It’s clear that Patrick Coleman has an axe to grind against evangelical culture. He uses The Churchgoer as an outlet to do so.
I’m a Christian and while I’ve always been a mainline Protestant one (translation: a tad more open-minded than many), I’m quite familiar with the evangelical culture Coleman is skewering here. Many of his references and stories brought back flashbacks to my own life. Attendance numbers have steadily declined in these churches for the last decade (reflective of a decline in church attendance amongst all denominations) but in the 90s and aughts, they were cultural powerhouses. The music, the preachers, the musicians. It was everywhere.
The faith aspect of it is one thing. I’m never going to disrespect anyone’s faith, or lack thereof. But the structure of many of the churches leaves something to be desired. Coleman goes after both. In the latter, he does a much better job. He knows the lingo, the methods, the people. He knows how it works. The former…well it didn’t bother me. I read plenty of atheist or non-theist writers. But the main character’s lack of faith sometimes leads into long internal monologues about life and love. Some work, others don’t.
Those monologues comprise about 60% of the book itself. The rest is the mystery, which is standard issue crime fare and good enough for a first time novel writer. You basically have to decide if you’re willing to set the mystery aside for large parts of the novel in favor of a misanthrope’s musings. It worked for me. It may not work for you.