Monthly Archives: March 2011

Anchorage Church Signs: Best/Worst Wk. of 3-20-11

Too many church signs in Anchorage area churches violate most principles of good church signage. Every week, I’ll be posting pictures of church signs I consider to be the best examples of what a sign should be, as well as pictures of signs that violate principles of a proper sign.

Good Sign Criteria

*Clearly readable at the posted speed limit
*Name of church, church webpage address, service times (optional)

Great Sign[img_assist|nid=156373|title=Cornerstone’s Eyecatching Sign|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=284]
Cornerstone has been using different eyecatching signs, clearly readable northbound on the Seward traveling at 65 mph. It is located just past O’Malley going north. The sign is covering their normal sign displaying their church name. Although the church name is not showing, and webpage address missing, their strategy is effective. More churches could examine temporary use of this approach. I recommend they add their webpage address to be completely effective, but commend them for their fresh approach.

Poor Sign[img_assist|nid=156374|title=Christian Church of Anchorage – O’Malley & Lk. Otis|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=191]
This sign, located at the busy O’Malley and Lake Otis intersection, is unreadable at the posted speed limits. It’s a tricky intersection anyway, and guaranteed not to generate much driver attention. The cute phrase dominates the sign while service times are unreadable from the road, and there is no website address. Unfortunately it a dated style, detracting from the church, which I consider to be a solid church. I recommend they replace or seriously update this sign. A business could not afford to have a poorly performing sign such as this.

Community Covenant – Eagle River: A Perfect Visit

On my previous visit to Community Covenant Church – Eagle River, (Click here to read my previous review) I was most impressed with my experience, making a mental note to do a return visit. This was finally accomplished today at their 11 a.m. service, and was even more than I could ask for.

From the warm greeting and welcome, to the powerful music and ultimately the life-changing message, I felt at home. It was a most unusual experience. From my perspective as a guest, too many of my church visits seem to be distancing experiences. I highly recommend Community Covenant if you are searching for a solid, warm church with a personalizing feel that instantly makes it seem like your home church. Living off far W. Northern Lights, I drove it in less than 25 minutes.

Warm Greetings – Warm Feelings
Community Covenant has plenty of parking and it was nicely organized and laid out, even with the plenteous snow. Few Anchorage churches have organized their uncurbed parking as well as they have. A man was holding the door open and greeting each person as they entered; another man inside shook my hand, greeting me. A third man handed me a bulletin, greeting me as I entered the sanctuary. After I took my seat a fourth man came by and greeted me, offering his name. Kiddingly, I asked if I was sitting in his seat, to which he laughed and said there were no reserved seats at Community Covenant. None of these greetings were intrusive, but clearly reflected an uncommon warmth in our church community.[img_assist|nid=156342|title=Community Covenant’s Praise Group|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=162]

Right Musical Note Set
The musical group gathered in a circle for prayer, in front of the platform, before taking their places. As they started playing, the leader invited those gathered to join them by standing to sing praises. I was so shocked I almost fell off my chair. Normally I hear worship leaders telling people to stand or sit, rather than inviting them, a major difference. The seven member group played and sang respectful but mainly contemporary selections. They had eye contact with the audience and even gave brief testimonies on one occasion. The music appeared to be purposely selected to be thematically in accord with the sermon. My favorite song was a beautiful arranged version of that old hymn Holy, Holy, Holy. It sent chills down my spine! Clearly Community Covenant uses music to complement the message, not as an entertaining draw.[img_assist|nid=156343|title=Pastor Mark Preaching|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=301|height=450]

Great Message – Unusual Delivery
Before introducing the scripture reader, Pastor Mark Meredith pointed out the church had been not displaying the scripture on the screen up front, an action to encourage more Bible use by congregants. He noted that they were restoring the screen use for scripture because many were using iPhones, iPods, Kindles, Nooks and other means to view their scripture. He did note there were Bibles in the back for anyone wanting one. (Personally I use my iPhone and have many translations to help guide me in better understanding as scripture is read.) The scripture read was Ephesians 4:20-32.

