Tag Archives: TrueNorth

Millennials haven’t completely deserted Anchorage churches

For several years, I’ve written about issues churches face in the failure of attracting millennials — at least as we currently understand that word.

Pew Research defines millennials as the demographic group that fell between the ages of 18 and 34 in 2015 and projects that they number about 75.3 million, slightly surpassing the projected 74.9 million baby boomers (ages 51 to 69).

As I visit churches, in many I’m seeing fewer attendees I would identify as being in the 18-29 year range. In any organization, this group would ordinarily be the lifeblood that carries an organization into the future. (This is true not only for churches but also for civic and fraternal organizations such as Rotary Clubs and Masonic Lodges.) But not all churches are losing millennials.

In mid-November I attended Sunday services at TrueNorth Anchorage. This fairly recent church plant was meeting Sundays at the Loussac Library’s Wilda Marston Theatre but outgrew that space. Now they are meeting at Clark Middle School. I was warmly greeted by millennials as I entered Clark. The church met in the multipurpose room decorated with TrueNorth banners, and full of tables, information and helpful people. There were areas for children’s instruction as well. Many millennials attended the service, which started with a brief 15-minute musical service led by a seven-piece worship band.

The pastor introduced himself as Jason and warmly welcomed guests, explaining that the regular pastor, Brent, was at an Outside conference for pastors. Few pastors take the time to warmly welcome members and guests, much less to identify themselves by name. Jason, a millennial himself, identified as the key text for his sermon Nehemiah 3, which described rebuilding a gate and wall in Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity. It shows how almost everyone pitched in to accomplish this common goal. Jason tied this to TrueNorth’s mission of “reaching people in this state who do not know Jesus’ name,” a brilliant take on the meaning of Gospel. Following communion, the pastor challenged worshippers to consider inviting just one person to church during the week, and talked briefly about TrueNorth’s life groups. I can see why millennials might be drawn to such a service: It was brief and friendly and featured good music and excellent preaching. I’ve seen similarly effective services at Great Land Christian Church (Central Middle School), Clear Water (Wendler Middle School) and C3 (Begich Middle School). Attending services of all of them, I’ve found millennials well-represented at each.

David Kinnaman of the Barna Group, released a research-based book, “You Lost Me,” several years ago detailing how this young generation is giving up on church. There are many issues involved, but a few key ones were: failure of older members to connect, sexuality, perceptions of hypocrisy, not addressing science and faith and church exclusivity. In a recent interview titled “Q&A: Why Millennials are less religious than older Americans,” published by the Pew Research Center, New York University sociologist Michael Hout contends that millennials, the children of baby boomers, were raised to think for themselves, to “find their own moral compass,” rejecting “the idea that a good kid is an obedient kid,” approaching religion with a “do-it-yourself attitude.” He also notes millennials reject more than religion, citing “lack of trust in the labor market, with government, in marriage and in other aspects of life.”

Ray Nadon, pastor of Great Land Christian notes they’ve achieved positive results with “personal contact, meaning young people caring about other young people. Building relationships with them, learning to talk with them and not be ‘religious,’ but real and honest.” Sounds a bit like Kinnaman’s observations to me. Nadon further notes that training and teaching is important, aided by personal dives into Scripture, community service and active involvement by everyone. He did express a concern that too many churches try “to play in the millennials’ weaknesses by making ‘church’ about entertainment.” I agree with Nadon that’s a mistake, and isn’t really what millennials are looking for.

Brian Cook, lead pastor at ACF Church in Eagle River, another millennial-heavy church, thinks “that many current cultural issues are polarizing the church, which is reducing the number of nominal Christians, especially in the millennial generation. This is causing many to weigh the cost of aligning with the label of ‘Christianity.’” He notes that ACF is “a community of grace, where doubts and questions are welcomed. People don’t have to ‘believe’ to ‘belong.’” Cook believes “millennials are simply looking for honest and loving community with a real vision to make life better in our cities.”

Many churches continue to conduct church in traditional ways that frankly do not address millennial needs. Millennials are searching for authenticity in an unauthentic world. Churches could provide more of this if they really tried. Mentoring could help in many, but the big question is, will it happen?

However, I’m encouraged that millennials in Anchorage are finding places of worship that address their various backgrounds and needs, places that extend themselves in ways that are not claustrophobic.

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, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words toletters@alaskadispatch.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

Church apps gain a foothold among local churches

Since Apple first released its game-changing iPhone in 2007, apps — and smartphone apps in particular — have changed the way we access the Internet and the way we use our smartphones.

