Tag Archives: Anchorage Baptist Temple

Three churches, three approaches to Christmas

Last Sunday I attended three separate services. After focusing on Advent this month, I wanted to experience services at evangelical churches not observing Advent. While I believe Advent, rightly observed, can be an antidote to the crass commercialism hijacking Christmas, evangelical churches should also be urging their parishioners to keep focused on the true purpose of Christmas, Jesus.

Anchorage Baptist Temple

This megachurch, Alaska’s second-largest with approximately 2,500 members, is always a feast of sight and sound. Everything seems to be larger than life with an enormous center-stage video screen, flanked by two large video monitors to the right and left. Spirited singing by choir and congregation was underway as I entered the 11 a.m. Sunday service.

The music was a blend of Christmas carols, along with some modern classics such at the “Little Drummer Boy.” Hymnals are not needed as the words are projected on the screens, which use incredible animation to bring the words to life. A vocal group composed of Anchorage Christian Schools youth sang a number of songs, and a singer sang a lovely song.

The stage was decorated with the traditional icons of the season. I counted six decorated Christmas trees on the stage, plus eight more lighted trees in the choir area. There were stacks of presents, teddy bears and candy cane poles all over the stage.

Throughout the service reminders were given about the Christmas pageant to be held this weekend, donations to ABT’s bus Christmas store, and sacrificial giving to the church’s 2016 Christmas Miracle Offering. I was bothered when the Rev. Jerry Prevo mentioned the purpose of this offering as being for employees of the church, the school and church missionaries.

Prevo made a very hard sell for this offering, the likes of which I’ve only seen in one other church — a certain prosperity Gospel church in Anchorage. The goal was $30,000, and I was concerned they were thinking more of each other this time of year than those desperately in need of physical and financial assistance.

Prevo presents well-prepared sermons. He interrupted this one, “Two Kinds of People,” to show a dramatic 12-minute short film to illustrate his talking points. The video illustrated people who respond to invitations to help and those who do not, which he later typified as the “lost” and the “saved.” My ABT visit showed me a “Christmas as usual” attitude with much giving expected, heavy appeals to give to the Miracle Offering, and a significant emphasis on the upcoming Christmas pageant, quite a contrast to my next two church visits.

Baxter Road Bible Church

Less than a mile from ABT, lies Baxter Road Bible Church. The church offers two services on Sunday: 10 a.m. and noon. Arriving at the noon service a few minutes late, I found Communion already being served. The church’s musical group is enjoyable to listen to and sing along with; it presented hymns and carols of the season, typical of non-Advent practicing churches.

Children presented several songs. No matter how good or poor the singing is, this is a time of wonder for the adults. Many of us have been there before, and can only remember the faces smiling back at us.

The Rev. Bob Mather’s sermon, “Preparing for Christmas,” was Bible-based, giving practical advice about preparing our hearts for Christmas. Though this church is a little over a 10th the size of ABT, it’s opened its heart for years to giving during December without urging.

Using the theme, “It’s not your birthday, it’s Jesus’,” the congregation dedicates 100 percent of December church income to community nonprofits and other religious organizations members suggest. These organizations are actively doing the work Jesus referred to in his teaching.

Last year, Baxter’s December’s giving reaped over $90,000, more than twice what ABT has set as its 2016 goal. No sales pitch was necessary Sunday morning for this cause at Baxter. The congregation doesn’t need it; it’s one of those things they do without urging. Mather, pastor at the church, has often told me: “The more we give, the more blessed we are.”


Alaska’s largest church at around 3,500 members, ChangePoint leads by example in the local community. I tend to find the music overly loud at ChangePoint and don’t visit as often as I could. However, the Sunday 6 p.m. service found a smaller crowd, and music easier on the ears than normal. My decibel-meter measured most of the music at 90-98 decibels, a sharp reduction from previous services.

As I entered, I was greeted at the door and welcomed by a member. I noticed the church’s OnRamp life group was collecting practical gifts for children at McKinnell House, Salvation Army’s temporary family shelter, during November and December. What a sensible ministry!

