws and just want to blend in with a crowd of a couple hundred people and relax. Maybe you love live music, but have to work Saturday nights.
You can really multitask at this next church, and feel like you didn’t miss out by staying in last night and watching seven episodes of NCIS.
3) Hope Community Church
707 10th Ave. S.
According to the reviews, there is a cool band (probably):
There is standup comedy:
There are college kids, and puns:
And even though there is no mention of snacks in the Yelp reviews (WHAT?!), a quick scan of the website indicates there are indeed snacks! Thank God.
Why I have ever paid for food on a Sunday when there’s all this free church food available? And why would I ever pay for standup comedy?
PANERA BREAD! Amazing.
Maybe you’re gluten free... and/or not a Baptist. But you want to feel appreciated at a new church. You know when I feel appreciated? When I get presents. Which brings us to the next church on our list.
4. Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church
511 Groveland Ave.
Have you dreamed about walking down a red carpet and being handed a gift bag, just because people appreciate you? Now you can get that experience, and you don’t have to star in a hit movie or convince someone who did to sleep with you! Apparently, that can happen at your church.
You’re going to want to dress up. While most of the reviewers felt “casual attire” was a plus at other churches, this one seems to welcome both casual and “fancy” dress. Sunday-appropriate clothing was always a contentious issue at my house – “we are not leaving this house until you put on something that is clean, and not sweatpants,” they’d say, and “you have three minutes or I’m leaving, and you will not be coming to Perkins after” -- and these reviews make it pretty obvious that thousands of Minneapolis families are still having these arguments each Sunday morning.
If there was a church that invited you to wear a prom dress, I’d probably go.
Older, more established churches often don’t have the best website or social media presence, but someone at Hennepin Ave UMC is really trying to showcase their strengths. Although at first glance --and second, and third -- this photo is hilarious.
Is it tongue in cheek? Is it serious? Who exactly is feeling the spirit? Maybe they all are, it’s just that they express it by sitting?
The Christians of Yelp have spoken -- not all of them, but the few who did made it clear. Yes, you have church, and community, and Jesus… but what are the other things that can really improve your Yelp rating?
After reading 100+ Yelp reviews there is a pattern:
- Free snacks/meals
- Casual attire
- Cool building
- Volunteerism in the community
- A festival of some kind, preferably in the fall
And it's fall! Which means festivals!
Several church reviews were specifically based on their fall festival. There are garage sales, craft fairs, games, even gambling. Sometimes there are bonfires. AND THERE IS DEFINITELY FOOD. Bake sales, cake sales, potlucks, soup potlucks, chili feeds, lutefisk festivals, pierogi dinners, fish dinners, and more. Some for free, some for purchase, but generally staged as a fundraiser.
The mechanic I’ve been going to for 10 years (5 stars on Yelp!) invited me to his Ethiopian Orthodox Meskel last Saturday, but I wasn’t able to attend (sorry Worku!). I know I missed a cool bonfire.
But that church he invited me to isn’t even on Yelp!
Ok, so most churches don’t have reviews. And they are doing just fine. They don’t need a five-star rating system. It’s bizarre to review a church.
That brings us to number five! Number five had no mention of snacks. All of the churches listed above have multiple mentions of food and not as much noted about their proven community service, including shoe drives, hosting homeless shelters, giving out bus cards, new mattresses, coats, food shelves, etc. For the next church the criteria were very different. People mentioned libraries, children, and social justice over and over.
Maybe, when church time rolls around on Sundays, you’re the kind of person who thinks, “I already ate. How can I help?”
5) First Universalist Church of Minneapolis
3400 Dupont Ave. S.
You can help by bringing these people some dang snacks.
All those kids? They have got to be hungry. Kids are hungry every 22 minutes. Judging from the reviews and the website, this church is mostly made up of white liberals who do not understand the value of snacks and coffee. Coffee is a thing to drink when you are feeling nervous about engaging with strangers. It’s even great if the coffee is bad, because then you can complain about it together.
But people will also talk about how good the coffee is if you support, like, fair trade shade-grown coffee growers. It really seems like something they probably already have. But nobody mentioned it!
They must know that food brings people together even when discussing hard topics:OK First Universalist, come on, you probably have snacks. You must! I bet they are gluten- and peanut-free. If I were you, I’d definitely have paleo snacks too. Hopefully someone updates Yelp soon.
I don’t think your church is going to immediately fire the youth pastor and hire a social media manager. But, if the spirit moves you, maybe expressing yourself through a Yelp church review would be a good way to get those millennials in the door. They'll be fellowshipping over seaweed snacks and beef sticks in no time.
Thank God for Yelp.