I’ve written about apps in the past (you can find my previous coverage at (tinyurl.com/nfch7xn), but as different churches adopt the technology or adapt the ways in which they use it, the subject is worth revisiting.

In April 2011, I first became aware of local church apps when ChangePoint staffer, Adam Legg, (changepoint.com) excitedly showed me the church’s new app. ChangePoint may have been the first Alaska church to release an app, but slowly other churches began rolling out apps. During this developmental period I asked many churches, obvious targets for app use, why they were not developing them. Consistently I heard money cited as the No. 1 reason, though I suspect in reality churches failed to understand apps and their potential value for their faith communities.

Adam — now ChangePoint’s creative arts and communications pastor — recently shared the congregation’s changing vision for their app noting. “In over 4 years since rollout, our app’s been downloaded on almost 9,000 devices and used hundreds of thousands of times,” he said. “In the spring of 2011, when we launched our app, it was estimated that 35 percent of Americans owned a smartphone; that number is now around 70 percent. A recent Forrester Research study showed 85 percent of the time people use their smartphones, they are using apps. We see this as an area continuing to provide big opportunities for our church to reach people where they are.”

But it’s not all about the app.

“While we are incredibly pleased with the growth and usage of our app, we must remember it’s only one tool in our church’s digital communication strategy,” he said. “Social Media, website, video storytelling, and many other tools are used here at ChangePoint to bring a message of ‘Life in Christ’ to thousands of people every week. Digital media is changing how people communicate, and in turn, the church must take note and adjust our communication as well. The ChangePoint app has been a huge step in helping us do just that.”

Using Apple’s app store, I searched for Anchorage and Alaska church apps. I found 12 in Anchorage, and 10 outside of Anchorage. You can find the Anchorage listing on my website at churchvisits.com showing various features each church has implemented. Most of the listed church apps also have Android counterparts, and some have been released for Windows phones. Churches with apps usually have app links on their websites. Grace Christian School was listed under Anchorage churches, and St. John United Methodist uses a generic app, which depends on you entering a special code to locate their portion, not a sure methodology.

Most apps offer archived sermons for replay. A few allow users to watch those sermons, and fewer still offer live streaming of a sermon as it’s being delivered. Anchorage Baptist Temple recently added this feature. Many apps offer Bibles, Bible plans for reading, church calendars, and access to blogs or social media. Online giving has become an important option for apps, and bulletins are very helpful.

Baxter Road Bible Church, a rapidly growing East Anchorage church, recently added an app and updated its website. Both are attractive and functional.

Asked about the genesis of their app, BRBC’s (www.baxterroad.org) associate pastor, John Carpenter said, “We saw how this technology worked. Phones have become more than just phones anymore. Our website’s purpose is to get information out to the body of the church. We see apps as an extension of our website. I refer to our website and app as BRBC’s Costco-like sampler approach. It gives people a taste of what we offer; it’s easy and convenient. We find that listening to our messages/sermons is probably the key driver for its use. We also find our people appreciate up-to-date information on what’s happening in our church community. Donating via app and website is certainly growing. When my family and I took our vacation this summer, it was a great way to stay in touch with our church family.”

A church plant, True North Church, (midtown.truenorthanchorage.com) effectively used apps as part of their church growth strategy. Unlike most churches, they developed their own app in 2011 aided by a local Christian developer.

True North is growing and attributes some heartwarming stories to their app.

“A young woman began attending True North several years ago. Coming out of a divorce caused by her infidelity, she began the process of healing and restoration while attending True North,” the Rev. Brent Williams told me. “Through this process, she realized her need to reconcile with her ex-husband and take ownership of her sin. The ex-husband began listening to our sermons through our iPhone app while living in the Lower 48. By God’s grace, one year ago, the husband and wife reconciled and were remarried during one of our church services on a Sunday morning.”

Brent concludes, “Our app enhances our ministry by making the Gospel accessible to a culture entrenched in technology — a culture that is on the move. The app allows those inside the church and those not yet part of the church to stay connected to the weekly teaching and weekly updates of True North Church.”

I believe Alaska church apps provide better missional growth opportunities than, for example, expensive short-term mission trips. I applaud these churches for their vision and hope many more will join them soon. Their growth is due, in no small way, to their deployment of today’s technology for today’s generation.

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, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.