Before the sermon,the Rev. Scott Merriner, executive pastor, introduced Adam Legg, newly appointed executive director of Love Alaska, and Rick Steele, executive pastor of operations. Legg is in charge of an exciting new venture that joins two previous ChangePoint initiatives, Grace Alaska and Priceless.

Grace Alaska took on some major projects in town such as getting the Downtown Soup Kitchen started, and providing automotive services for single mothers and widows through Rightway Automotive. Priceless is a service to women involved in human or sex trafficking. Approximately 70 women have been referred to the program, which provides them access to over 120 trained mentors in 18 local churches.

Love Alaska will now be a separate organization not subject to ChangePoint’s structure. Members of ChangePoint will be encouraged to support these efforts to address areas of brokenness in our community along with members of other churches. A third initiative of Love Alaska will be Chosen, a program which focuses on mentoring youth as they leave the foster care system. ChangePoint’s annual Uncommon Gift Offering will be taken Sunday to support Chosen. These changes are exciting for Anchorage and ChangePoint is to be commended for making them happen.

Student ministry pastor Adam Brown’s message was the second in a series titled, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” His particular message was subtitled, “The Wonder of Real Treasure.” Using Matthew 6:19-24, he said “real treasure is what we think it is,” noting we must each choose our treasure — temporal or eternal — and to chase our master whether it be God or money.

I thought this was a powerful message from a church that is making a difference in our community. As we look at the consumer-driven brokenness of Christmas, it was refreshing to hear this message on Sunday, a real antidote to consumerism.

Many church websites missing chances to attract visitors

When I’m looking for churches to visit, I almost always look at accompanying websites with my “church visitor eye.” These sites should be well-designed. They should show the ministry, rather than pictures of the church or beautiful surroundings. They should contain the basics: location, service times, phone number.  And they should be up to date. Unfortunately, with the explosion of social media, many churches mistakenly believe websites are no longer important. Consequently some churches desperately try to push much about their church to Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, and in doing so risk becoming invisible to prospective guests.

Recently, while planning to visit a local Orthodox church for Great Lent, I found its website not up to date. The most current calendar was August 2015, with nothing on the main webpage about Great Lent. I discovered they pushed most church activities to Facebook. How would a prospective guest find them?

This week I looked at several local church websites, finding good and not so good. I’m sharing my impressions in this column not to belittle or embarrass any church, but to examine the strengths and weaknesses of the different approaches these churches take. ( Churches are presented in alphabetical order.)

Abbott Loop Community Church www.abbottloop.org

I found this homepage — dominated by a scrolling slideshow of five coming events — overly long. Although service times are shown on one of those slides, prospective visitors might not wait to see it. The church location and phone number are at the bottom of the page, way down. Easter and Good Friday were still showing as events at the bottom of the page. Abbott Loop makes its Sunday sermons available via audio. Thinking they might be viewable as well, I clicked the “multimedia” tab only to discover they were just audio. Abbott’s website was too busy for me.

Amazing Grace Lutheran Church www.amazinggracealaska.org

One of the simplest websites I viewed, this one turned out to be one of the best. It shows times of service, location, and phone number in full view at the top of the screen. Simple, moveable graphics show parishioners and themes without resorting to a church picture. A pulldown menu allows easy access to most information one would need about this South Anchorage church. I particularly liked the up-to-date and complete church calendar located under the heading “news.” I wish more church websites used this simple but extremely effective approach.

Anchorage Baptist Temple www.ancbt.org

Pictures of the church and its pastor adorn the top of Anchorage Baptist Temple’s first page, a website no-no according to church web designers. ABT’s website is incredibly busy to the eye, requiring a significant amount of scrolling to reach the bottom of the page to see all they offer. Some of the best websites in the world have only one main page, the amount shown on one’s computer screen. ABT’s schedule of services at the top is a positive touch, but unfortunately one must scroll to the very bottom to find the church’s location. I got dizzy scrolling down through the vast array of pictures and links.

Anchorage Bible Fellowship www.anchoragebiblefellowship.org

I like ABF’s straightforward one-page construction with service times and location prominently displayed. Unfortunately, however, it’s dominated by changing pictures of Alaska wildlife, mountains, and scenery. The purpose of churches is to spread the gospel, not serve as tourist bureaus. How much more effective these pictures would be if they showed this church and members at worship and work in the community.

