Money magazine annually rates the 300 best places in America to live. The ratings are based on climate, affordability, amenities, crime rate, public transportation, medical care, and other factors.

A similar approach has been taken with churches. Several major metropolitan newspapers regularly review churches. A religion writer makes an unannounced Sunday visit and analyzes everything from the sign on the outside to the sermon on the inside. Like restaurant and theater reviewers, some writers even use ratings, from one star (poor) to five stars (excellent).

Before protesting the impropriety of such ratings, reread Revelation 1-3 and recall the biblical reviews of the seven churches of Asia Minor.

Most people rate church atmosphere within the first 15 minutes of their first visit. They may not be able to fully explain how they reached their conclusions, but here's what they're likely looking for:

1. Sensing the presence of God

People expect God to come to church. I wish I could define what exactly ...

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