Monthly Archives: January 2009

Cowboy Church Rides Into Anchorage

[img_assist|nid=137083|title=Cowboy Church Sign (from side of car)|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=226]
A radio spot about a new church for cowboys got my attention recently. Finding them on the internet, I saddled up and rode on in last Sunday. Meeting at Wayland Baptist University, The Cowboy Church of Anchorage is having “preview services” once a month until Easter, and then weekly. Warmly greeted several times before finding my seat, I enjoyed music by the six-person band. The preaching was a bedrock Baptist three-point sermon with PowerPoint slides. Pastor Briney will learn cowboys don’t favor slides and slick. Just talking to them from the good book will do. This church will prosper if they carefully focus on their target audience.

It’s a New Concept for Alaska
There are some cowboy churches in the Lower 48. Owning some ranch property in Washington State, I’m also aware of cowboy churches holding services around local rodeo times. There’s a pretty good sized cowboy and equestrian community up here in the Greatland. It’s a bold endeavor for a church to take this demographic on. Alerted by a radio spot on one of the local C&W stations, I immediately wanted to see this new church in action. Meeting in accomodating facilities at Wayland Baptist University, The Cowboy Church of Anchorage certainly put its best foot forward.
[img_assist|nid=137085|title=Pastor Doug Briney|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=300|height=200]
Informal Style
The platform was decorated with a distinct western flair, a backdrop for the six person band. They played a mix of Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) and some country gospel. It was music from the heart, some rough edges, but it will smooth out. The 40-50 attendees were clearly not familiar with most of the music but joined in as they could. The dress of the attendees and the band was informal, mostly jeans and western wear. Pastor Doug Briney wore his hat all the way through the services.

Good Sermon – Presentation Format Questionable
While not an authority on cowboy churches, I did have a great pastor friend who was a real cowboy. His great skill was communicating via the Bible and using a conversational preaching style. Pastor Briney appeared a bit nervous on Sunday, but had great sermon material. He used a PowerPoint slide presentation which I felt was overkill for the crowd he’s targeting. Mainly read, he covered the theme of why we are here, with these points:
-Why am I here?
-Does my life matter?
-What is my purpose?

Briney ended with the standard Baptist alter call, a relatively recent introduction to religious practice in a fraction of Christianity. In my opinion this church could really grow if it’s not too slick, and really tries to communicate with cowboys in a cowboy-preferred manner, i.e. conversational. It’s probable few in attendance were really cowboys but they will come. It was a fun visit and I wish them well. I’ll plan on revisiting them again this year.
[img_assist|nid=137086|title=Cowboy Church Meeting Place (Wayland Baptist University)|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=216]

Shiloh Baptist Delivers

[img_assist|nid=136716|title=Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church Sign|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=225]Summary
Following a reader’s suggestion, I visited Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church last Sunday. I was most impressed with every aspect of their service from the warm greeting upon entering, to the extraordinary musical praise service led by guest Minister of Worship Corey Williams and Shiloh’s Worship Team, the spirit-filled prayer by long-time Pastor Alonzo Patterson, and his insightful sermon based on the Jesus’ Parable of the Lost Coin. Patterson posed the question, like the coin in the parable could we be lost in the house?

This church looks and feels like a church inside. Shiloh is attended by those who dress as though this is a special occasion, and served by ushers uniformly dressed in black, all wearing white gloves. Every aspect of the service caught my attention. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit.

Why Shiloh?
A reader suggested I try Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church for a truly warm greeting and great service. I was already aware this was a predominately African American church but knew little else. Parking can be a bit tight around their Chester Creek church so I chose to park on the street without problem.

I Liked My Greeting
Greeted by several well-dressed greeters as I entered, I ascended the stairs to the sanctuary, and further directed to a pew by a white gloved usher. There is no mistaking you are in a church at Shiloh. Many churches today just do not feel like places of worship. Accents of stained glass on front and side windows add to the atmosphere. The pews are outfitted in accents of white.

Music Worked for Me
The Worship Team commenced singing soon after I had taken my seat. Their twelve members were dressed in black, with the women members wearing purple satin sashes or vests making for a distinctive and attractive sight. The guest Minister of Worship, Corey Williams, was in town to rehearse and lead the Martin Luther King Citywide Choir for its 3 p.m. Sunday concert in conjunction with the MLK Citywide celebration at the PAC. Leading from the keyboard, Pastor Williams created a masterful backdrop for the Worship Team to sing. I loved all of their renditions but was quite moved by their singing of “Total Praise”. A five piece band backed up the Worship Team and successfully did not trample them with overly aggressive accompaniment. The music was greeted with exuberance by the worshipers with many standing and moving with the music.

Powerful Pastoral Prayer
Pastor Patterson offered the pastoral prayer. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard a minister beseech God with such fervency. A relatively long prayer, he especially dwelt on the family and the problems that beset them. I was most touched by this man of God approaching the throne of Grace boldly but with power, doubtless backed by his personal relationship with God and a strong understanding of the love of God through scripture.