He is currently presenting a series of messages titled “Stuck in a Rut”. Today’s message was “The Rut of Unforgiveness”. An easy going speaker, he is not bound to the pulpit as are many other pastors, reading their remarks. He prefers to wander on the first couple of steps of the sanctuary platform staying in close contact with his people. His extemporaneous speaking style was easy to follow. After reviewing the contents and applicability of the scripture, he invited two women onstage. What happened next was amazing! They described a hurt that happened between the two of them that seriously damaged their relationship, with each other and with the church. Through a series of pastoral intercessions and mediations, each was led to understand the importance of seeking forgiveness and moving ahead in Christian love.[img_assist|nid=156344|title=Women Sharing Their Hurt and Forgiveness Story|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=211]

You can hear this exchange in the audio of the sermon but I was struck by the “teachable moment” that occurred in this message. Pastor Mark served as the bridge to connect the dots during their conversation. Too few churches emphasize the practicality of the well-lived Christian life, and the necessity of forgiveness. I thoroughly enjoyed this message and presentation. You will too and can access it here via iTunes.

Offering Excepted Guests
A clearly worded notice in the bulletin said guests were not expected to give. This was most unusual and something I’ve only seen in two other Anchorage-area churches (Scenic Park Bible and Rabbit Creek Community). I’ve observed pastors tend to be very protective of the offering. When queried many staunchly defend the practice of collecting from everyone, including guests. Thank you Community Covenant. This is a very guest friendly practice and goes far to dispel a key guest bugaboo, “it’s all about the money”.

Beautiful Communion Service
Communion is a wonderful end to any service due to its deep symbolism. Pastor Mark explained the symbolism of the bread and the cup, noting there would be weekly communion during this series of important messages. Indicating there were various communion stations around the sanctuary, he soley served communion in front. During communion the worship leader played quiet and respectful music on his guitar. When communion was complete, we sang a song and left. I was most impressed with every facet of this service.

Whether everything I experienced was exquisitely planned, down to every detail, I don’t know. It’s pretty easy to tell if it’s just icing or there’s cake underneath. I had a nice slice of cake this morning and very much enjoyed it. This visit, though my second to this church, bore out my observation that great congregations are consistent. Virtually every revisit to a dysfunctional church has borne out this observation.

Finally, the icing on the cake was to see that same man opening the door and wishing people a great day as they exited after the service. Most churches don’t do this. It really makes a difference. Thank you sir![img_assist|nid=156348|title=Pastor Mark Answers Questions After the Service|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=437]

Anchorage Church Signs: Best/Worst Wk. of 3-13-11

Too many signs at Anchorage area churches violate most principles of good church signage. Every week, I’ll be posting pictures of church signs I consider to be the best examples of what a sign should be, as well as pictures of signs that violate principles of a proper sign.

Good Sign Criteria

*Clearly readable at the posted speed limit
*Name of church, church webpage address, service times (optional)

Great Sign[img_assist|nid=156221|title=Faith Christian Community (note 35mph sign on far side)|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=143]
Except for being lighted, Faith’s sign has it all, and is easily readable from both directions.

Poor Sign[img_assist|nid=156223|title=Our Lady of Guadalupe|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=171]
One block away from Faith’s, Our Lady of Guadalupe’s sign is unreadable, even from the sidewalk. It is clearly out of character with the church, not easily visible to two-way traffic, and even close-up is hard to read. It’s hard to believe this expensive church has a sign so out of touch with this beautiful building.

Turnagain UMC: Cautiously Friendly

Every day I pass Turnagain United Methodist Church traveling to/from work. I’ve made several abortive attempts to visit this church, but each was unsuccessful. Most recently, I pulled into the parking lot just before service time and there were only three or four parked cars, a bad sign for any church visitor.