Alaska church apps can have huge impacts – 9/20/14

Apps have revolutionized the ways we access information, play games, or use various utilities to change and improve our lives. Churches have adopted this rich technology. Alaska churches were not the earliest adopters of apps but have jumped in nevertheless.

In July 2008, over 800 apps were available for the iPhone. As of September, that number had exploded to 1.3 million. A much smaller number of apps are available for Android devices. Alaska churches with apps report the majority of their downloads are for the iPhone app. Using the search term “church” in Apple’s iPhone App store, 2,199 apps are found. Some are Bible apps, but the majority are apps for churches across the U.S.

Early Alaska Church App Adopters

On April 20, 2011, Adam Legg, ChangePoint’s creative arts and communications pastor, showed me the functionality of their just-released app. Adam was excited about this huge step forward. I was astounded at the range of information ChangePoint now provided with this new app, and its potential to expand their ministry far beyond their walls. It offered replays of sermons, an online Bible, blogs, church calendars, schedules and more. Adam showed me app download numbers and hours of use by users.

In the years since, a slowly growing number of Alaska churches have seen potential in releasing apps. Currently, 10 Alaska churches have their own apps. Churches as far south as Juneau and far north as Fairbanks have adopted this exciting technology, but most are Anchorage-area churches.

Another early adopter of this exciting technology was Anchorage’s TrueNorth Church. TrueNorth’s app was designed locally by Michael Blakeny of Acts 1:8 Technology. Blakeny also functions as a youth minister at Grandview Baptist Church. Commenting on the app, TrueNorth’s Pastor Brent Williams shared “Our app enhances our ministry by making the gospel accessible to a culture entrenched in technology. We are a culture on the move. The app allows those inside the church and those not yet a part of the church to stay connected to the weekly teaching and updates of True North Church.” Initially, I was surprised that a smaller, fairly new church like TrueNorth Church had deployed this amazing technology, when most churches, especially large ones, don’t deploy it, citing cost, and concerns this technology is not here to stay. Now I fully understand the wisdom of Williams’ statements.

ACF Church in Eagle River was also an early adopter. The Rev. Brian Cook noted the app’s popularity with ACF military members. “We have a high military population at our church. The app is one of the key ways deployed church members follow ACF Church,” says Cook. “Our app is intended to give people ‘one touch’ access to life at ACF Church.” he added, “one of many ways we use technology to help members engage in our community.”

Anchorage City Church released their app close to two years ago. Melissa Parkhouse, who oversees their app and church website development, was most pragmatic about why City Church deploys an app. “A 2013 study stated that 74 percent of cellphone users in the USA use smartphones, and predicted 2014 would see that number rise to 80 percent. One would be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t have a cellphone these days, so a smartphone app is a simple way for us to connect with people on a platform they are already using,” she said. (http://wallstcheatsheet.com/stocks/study-u-s-smartphone-penetration-is-a…)

Although I approached all 10 Alaska churches offering apps for more information, only the four mentioned above responded to my request. Other churches with apps include Cornerstone Church, Apostolics of Fairbanks, Juneau Apostolic Church, Soldotna Bible Chapel, Abbott Loop Community Church, and Church on the Rock – Homer. Too often churches think sharing this information is hush-hush or highly confidential requiring pastoral or trustee approval before releasing any details. The spread of the Christian gospel is a joyful job, one we all should do without fear of anyone appropriating “proprietary information.” Then too, several churches feel it’s a “prideful thing” to reflect on how well apps help churches grow. Information sharing is a fact of life in science, and should be with churches too.

Church app success stories

Those churches responding to my request for information indicated numerous app success stories.

City Church mentioned that members missing sermons can stay current with them and replay them. They also are excited about their Bible reading plans, recommending them to members. TrueNorth Church noted a story of healing and restoration in a divorced couple through the husband’s listening to sermons via TrueNorth’s app, and of their eventual reconciliation. ChangePoint shared the story of a member who couldn’t recently attend due to recovery from surgery, who watched each missed sermon. Yes, you read that right. She watched. Changepoint’s app gives you the option to listen or watch. Amazing. ACF Church mentioned people outside Alaska also connect with their church and messages finding they meet their needs.

Churches with apps often find their congregation size can double, virtually, through app usage. I’m excited about churches who have adopted this exciting technology. It’s one more example of how churches can grow by offering hand-held connections to their ministry.

True North: A New Anchorage Church

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.

What Greeting?
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]

Musically Speaking
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]

The Message
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]