Monthly Archives: September 2009

The Power of One

This morning I “did church”. It wasn’t a normal service as I typically do. My presence was in response to an invitation extended by a friend and service club colleague to attend a men’s group of which he is a member. This group meets every other Saturday. Their format is simple. Meeting in a church, they first have a formal service led by a clergyman of this church. After the service, they spend a friendly half-hour in coffee and conversation.

Next they break into several smaller groups to discuss a common book all are reading. Numbering about 20, the group chooses a different book several times a year. They all read and study an assigned chapter over the two weeks between meetings. They are currently reading Philip Yancey’s popular book, “The Jesus I Never Knew”.

The discussion was good, and the sharing was great. I’m glad I came. On the way to the meeting I was riveted by the thought that in my ten years of being an Anchorage resident, this was the first time anyone had invited me to a group meeting of this nature. Oh, I know most churches have them. Men’s groups that do retreats and read/discuss books. But I’ve never been invited! Ten years of Anchorage church going, but no invitations. I’ve even inquired in various churches about these types of groups, when made of aware of them, but never received an invitation to join a single one even after expressing interest.

It’s not surprising men will turn out early on a Saturday morning to devote several hours to Christian liturgy, scholarship, and sharing. Many men, women too, have a hunger for something more. It’s a sad commentary no one invites them to a special group, or a good church service.

Recently I fielded a comment from a reader who felt I should stop writing about churches and their practices, and focus on restaurant or movie reviews. I write and will continue to do so because there is a gaping hole in the Anchorage religious scene of which this is an example. We’re a large community. I believe my experience is typical and if so, there must be thousands of men and women who are being ignored and not invited to share some rich spiritual experiences. Today, I’m reminded of the power of one and thank my inviter, Bob, for sharing his group with me this morning. It’s conceivable it will shape my life in some significant way. I intend to pay it forward and invite others to do the same.

ChangePoint: Evening Service Option #3

Readers have written me asking for information on churches offering evening service timeframes due to their inability to attend morning services. I’ve been visiting Protestant churches in Anchorage offering either Saturday or Sunday evening services using the same sermon as in the Sunday morning services. So far I’ve located four churches with this format: Faith Christian Community, Trinity Presbyterian, St. John United Methodist, and ChangePoint. It’s unfortunate more Anchorage Protestant churches are not sensitive to this segment of worshiper. I’m open to learning about other Protestant churches offering this type of worship service. Many churches offer a Sunday evening service, but deliver a different format and message, trying to get Sunday morning attenders and other church goers out for a 2nd time on Sunday.

I attended ChangePoint’s Saturday evening service, tonight, September 19. It was fairly typical of other services I’ve attended at this Anchorage mega-church. My likes and dislikes for this particular service are noted below.

What I Liked
*service was slightly shorter
*tonights topic was relevant – Worship
*music was lively
*it was less crowded (250-300 attendees)
*Lee Hudson’s honest and approachable preaching style

What I Disliked
*music was louder than normal
*worshiper’s singing was drowned out
*not greeted by a single person
*offering did not except visitors
*no welcome was extended to visitors

Lee Hudson serves as minister of music for this church. His preaching tonight offered another insight into this talented music leader. You should be able to access his talk in a few days here.

Clearly ChangePoint is in transition. They appear to be struggling with finances. Tonight’s bulletin indicated, at least for September, they are running a $15,0000 to 20,000 deficit each week. They may still be recovering from typical summer lack of attendance, but time will tell. I’ve written about ChangePoint in previous blog posts. I’m also concerned that a call to their offices regarding their program for autistic children has still not been answered. However, on the whole, tonights worship service and message was a satisfactory experience.

Cornerstone: 2nd Visit – Still Solid & Welcoming

Impressed by my first visit to Cornerstone Church (click here to view), and having experienced a dismal morning’s experience with finding a church service (see previous post), I headed to this Brayton Drive church once again on August 16. It was great to be warmly greeted by the same person upon entering, and then again by the same team of greeters outside the sanctuary. Trust me, it makes all the difference in the world to feel you are welcomed into an unfamiliar church. The music was great, the preaching, by a layman, was adequate. In all, this re-visit confirmed that a consistent church maintains a high level of service, to the visitor and member alike.[img_assist|nid=143472|title=Lavonne – Still Greeting With a Smile|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=207|height=390]

Awesome Welcome
Cornerstone has figured out that greeting members and visitors is important. They are well organized with the same people doing this important task. My second visit was a bit like coming home as I instantly recognized familiar faces who had greeted me previously. I was so impressed at the outer door I asked the woman greeter if I could take her picture. Later I discovered her husband greets at another outer door. What a team! The same team of women was covering the sanctuary door I entered, handing me a bulletin. They were still facing toward the sanctuary and don’t always see the people approaching from behind, but the greeting is warm and the bulletin is offered.