ChangePoint www.changepointalaska.com

Artfully designed webpages offer easy navigation to show visitors ChangePoint’s service times. Their location is not shown, however, and I could not find it. ChangePoint offers particularly useful media replay options of past sermons for viewing or listening which are usually posted the same day as they’re delivered. I particularly like ChangePoint’s blog where pastors post follow-up questions to Sunday sermons as a means of driving home the applicability of the message.

Cornerstone Church www.akcornerstone.org

Cornerstone’s attractive website is well-laid-out with one main page and nicely categorized pulldown menus for necessary information. Service times are shown on the main page, but one has to hunt for the church’s location. On closer inspection, I found it at the very bottom of the page, along with the phone number, but it is faint and easy to miss. Cornerstone has been effective at providing viewing access to their Sunday sermons. Their website is always clean, adorned with graphics central to their mission, and easy to use.

Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox www.transfiguration.ak.goarch.org

This beautiful church has a simple but effective website. It gives access to most activities in the church. Part of the beauty of Holy Transfiguration lies in its considerable iconography tied to many religious figures in its ancient faith. A rolling slideshow display of the interiors of the church depicts these icons. Clicking on any picture brings up a detailed description. The slideshow could be more effective if pictures of parishioners, working to support the mission of this church, were interspersed. It’s unfortunate Rev. Vasili Hillhouse’s pragmatic but engaging homilies are not captured and shared with the public here also.

We live in a culture dominated by clicking on web pages. If a website doesn’t deliver, visitors click to the next one and it becomes a lost opportunity.

“I don’t think that the importance of a church website can be overstated” said Adam Legg, ChangePoint’s creative arts and communication pastor. “Now, does that mean it has to be your church’s primary digital communication tool? No. But is it important for your church to have one? Yes. Why? Because a website is the primary way that people find you online, and in a digital world that is incredibly important! We know from research that as many as 8 or 9 out of 10 church visitors will visit your church’s website before visiting your church. If they can’t find you online, that makes it difficult for them to connect with you.”

Social media is another important component of a church’s online presence, and I’ll write about that in an upcoming column.

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog, churchvisits.com.

The views expressed here are the writer’s own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, emailcommentary(at)alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words toletters@alaskadispatch.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

A visit to Anchorage Baptist Temple

As I visit various faith communities, and write about them, I attempt to avoid delving into beliefs, which aren’t the focus of my writing. I focus on how congregations present themselves to guests and members by evaluating their welcome/greeting, sermons, and music. Since 2008, I’ve visited Anchorage Baptist Temple several times separated by long intervals.

The Hartford Institute for Religion Research, defines a megachurch as “… any Protestant congregation with a sustained average weekly attendance of 2,000 persons or more in its worship services,” and by this definition, ABT qualifies as a megachurch.

HIRR’s online database currently contains 1,668 congregations in the U.S. that meet this definition. ABT, with an average weekly attendance of about 2,200, according to HIRR, makes this list. ChangePoint, Alaska’s other megachurch is listed with 3,300 average weekly attendance.


ABTs sprawling campus offers bountiful parking, though many spaces require hikes of about a block to reach the church. Entering via the Baxter Road entrance I spotted a sign indicating a large section straight ahead for guests or visitors. However, individual spaces were not designated, and there wasn’t a parking lot attendant directing guests to spaces, a missed opportunity. No guest spaces being available, I parked quite a ways from the church entrance. Considerable caution was required to walk as cars whizzed by, an unsafe condition, especially without parking attendants.


Entering ABTs north entrance I was met by multiple individuals and handed a bulletin before I reached my seat. Choosing my seat eight rows from the front, I entered while the choir and a soloist were singing a rousing praise song. The screen behind the platform was alive with the words and animation during the song. Gigantic screens were also located high on the right and left sides of the stage. ABTs auditorium is a huge television set with cameras capturing every facet of the service from many angles. TV is important here as the Rev. Jerry Prevo’s sermons play many times during the week on KCFT and Channel 13. Today I discovered ABT has entered the ranks of churches streaming their services live on the Internet (at www.abtlive.org).

