Monthly Archives: November 2008

Shocking Beliefs of the Unchurched

As we enter this Advent season, I feel it important to point out that churches have an enormous opportunity to reach out to the unchurched during this time. Findings by George Barna and his Barna Group, a Christian research organization, released two years ago (Unchurched), reveal shocking data about unchurched adults. Barna defines unchurched as “…adults (18 or older) who has not attended a Christian church service within the past six months, not including a holiday service (such as Easter or Christmas) or a special event at a church (such as a wedding or funeral).”

Barna claims the unchurched swelled from 39 million in 1991 to 75 million in 2004, a disturbing 92% increase. Adding the under 18 to this number swells the total to over 100 million. Even more unsettling is that 62% of the unchurched claim to be Christian.

The unchurched hold beliefs that surprise and shock this blogger. Among these beliefs Barna uncovered the following:
• “64% of the unchurched say that Satan is not a living being but is a symbol of evil. (2006)
• 63% of unchurched adults state that a good person can earn his or her way into Heaven. (2006)
• Slightly less than half (48%) of the unchurched define God as the perfect, all-powerful, all-knowing Creator of the universe who continues to rule His creation today. (2006)
• 51% of the unchurched assert that when Jesus Christ lived on earth, He committed sins. (2006)
• 27% of the unchurched firmly believe that the Bible is totally accurate in all that it teaches. (2006”

To put the unchurched in perspective, Barna notes if the unchurched in the U.S. were a nation it would be the 12th most populated nation on earth. There are many reasons for this but in a Barna Update released last year, he feels some are contained in a recent book released by “Tyndale House Publishers, entitled Jim and Casper Go to Church. That book describes the experience of a former pastor and an avowed atheist who together visited a dozen significant churches across the nation. Jim Henderson, who has been a pastor of small and large churches, interviewed the atheist (Matt Casper) during and after each church service they attended to gain insights into what it’s like for an outsider to attend such churches. Among the congregations visited were well-known ministries such as Willow Creek (pastored by Bill Hybels), Saddleback (led by Rick Warren), Lakewood (featuring Joel Osteen), and The Potter’s House (home of T.D. Jakes).”

“Many of the insights drawn from the experiences of “Jim and Casper” parallel the findings of Barna Group studies among the unchurched. Some of the critical discoveries were the relative indifference of most churched Christians to unchurched people; the overt emphasis upon a personal rather than communal faith journey; the tendency of congregations to perform rituals and exercise talents rather than invite and experience the presence of God; the absence of a compelling call to action given to those who attend; and the failure to listen to dissident voices and spiritual guidance to dig deeper in one’s faith.”

As a church visitor in the Anchorage area, I personally witness all of the above (italics emphasis). Although not in every church, I experience it on a regular basis. There is no better time than Christmas to emphasize the love of God, the birth of Jesus, and His ministry of caring for the unchurched and downtrodden. We’ve just experienced Black Friday with many desperately trying to prepare for celebrating Christmas by spending our eyeballs out for each other. This might be a great time to reconnect with the real reason for Christmas and to harmonize this with the teachings of scripture, making this a great time for churches to realize their true mission.

Great Land Christian Church – What a Great Experience!

[img_assist|nid=134747|title=Great Land Christian Church Meets Here|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=151]
A quiet street in Midtown hides a strong and vibrant church full of Christian vitality and enthusiasm. Great Land Christian Church fosters a younger congregation which worships in a conservative setting, but their strong faith and quest for community bursts up like water from a mountain spring. Their singing is a joy to experience. Led by an enthusiastic, clean looking and in-tune praise group, every attendee joins in the meaningful mix of hymns, recent gospel songs, and some folk music, all without instruments. Totally a cappella! Not singing or holding a songbook due to a sinus infection, I was offered one four or five times during the singing, a distinct departure from any Anchorage church I’ve visited. The preaching, led by Pastor Ray Nadon, straight from the Word of God, was on a topic not usually heard in church: Revelation 2-4. Unlike many pastors, I felt Pastor Ray’s clear and dynamic extemporaneous preaching style connected clearly with this group. The church was full, but it felt like a one-to-one conversation. After communion the lead singers quickly came up and closed the service in song. Several members introduced themselves after the service. More happiness on the faces of the singers and greeters who are visitor-aware would have capped the day delightfully!

Not My First Visit
I was invited to visit Great Land Christian Church by a young UAA coed on a flight from Seattle to Anchorage, some years ago. They were still meeting at the UAA Fine Arts building. I was put off on my initial visit by what I recall as the preacher bragging about being out duck hunting earlier that morning. The members were enthusiastic and engaging, but I didn’t return for another dose.

In my quest for churches to visit in Anchorage, I recalled Great Land and on November 9, decided to give it another try. They worship in the Korean SDA Church on quiet 34th St between C and Arctic. There was no other sign out front but the address was right and there were lots of cars in the parking lot.

Greeting Weak
A greeter just inside the front door said good morning. I was a bit confused where the service would be but sort of followed a few people headed toward some singing. A person at the sanctuary door gave me a bulletin, really a single sheet, more of a newsletter and calendar.

Awesome Singing Inside
Five appropriately attired singers were arrayed across the platform leading the singing in harmony, and a cappella! What a wonderful sound! Virtually everyone in the audience was singing along, except me due to my voice being out of commission from sinus. What an experience to actually hear the words and not be drowned out by a loud rock band. And wonderful too, to see clean cut and nicely dressed folks instead of the down-dressed and sometimes disheveled look of many Christian musicians. The singers would change places on stage with others from the audience as the songs changed. And the rafters literally rang with their praise music. A wonderful blend of Christian music from across the spectrum was sung, most of it familiar to me. I was puzzled the singers were not reflecting the beautiful lyrics with smiling faces, but for the most part, they had pleasant but unsmiling faces. Four or more people offered me a songbook to sing from, which despite my vocal challenges, was an absolute first in all of my Anchorage church visits. Sadly, I’ve not witnessed this behavior in any other Anchorage church visits.