Great Sermon
It’s not often I hear a sermon delivered with such power and conviction. Connected with his Rebirth Series, Pastor Alonzo Patterson based his remarks on Jesus’ parable of the lost coin. He noted it is possible to be lost in the church (house). Things that are lost in the house may be due to being covered up with stuff. We can ignore the lost coin. The lost coin can be neglected, think our children here. Pointing out that we need new birth or rebirth, he concluded the sermon with a powerful story about the sparrow and the butterfly. You can hear this very service broadcast on Anchorage’s Channel 5, KYES this coming Sunday. Shiloh’s services are broadcast on a one week delay basis. Concluding with an alter call to the wonderful song “Love Lifted Me”, one of the praise team members offered the prayer, a fitting conclusion to a meaningful service.

This church, its ministerial team, and Christian demeanor impressed me. One word describes this church and style of worship adequately: exuberance. I’m glad I visited Shiloh and hope to do so again.
[img_assist|nid=136717|title=Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=269]

Wellspring, a New Congregation on the Move

[img_assist|nid=136472|title=Wellspring – Sign|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=379]Summary
Invited by a member, intrigued by his sense of humor, and challenged to learn of a new congregation, I visited Wellspring Church just after New Years. I found a relatively warm and welcoming church. A large praise group played and sang for 35-40 minutes. I found the sax player to be a surprise and delight adding to the musical experience. Pastor Pat Hadley alerted those assembled that there would be many forms of expression during the service. For those new to charismatic services, this was very visitor-friendly and certainly fit these services. There were various forms of dancing and flag and banner waving. Unusually, communion was served before the sermon. This church does the typical “Meet n’ Greet”, something I dislike as it’s forced and not a genuine expression of hospitality. The pastor gave an extemporaneous sermon preaching from the Bible and personally engaging his audience. How refreshing this was and possibly the first time I’ve seen this since starting my church visits in Anchorage. If you’re looking for a new experience in a charismatic vein, this church is worth a visit.

Warm Invitation by a Wellspring Member
Regular visitors to this blog know I occasionally receive invitations to visit a certain church. Usually I accept them, eventually. Such an invitation was received Mid-December 2008. Member Scott Dooley, asked me to give Wellspring Church a try. Having a great sense of humor, he also wrote, “Could you let me know when you plan on attending worship so we can be on our best behavior? (kidding of course)”. After asking a bit more about church membership size (70-100) I replied I’d put it on my short list to which Scott queried whether I was “…looking at sometime this decade?” It’s hard to refuse such an invitation and due to the extreme cold, I delayed a planned Mat-Su visit. So Wellspring moved up on my list more quickly than normal. I love it when church members are so confident of their church, they’ll extend an invitation to the sometimes-critical Church Visit blogger.
[img_assist|nid=136473|title=Scott Dooley|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=300|height=213]
Why Did Scott Choose Wellspring?
Scott, Pat Hadley, Wellspring’s Pastor, and Pat’s wife Gayle, all friends, chose Wellspring feeling the Holy Spirit was leading them in a new direction. Through prayer, study, and many conversations with Wellspring Ministries founder Art Mathias, Pat Hadley was asked to pastor Wellspring Church. Scott says a watershed experience for them was the “…amazing testimonial of personal healing by a woman who went through counseling at Wellspring Ministries…”. Dr. Mathias’ book, “The Biblical Foundations of Freedom” was important to their decisions and so remains.

“I have my own personal testimony as to how the Holy Spirit healed my heart in many different areas” Scott notes. Bitterness of a divorce and other painful memories were addressed as “…the Holy Spirit healed my heart…” and were “…replaced with the peace and joy of the Holy Spirit. I found spiritual healing for the first time in my life. Others have been healed of diseases. All because we learned how to repent and forgive. And by forgive I mean forgive ourselves as well as others. As you know, most of this…has always been in the Bible. Wellspring Ministries/Church is the first place I’ve experienced it firsthand.”

Welcome Could Be Improved
Wellspring Church, located on the west side of Lake Otis Parkway across from Hanshew MS and Spring Hill Elementary is easy to find and access, having abundant parking. Initially, I turned into the first parking entrance seeing a number of parked cars there. The door was locked and I was baffled. It turns out the church is entered through the 2nd entrance. I suggest the church puts a sign on the door noting this. It turned out this was the church office.

A sole woman in the lobby said hello and handed me a bulletin. Entering the church meeting area, I discovered it was multi-purpose, and was also fitted as a gym. I had arrived about 10 minutes early, found a seat, and observed a number of the congregation greeting each other, while a few were praying for each one another. Before the service Gayle Hadley came from the platform and introduced herself by name. I discovered later she was the pastor’s wife and lead singer on the praise team. Scott also welcomed me briefly after leaving the platform.