After the song I entered on, visitors were greeted from the pulpit and asked to identify themselves for the purpose of receiving a token gift. During the meet and greet several people greeted me pleasantly. After the greeting, the morning offering was received. No one, including guests, was told they were not expected to give, usually an uncomfortable time for a first-time guest.

Bus ministry

Then Prevo recognized ABT’s bus ministry, some leaders, and a number of kids who ride those buses. Personally, I think bus ministries are useful, providing the parents consent and churches don’t apply undue pressure on children to convert. Obviously, it’s better for parents to bring their children rather than having them ride a church bus, but that could come later.

More music

ABT’s performance group of eight men and women provided two musical selections. They sang naturally, with good eye contact, and smiling faces, something I find missing in many church praise group performances. “Lay Me Down, Lay Me Down,” a Chris Tomlin song, and “Overcome,” a Jeremy Camp song, were presented in a likeable and professional manner, although I have must say, a tad too loud for me. My decibel meter registered peaks of 103 decibels on both songs, and averages in the mid-to-high 90s. Looking around me, many worshipers were in their 50s and 60s and may have found the music a bit loud as well. Sound professionals recommend church sound levels not exceed 80 db at peak, and 65-70 db during the service. No longer are elderly persons the majority experiencing significant hearing loss. A University of Florida study revealed 17 percent of middle and high school students were experiencing some degree of hearing loss. As a church guest, I believe ministering kindly to attendees includes protecting the hearing of all.

Prevo’s sermon

After the last song, the music group left to much applause. Taking the pulpit, pastor Prevo launched into announcements highlighting upcoming events and other items, some of which were already in the bulletin. His sermon topic was “Two Types of People.” Beginning by highlighting the differences between people, Republican vs. Democrat, union vs. nonunion, Southerner vs. Northerner, etc., he continued by noting the Bible says there are only two types of people: those of the kingdom of God, or those of the kingdom of Satan. His points were illustrated with Scripture projected on the big screen at the back of the stage. Using an electronic device, he highlighted, in red, key words from Scripture passages being used. This was one of the most effective uses of Scripture projection I’ve ever seen, and it was augmented by the clarity of the screen system ABT is using. A recording of Prevo’s sermon is available here: (tinyurl.com/npzyym4). I’ve heard many such sermons, developed, as this one was, along Baptist thematic lines, but it was effectively delivered.

Altar call

Prevo concluded his sermon with an altar call. Regardless of the number of altar calls I’ve heard in my life, I’m usually left with the impression no matter how solid one’s personal spiritual life is, it’s never enough for that pastor. Fear, uncertainty, and doubt are usually interjected. I’ll address altar calls in a future column. Like other questionable practices, they are a recent invention.

Final thoughts

My visit to ABT was better than most. The huge side monitors seem to be unnecessary, making Prevo three or four times larger than life, in an auditorium where all had excellent views. People were friendly; the music was good, but loud. This evangelical type of church, as noted in a previous column, is one of the few growing in the U.S. It’s easy to see why. As Prevo noted, you have to make a choice.

Prevo Love Offering This Sunday

My mailbox recently disgorged a “Love Offering” appeal for funds (see below) for Dr. Jerry Prevo and his wife, Carol. Ostensibly, it was sent out by the deacons and assistant pastors of Anchorage Baptist Temple. Special emphasis was placed upon his 42 years of ministry here in Anchorage.

I understand the concept of gathering a love offering, especially for underpaid, and less recognized pastors. What I do not understand is taking a “Love Offering” year after year for a pastor who undoubtedly is not underpaid. Pastoring one of Alaska’s few megachurches, Dr. Prevo must collect an adequate salary, although I could not verify that amount. Christ said to sell everything you had and give it to the poor. Is this the model?

Paul labored in the New Testament epoch, primarily sustained in his ministry by tentmaking. The Southern Baptist Convention is encouraging more of it’s pastors to be gainfully employed while pastoring their churches.

The “Love Offering” practice in cases like this sustain church critics or the unchurched who consistently note that “…it’s all about the money.” As you will note in the attached copy of the letter or the download, payments are asked to be paid directly to the Prevo’s. The love offering is to be submitted by October 6, 2013, this coming Sunday.