Good Music – Long Renditions
The praise band is excellent in this church. I do not consider them to be providing entertainment as in other churches but a prelude to worship. However, the contemporary Christian selections seemed, to me, long and drawn out with much repetition of words and verses. Personally I’d urge they be pruned a bit to move the service along.[img_assist|nid=143471|title=Cornerstone Praise Group|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=160]

Interesting Offering Prayer
Lately I’ve really been listening to the wording of all of the prayers in churches. The offering prayer here was interesting in that the person praying informed God that the offering was going to be taken. Personally, I think God already knew this so the prayer seemed to be more of an informational footnote to the worshiper instead of an opportunity to ask for God’s blessing over the gift and the giver alike. In small ways like this, I believe we train Christians to tell God things already known rather than invoking the power God promises to us. Visitors were not told they were under no obligation to give, a practice lacking in most churches.

Layman Sermon
The audience was informed that Pastor Brad Sutter was on sabbatical and would be resuming his pastoral duties soon. A layman, Tom Downing, was the speaker this day. Personally I enjoy hearing a good layman sermon. Many churches delegate all of the preaching to a pastor which is contrary to the practice of the apostolic church. Some lay sermons can be most powerful. Titled Encounter With a Lighthouse Mr. Downing’s sermon started off with a series of anecdotes, that did not seem to relate and integrate with the sermon. In fact, it was about 20 minutes into his sermon before Mr. Downing made his first reference to scripture, John 4. At one church I like to visit, the pastor completes his excellent sermons in 17-20 minutes to an articulate, Bible-believing and spiritually aware congregation. You can listen to Downing’s sermon by clicking here and selecting the date of 8/18/09, an error. For a layman it was fine and communicated some good thoughts.

I sincerely enjoyed the experience of meeting with this church again. You cannot go wrong by visiting here. I had an extended conversation with a sanctuary greeter after the service. I was given a welcome gift of chocolate, bookmark, and a small Max Lucado book (pictured below). Thank you Mary and Lavonne for your warm greetings both times I’ve visited. I’m glad I had a bad morning trying to find a church to visit. I was probably meant to revisit Cornerstone this day.[img_assist|nid=143470|title=Cornerstone Welcome Gift|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=354]

Looking for a Service in Anchorage: A Drive-by Account

A couple of Sundays ago, August 16, I went looking for a service. Here is a brief resume of my frustrating search. Undoubtedly there are reasons for each of the described occurrences, but every church needs to visibly show they are “open for business” by signage, member participation, and well constructed websites.

First Target
Initially I stopped at South Anchorage Assembly of God whose poorly constructed website revealed services started at 10 a.m. Arriving shortly after that time, I discovered a parking lot, less than half empty, with very few cars present and people still straggling in. Not desiring to stand out in this small crowd, I left, continuing up Brayton Drive, to O’Malley to drive up the hill.

Second Target
My next target was Hillside Baptist Church on mid-Hillside O’Malley. I also found the parking lot less than crowded. Not anxious to stand out, I continued further up O’Malley.

Third Target
Next I came upon New Grace Christian Church which was only having a garage sale in the parking lot. Pressing the gas to the floor, I continued up to Birch, turned left, and followed it to Elmore Rd.

Fourth Target
My next choice was Anchorage Bible Fellowship. No worship times were posted on their huge reader board, but a swing through the parking lot and a glance in their auditorium windows confirmed church was not in session.

Fifth Target
I continued across Elmore into the Fairview/Airport Heights area. My goal was Anchor Park United Methodist Church on Lake Otis. Sunday school should have been in session with church following at 11 a.m. Nothing but weeds pushing up through their parking lot graced the asphalt. In front of the church I noticed only a couple of cars.

A frustrating morning with many selections but no results.

Sixth Target – Success at Last
Finally I opted to re-visit a dependable church, Cornerstone Church on Brayton Drive, which I’d previously visited and posted a visit report (click here to read previous Cornerstone visit report). I had another good experience at Cornerstone and will post my observations of this visit next.

Lack of posted, current service times on church signs and websites, contribute to the problems I have described. Not being attentive to what visitors see when they drive by your church is also a factor. Cornerstone’s service times were prominently posted on their Brayton Drive sign, and the parking lot showed their members were respectful of the service times. The rest will be described in detail soon. But, rest assured, people “shop” for places to worship by driving by, looking for a church.