Previous to that, I’d had a mixup with their summer schedule and ended up entering mid-service. Sunday, February 27, I arrived just before service start. I was handed a bulletin by a Boy Scout, worked my way through a crowd of scouts blocking the aisle, and found a seat. Though only a small crowd was present, no one said a word to me until the pastor asked me to identify myself, from the pulpit nonetheless! As a visitor I felt adrift with no bearings throughout the entire service. Although service times, location, pastor and address were on their main webpage, it took some scrolling around to find them. And too, there was still an announcement for their longest night of the year service in December 2010, two months previous. I sensed that these were good people, but they need to internalize the value of “extreme hospitality” as they seem to be hiding their “light under a barrel”.[img_assist|nid=156081|title=Pastor Kelley and Scouts Around the “Campfire”|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=184]

Neighborhood Churches Don’t Always Attract Guests: Here’s One Reason
Methodists have been spending significant sums of money in support of their “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors” advertising campaign. Critics of this expenditure point to membership numbers which show continued gradual declines in UMC membership nationally despite the campaign. One might always argue the declines could have been greater without the campaign, but advertising campaigns, with few exceptions, do not make huge long-term differences in membership. Mainly they help the members feel good about themselves but are so unfocused as to be of little effect.

I always enjoy entering a neighborhood church that extends itself to make me feel welcome, giving me assurance that I made the right choice. To allow someone to enter your church and not make them feel welcome is bad enough, but to ask them to identify themselves to the congregation, during the service, is sad, especially if that person is not of your faith. At that point they’re eying the nearest exit for the clean getaway.

Many Methodist churches seem to have the self-introduction principle embedded in their church DNA. In some cases, it seems to be perceived as a club trait, where club members from afar are announcing their home church (club) and the purpose of their visit. I’ve been pleased when a member takes the initiative to get to know me, and offers to introduce me. But to call people out, causes embarrassment and anxiety upon many first-time church attenders. In all honesty, I was given a guest bag of goodies for which I am truly grateful. But there are other ways of handling this.

Service Not Guest-Friendly
Many church guests find themselves on unfamiliar ground when attending a new church. Tactful, matter-of-fact explanations throughout the service can help provide common ground to gain an understanding of the service and liturgy. Scout Sunday, as this was, is not the best day to attend a church for the first time, under the best of circumstances. I might have passed up Turnagain UMC this Sunday if this had been so noted on the website. The service had many rough edges due to the lack of familiarity of the scouts, counselors, and leaders with the way that church is normally done. Don’t misunderstand me; I believe in scouting and feel it’s an important aspect of American boyhood. Those same leaders and boys have doubtless been going through life ‘doing church’. As such, ‘doing church’ should have been an easy and comfortable experience. It did not appear to be so this Sunday, from the campfire up front, to the scripture readings, to the congregational readings, and the offering, it appeared to be uncomfortable.

Service Highlights
Pastor Dale Kelley gave a good scouting sermon which she said we could listen to or not. But was more of an adult sermon, filled with big words and possibly difficult for a scout to follow. I’ve heard her speak before and she’s a good speaker. The keyboardist/choir director was ill that morning and her substitute performed ably but had difficulty with some of the music. The offering was taken with no mention of excepting guests from giving, a notable omission in any church.

I was most impressed with the member’s child and family who came forward to tell about the 600+ boxes of Girl Scout cookies which had been collected and were being donated to the Downtown Soup Kitchen.

At the end I was startled when they dismissed by joining hands in a circle around the church and singing that old hymn “God Be With You Til We Meet Again”. That truly seemed to be a better expression of church than when I started the day. Having recently buried my mother, this meaningful hymn had a dual meaning for me.

Would I Go Back?
Rev. Kelley asked me to stay for coffee which I declined due to other commitments. Over time I would guess I could assimilate in some way. Many of us long for a real church experience, and continue to seek until we find it. Church means people not buildings. I look for the genuine article of people worshiping God, and fellowshipping together as Christians. I might visit this church again if I were persuaded they understood what happened every time someone walked through their doors.