I believe Church Visits readers would love to understand more about this practice. Please share your thoughts if you have information to share.

ABT: Illusionary Service – Did you miss it too?

Intrigued by Anchorage Baptist Temple’s TV advertisement for a performance by an illusionist, I attended their 11 a.m. service on March 15 to see how this related to ABT’s Christian mission. The illusionist, Brock Gill, was introduced by Dr. Prevo after some artful deception on Gill’s part, masquerading as a choir member. Gill proceeded to solicit keys from six audience members. Placing the keys in his hand, he had the six adience members cover his hand with theirs. After they removed their hands, he unclenched his fist, revealing the keys had been bent. He further demonstrated the bending of a single key on camera. The audience was advised they would have to come to the 6 p.m. service to see the rest of the story. I didn’t bite, and frankly, I left puzzled.

While Prevo delivered a fine sermon relating to the theme of death, a repetitious theme at ABT, I left with mixed feelings. Has the preaching of the gospel at churches such as this deteriorated to the point where entertainment must be used to snare people in to come to services? A brief survey of the internet reveals a plethora of “Christian entertainers” who specialize as drawing cards. Magicians, musicians of every stripe, illusionists, story tellers, puppeteers, dancers, dramatists, comedians, etc. are being used to draw people into churches, much in the same way that medicine shows of the past used similar entertainers to bring people to the sellers of medicines of dubious value. Maybe it’s just me, but I’d be interested in hearing from fellow Christians who might help me understand what this was all about. Even Brock Gill’s wife, writing on his website, made great fun of his “trick” of masquerading as a choir member at ABT during his Alaska trip. Hmmmmm……..

ABT – Is Bigger Better?

[img_assist|nid=124296|title=ABT’s bright attention-getting sign on Northern Lights announces many types of events and services.|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=178]No mistake about it… it was mega-church time when I visited the Anchorage Baptist Temple on April 27, 2008. Everything is BIG and reminded me of a movie set. Huge church auditorium, bright lights, TV camera’s, large screen monitors, set-like displays, lots of color and many people.

My welcome
Three people greeted me before I reached my seat, but it felt like I was being greeted as though it were a job without much passion. I was just one of thousands and had no connection. Part of this may be due to the huge crush of people attending the one 11 a.m. Sunday morning worship service.

Good music
The nine-piece band started playing five minutes before the start of the worship service. The music was polished and sounded great. The 65 voice choir is good, singing well and performing several songs. A youth singing group of 15-20 voices also shared their talents. Several soloists sang on the main stage before Dr. Jerry Prevo took the pulpit. As he started, Prevo welcomed a bus ministry group of 38 individuals on stage, which he introduced to the audience.

[img_assist|nid=124297|title=ABT’s large facility hard to miss on E. Northern Lights.|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=238]Interesting sermon theme
The sermon, Speak Sweeter, was in keeping with a lengthy series stretching over April and May. The series was tied to the theme of Tim McGraw’s bestselling country song “Live Like You Were Dying”. Prevo’s remarks were very Baptist in that the death and dying theme was reinforced repeatedly. Example, “How many of you, if you died this week, would go to heaven because you have accepted Christ as your Lord and personal Savior? Where would you go if you haven’t?”

Dwelling on one’s demise-best approach?
I’m no stranger to Baptist churches but I’m turned off when I hear warning or fear-inciting phrases like this. I’m much more attracted to a church that attracts me through the love of God instead of pushing me to join through fear. Sometimes certain Baptist ministers leave the impression your assurances of salvation are never as complete at what they are offering at that moment, for which I strongly disagree.

The service ended with the traditional Baptist altar call to come up front to be prayed for, to pray, and/or to make your decision for Christ. The band started up again as folks came forward. As with most Baptist services, there was a baptism.

Is this a church for you?
If you seek a church to ultimately establish a sense of community, this might be the one. But it’s big, and to me impersonal, at least at my first visit. Except for the obligatory minute of “meet n’ greet” I had little contact with any members. Prevo is available throughout the week on ABT’s station with taped replays of his messages and their services. It may be a better first introduction than attending in person.