A friend recently told me about a new Anchorage church, True North, which meets in the Loussac Library’s Wilda Marston Theater on Sunday’s at 10 a.m. Last Sunday I visited True North and these are my impressions.
When a friend and I walked into the lobby, people were sitting or standing around drinking coffee, and talking with each other. No one noticed us or acknowledged our presence in any way. We proceeded into the theater to find a seat, discovering there was a service in progress. It appeared they were having communion.
We sat down and after they had completed their service, Pastor Brent Williams came to where we were sitting. He welcomed us and answered some questions we had. Asking if we were from Anchorage, we responded affirmatively. Personally I don’t like to be greeted with questions, and neither do most other church guests. Where I come from is really not the issue. However, where the pastor and church comes from is my, and most other guests, key concern. Nonetheless, Williams was quite personable and shared that the church is affiliated with the local Southern Baptist convention. He also said they held communion at 9:30 because, as a new church, they did not want to explain the requirements for taking communion to many new people who may not be members yet.[img_assist|nid=157596|title=True North’s Music Group|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=175]
The musical group of two men (guitars) and one woman (keyboard) was quite good. They started the service with a pleasing musical selection sung in harmony. Usually one does not hear the praise group singing in harmony either because the music is too loud, or they don’t even try. This was a pleasant surprise for me. The music was unfamiliar to me but solid theologically. It may be they are attempting to create their own church musical DNA that parishioners will know and relate to. The one traditional hymn, “The Church’s One Foundation”, was a contemporary rewrite with a modern arrangement, extremely long, and seemingly interminable. The group played close to 45 minutes, before and after the service, something I consider to be excessive. Of course, all were invited to stand both times, which I considered to be an unnecessarily long time to stand.[img_assist|nid=157597|title=Pastor Brent Williams Making a Point|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=263]
Pastor Brent was continuing a series of messages on his prayer for the community. He has an animated presentation style, but is somewhat tied to his notes. For this crowd of 100, he might have communicated more effectively by a more extemporaneous style of speaking. For a newbie, I was somewhat lost from the beginning as he did not, for me, establish the context for the series of messages. He could have taken a few minutes to review each of the prayers he’d previously discovered, as a memory jogger for members, and as a courtesy for his guests. Instead, he jumped in without establishing the context ual flow of the series. I also felt he covered scripture without citing each reference assuming all were following him implicitly. Pastor Brent is Bible-based but assumes more Bible-awareness on the part of each attendee than may be there. You can listen to Pastor Brent’s message here.
A first for me was he had a text number posted on the screen to text questions to be answered at the end of the message. This is unique and commendable. Three or four questions were answered. He’s only human, but I felt he misunderstood or possibly misread the intent of a couple of them, leading to questions not being accurately answered, something he himself acknowledged might be his issue. I applaud his honesty. I was quite surprised with his response to one question regarding a personal issue a member was dealing with. He referred the questioner to other members of the congregation rather than asking the person to discuss the issue personally with him. A shepherd should be able to handle the issues of individual sheep rather than turn them over to others to resolve.
Not “About An Hour”
After the questions, Pastor Brent asked the musical group to come back and close the service. They proceeded to play several lengthy selections. True North’s website says…
Our services last about an hour and there is no need to dress up. Come as you are and enjoy your time with our church.
In fact, their service lasted over 1 ½ hours. I suggest they either change the website or shorten the service as it is currently misleading. As much as I love music, it should not be the focus of the service and could easily be shortened without damaging the impact of the service or service flow. They did not seem to take an offering, which I considered unusual for any church.
I applaud True North’s bold approach of meeting in public space and not trying to build yet another structure. This town has a penchant for building churches, something one cannot find is called for anywhere in the New Testament. This article in today’s Christianity Today online edition questions the wisdom of church planting vs. a true missionary approach. (Click here to read.)
No one spoke with us on the way out, clearly ignoring a golden opportunity to invite us back. The pastor was stuck in a corner handing out books he promised to those who wanted them, their gift to new attendees. Marketing-based churches want you to seek them out, and for you to pursue them. A church with true Christian hospitality cares intensely about every one who walks in their doors, and ensures everyone is touched. True Christianity is a hands-on religion.
Finally, it was recently brought to my attention True North also has an app, joining ChangePoint as the only churches in Alaska I’ve been able to identify as having apps. It can be downloaded from the iTunes store.
Despite the noted shortcomings, I enjoyed many elements of my visit and wish them well as they grow.[img_assist|nid=157598|title=True North Church During Singing|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=263]