A friendly initial greeting, military tributes, upbeat music, Bible-based sermon, huge push for commitment to buy their land and buildings, and a free ACF mug added up to a primarily positive impression for my November 6 visit. No sermon audio posted yet, although two subsequent sermons have been. I’d probably do a return visit to this convenient Eagle River church if I wasn’t regularly visiting other churches.
It’s a Drive
I live in Anchorage but make church visit trips to our communities North of Anchorage proper. This blogger has been to Eagle River several times, although I live in the Turnagain area. November 6 was on the cusp of some of our heavy snowfall and I left early for Alliance Christian Fellowship’s 11 a.m. service in the event of driving delays. The church is easy to locate just off the Northbound exit ramp at the central Eagle River exit. The signage does not indicate service times, but two large signs announce ACF’s presence. Parking is abundant and was well-plowed.
Boy Scouts Selling Wreaths
A group of Boy Scouts had a table outside the church and were engaged in selling holiday wreaths to arriving and departing members. I believe they told me they were sponsored by the church.
Upon entering, I was greeted by pleasant woman with a warm “Good Morning” and “Have you received your commitment card?” This is the time of year many area churches are hitting their members for annual pledges and donations, so I wasn’t particularly bothered by this, although some first timers might have been.
ACF seems to have a large military presence among its membership. A slide presentation of military and war scenes was being projected to stirring music before the service started. One doesn’t often see such an overt show of support for our military in any of our churches but it was here. I thought it curious.[img_assist|nid=158761|title=ACF’s Praise Band|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=160]
Dark Service Start
Suddenly the lights were turned off. It was totally dark. Then a voice spoke, “Let’s just stand up together.” Quite loud music started playing. The house band played just one song. Unlike many churches, they had no protection for the drums, which added to the loud projection of the music. I was surprised by just the one song.
At this point there was a brief veteran’s appreciation tribute. It was explained that a veteran had been wounded that week in an accident and a prayer was said on his behalf.
Very Young Congregation
I estimated there were a couple of hundred attendees for the 11 a.m. service but it was a young crowd. Children were sitting with their parents. I did not determine if there was Sunday School or Children’s Church for the younger ones. I’m in my sixties, but in glancing around, I was not able to locate anyone in attendance older than myself. It may be the music or the strong military presence, but I rarely see such a young church. My personal observation is that churches should appeal to all ages. If I was a pastor, I could easily discourage older folks from attending by employing two or three overt or covert tactics. I hope this is not the case here.
Meet ‘n Greet Actually Worked
If you’ve read my church observations for any length of time, you might be aware of my undisguised disgust for meet ‘n greets in churches, for their guest-distancing properties in being too long, and primarily member-to-member greetings that tend to exclude guests. During ACF’s meet ‘n greet I was greeted by two members, Jason and Andrea, but observed the church made it mercifully brief (a minute or two).[img_assist|nid=158762|title=ACF’s Pastor Rod Preaching|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=129]
The speaker got up and introduced himself as Rod Poepping. I looked at the staff roster in the bulletin and he wasn’t listed with the other staff. I turned to the man who’d greeted me earlier, asking who he was. Saying Rod was the senior pastor, he was surprised Rod wasn’t listed. There was no order of service listed, an unfortunate visitor-unfriendly omission. Guests need to have a roadmap for the service. Clearly ACF keeps it’s visitors in the dark. The service was clearly for members with few, if any, cues about what was going on for guests.
Rod started speaking 10 minutes into the service. I feel this is a first for all my church visits and applaud it. Many people write me complaining about the lengthy musical and spoken preliminaries in so many churches. It’s not unusual to have 45 minutes or more of preliminaries before the pastor begins preaching. This was exceptional.
Another positive thing Rod did was to recap the previous week’s sermon, part of a series called Radical Faith, to bring people up to speed if they’d missed it. This is an outstanding practice which so many pastors forget to do. But wait, there’s more. Rod also did something unusual by encouraging us to use ACF’s app on iPhone’s, iPad’s, etc. He said it also contained sermon notes for this sermon, which were the same as in the bulletin. Wow! First of all I wasn’t aware they had an app. Now I’m aware of three Alaska churches with apps. Earlier this year another Eagle River pastor lashed out against the use of apps in church, encouraging people to use church-supplied Bibles instead. Pastor Rod also noted there was a Bible in the app or suggested taking a Bible as their gift to you. Great approach![img_assist|nid=158759|title=ACF’s App Showing Sermon Screen|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=275|height=440]
Rod’s a good presenter, sparingly using notes, and effectively using good eye contact. The sermon, though a good one, seemed bent toward the fundraising appeal at the end. Personally, I don’t like fundraising appeals in church. People come to learn and worship, not be badgered for contributions. I wish I could share the sermon with you, but it’s not appeared on the website yet. I called ACF this week and was told Rod was out of town and the sermon posting was awaiting his return. If ever posted, it should be posted here. Other sermons by Rod and his pastoral staff are posted here also. In fact, they’ve already posted topics for these sermons, all the way out to Christmas.
Push for Giving With Appeal Music
At the close of his 45 minute sermon, Rod talked about ACF’s plans to purchase the property from it’s owners. He appealed for 100% involvement to buy the land. As he started his appeal, a guitarist from the band joined him onstage and provided a guitar soundtrack for Rod’s words. I hear this so much in evangelical churches. Whenever there’s an appeal, Baptists do this almost every service, the music starts playing to tug on people’s hearts. That’s precisely why films have memorable music. To me it’s a little hokey and turns me off. Nonetheless, Rod asked people to come down and put their personal ‘thumbprint’ of commitment to this purchase project on a map of the property. He further told a story of a young member who was a babysitter, and has committed to give all of her earnings to this project. He also urged parents discuss this with their children, why commitment cards were being used, and that family’s contribution to this project. Personally, I feel large project appeals like this should be in a separate meeting, not during the main church service. Guests should have been excused at this point. A major objection with many guests or new attenders is the focus on the money. Many of them say, “…it’s all about the money.” [img_assist|nid=158760|title=ACF’s Communion on Your Own|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=183]
Communion on Your Own
ACF did have do-it-yourself communion stations at either side of the platform, however no word of it was mentioned during the service. They were used by many with no prompting. Few churches practice communion this way, as it is one of the universal ordinances of the church, written of and practiced as a group activity. It may have been an aberration due to the length of the service.
The service ended with the praise group coming back up and playing 3-5 songs, the reverse of what most contemporary churches do. The music was good, but in my opinion, unnecessary. I especially liked the video calendar at the end of the service, where a church member articulated coming events in a refreshing style. This is a first for me and ACF is to be thanked for showing a refreshing new method of communicating information.
As the lengthy service dismissed, I was greeted by a member who asked if this was my first visit there. Although I answered affirmatively, I believe this is not a good question to ask guests, as puts them on the defensive. A better question would be to introduce oneself and thank the guest for choosing to worship with your church. This draws the guest in, in an inclusive manner, instead of distancing them. His second question was whether or not I’d received a mug. I said no, to which he went and got me one. The mug had been mentioned earlier in the service but I assumed I’d missed my chance to get one. I’m glad I did get “mugged”, as it was a warm demonstration of hospitality extended. During my visit I saw some fresh ideas, but was put off by others. However, except for the noted age differences, I would be tempted to go back for a 2nd visit.