Music – Good But Long
Not a fan of praise teams, I was intrigued to find out what Wellspring had in store. It turned out they had ten member singer/players. The music was well done. My inviter Scott was on the team as well. Pastor Hadley played acoustic guitar with his wife Gayle singing lead. A real surprise was the musical glue the sax player brought to their renditions. It brought everything together. The lyrics, projected on the screen for tunes that seemed to have gone on endlessly, were extremely repetitive. By and large the music was unfamiliar to me. While good, the musical group played and sang for approximately 40 minutes which I considered a bit excessive. There were a few smiles but more would be better and be reflected back on the faces they sing to.

Wellspring served communion before the preaching, something unusual among churches. It was set out in front and on a “serve yourself” basis. The worshipers were told to go to the communion table when the time was right for them, but no instructions were given about the partaking of communion, i.e. wait for all, consume immediately, consume at communion tables, etc. Visitors benefit from being directed as to the proper form for each part of the service. The offering taken before communion was the same with visitors not being told about expectations.
[img_assist|nid=136474|title=Wellspring Pastor Pat Hadley|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=191]
Powerful Preaching
Pastor Hadley preached extemporaneously, i.e. did not read his sermon, as is the usual custom in most Anchorage pulpits. He referred to the Bible, certain texts and then made the application of them. His theme, Worship and Ministry to the Lord: Intimacy with God, was the building block of a series of coming talks on core values. He stated that “Bible knowledge without Bible experience is dead”, and that “God designed us for a relationship with Him”. A challenge was given to all believing Christians to really get to know God and His gifts, be restored, and to hang with Him when He seems to be delivering a hard message. I enjoyed Hadley’s remarks very much and wish this congregation the best. Some focus and training on visitor hospitality might produce huge dividends for them. As a new congregation, they are none-the-less commencing on an exciting journey together.
[img_assist|nid=136475|title=Wellspring Exterior|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=117]

Chris’ Ten New Year’s Wishes for Area Churches

1. Be Friendlier and More Welcoming
Anchorage church visitors are not warmly greeted as a rule. The official “Meet n’ Greet” is a poor excuse for extending true Christian hospitality. True hospitality means extending oneself. Many churches ask visitors to identify themselves, but in only one in 2008 was I introduced by a member who extended themself.

2. Clean Up Your Church Website
What, you don’t have one? Then you’ve already lost visibility due to our heavily Web-dependent world. If you have one, clean it up so the essential information about your church is accurate and on the first screen page. First and foremost, your service times should be prominently posted.

3. Pick and Train Greeters Carefully
Greeters should be chosen carefully. Many churches depend on volunteer greeters who have no idea how to make visitors and members feel welcome. Trainers and training programs are available to help you.

4. Involve Parishioners More in Services
The average church involves parishioners in very few ways during their services. Involve them! Train them how to present. Teach them how to effectively read and project scripture. Have them present “lay views” of the church and it’s activities.

5. Balance Church Suppers with Community Food Help
Church suppers are an ideal way to fellowship. Figure out ways to balance this with community outreach. It’s easy to share a meal with friends. It’s harder to serve a meal and share your love of God with someone less fortunate.

6. Pastors, Emphasize Christmas & Easter All Year
Strong churches celebrate the themes of Christmas and Easter year round. Then why do many focus on them two times a year to the detriment of other critical church focus areas? And why not try to present your sermons and homilies without notes? It’s so much easier being talked with as a friend instead of being preached at from a written text. I can read too. What does that prove?

7. Offer Explanations for Visitors
Assume visitors know nothing about your services and practices. Insert visitor-friendly notations in your bulletin, e.g. The Lord’s Prayer (Debts and Debtors), gives visitors a clue what version of the prayer is used. At offering time, graciously say, “Our visitors should not feel under any obligation to give at this time. This is our normal practice here.” Be clear in your bulletin what your church follows with regard to Communion/Eucharistic practices, i.e. open, closed, etc.

8. Don’t Make Your Church a Coffeehouse
Coffee is helpful to visitors and members alike. It’s refreshing and a good meeting lubricant. However, having an espresso bar and allowing people to come and go with their coffee during the services lessens the spiritual atmosphere in any meeting, and distracts other worshipers.

9. Rely less on PowerPoints
PowerPoint is grossly overused for church-related advertising before services, for song words of endless and forgettable praise songs, and for sermon notes (“fill in all the blanks in your bulletin”) for that unmemorable 3-part sermon. Rather, put attendees back in touch with their Bibles and songbooks.

10. Use Music as Spiritual Glue, not Entertainment
Many churches place a heavy emphasis on music as entertainment, with a snappy band, lots of singers and “rocky” music. I see no correlation with this music and any increase in spirituality. I attribute part of this to the bored looks shown by paid musicians, and syrupy lyrics often at odds with holy writ. Less is more, and quality music with a message is preferred.