A Younger Attendee
For the most part, a younger crowd attends this church. I would call it college to middle aged in composition. However, the service and message is certainly appropriate for any age. But from the outside, it appears to be a high energy group that is submitting themselves to the transforming love of God.

The Meet n’ Greet segment was somewhat the same as other churches. I did get to meet Pastor Ray during this time. It’s no secret I don’t like this segment because it’s so staged.

[img_assist|nid=134748|title=Pastor Ray Nadon Preaching from the Word|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=229]
Inspired Preaching
The sermon was delivered by Pastor Ray Nadon, a high energy preacher. He has a gift to take scripture and make it plain, diligently making connections for its application. Revelation 2-4, his focus for the day, is not for the faint of heart. Pastor Ray pointed out we need to read Revelation with the right glasses. No long-winded emotional heart-tugging stories here. And it wasn’t a 3-point sermon using fill in the blanks slides. Nope. No slides here. Just good bible-based teaching with lots of great audience participation and rustling bible pages, again, uncommon in many of the churches I’ve visited. And to this bible student, it seemed Pastor Ray had the right glasses on.

The service ended with communion but without a word on how communion was taken in this church. I discovered the bread was consumed immediately upon receiving it, and the wine also, replacing the wine glass in the serving tray immediately. Some Protestant churches have different ways on serving and partaking of communion. Nonetheless it was a beautiful ending to a great sermon. Finally, the singers came up and an energetic song ended the service. If the greeters were as practiced as the singers, and the singers loosened up and smiled more, this church could be a powerful force to deal with in the community. Afterwards I had friendly conversations with several of the church members and it was refreshing to have this experience. They offer many additional options for bible study, women’s classes, finance, singles, and relationships. Ray’s wife Stephany Nadon also pastors leading out in women’s ministry. My best to this unusual church as they continue to grow.

Crosspoint: Room for Improvement

[img_assist|nid=134542|title=Crosspoint Sign on the Mall Wall|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=96]Summary
Attending Crosspoint Community Church on a recommendation, I came expecting warm greetings, friendly people, and an energetic service. Unfortunately I left somewhat disappointed on most counts. Except for a brief chat with the pastor, no one spoke to me or even acknowledged my presence. The worship team sounded fine, but there was no joy on their faces. Their meaningful song lyrics seemed to strike no chord of happiness in their hearts. The sermon, professionally and energetically delivered, was difficult for me to follow. Maybe it was me, or the Associate Pastor was tied too closely to his notes. The pluses were lots of coffee, and choice of table seating, or comfortable chairs. Whatever happened to preaching direct from the Bible with lots of audience interaction, people willing and wanting to sing, the warmth and fellowship of a Christian group, and no Powerpoint slides?

Recommended I Came
Last year I first heard of Crosspoint Community Church when I discovered Christian musician Margaret Becker was doing a concert there. Ultimately unable to attend the concert, I had not thought about them until a colleague mentioned she was a member and recommended I visit. November 2 was the date I visted. Located in the mall just East of Fred Meyer on W. Dimond, the church is not hard to find.

Meager Greeting
Upon entering I was given a good morning and a bulletin. There was lots of coffee and I got a cup. Singled out by Pastor Dave Kuiper, he welcomed me and we talked for a bit to satisfy his curiosity about why I was there. I told him I was visiting churches. He pointed out the variety of seating choices from large round banquet tables, to chair seating.
[img_assist|nid=134543|title=Crosspoint Praise Group|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=263]
Joyless Music
The music from the 7 person band started and there was a terrible connection in the sound system somewhere – lots of hum. It was quite irritating and on a return trip to the coffee, I mentioned to Pastor Kuiper I might have to leave because of it. The band was playing music, to me, that was unfamiliar and whose words were projected on a screen. The group looked extremely somber and joyless, despite pretty good lyrics such as “You lift me up…You are my strength”. There was no smiling and the words seemed to have little impact on them. I could sense the corresponding response in the audience. The focus this Sunday was World Hunger, and one of the musical group members spoke about hunger, introducing a video. Both were good.

Digging Into the Word
Associate Pastor David Van Berkel was preaching that day. Following the video he appropriately said we would now “feast on God’s word.” Using Micah 6 as his key text he read most, if not all of the chapter. A bright and energetic speaker he, for the most part, read or referred heavily to notes or a prepared text for most of his sermon. One statement he made did catch my attention in a slightly irritating way. He noted one of his theology professors used to say “Jesus died on the cross so that we don’t have to.” The service ended by directing members to Micah Challenge USA’s two-fold campaign to (1) deepen Christian partnerships with impoverished and marginalized communities and (2) advocate for the poor by holding our leaders accountable to the promise to halve global poverty by 2015. As I left, I was handed, without a word, some Micah Challenge literature.

In Conclusion
This was my first visit to a “shopping mall” church. Somewhat charismatic, Crosspoint just didn’t have a church feel. Maybe it’s their location, or maybe I caught them on a bad day. I think they are trying to be a lot of things to a lot of people. From a perusal of their website they have many small group and community service offerings plus abundant opportunities for serving within the church. I wish this church well and strongly urge them to be much more outgoing than I saw.

A Church Visit Reader Shares Their “Looking for A Church” Story

Business as usual in many Anchorage churches is clearly not meeting the needs of some earnest seekers after truth. Sometimes clergy and church members see these church visit blog posts as unwarranted attacks upon their churches. My visit goals are clearly stated in the criteria on this blog. Recently I received an e-mail from a seeker who contacted me on behalf of their family. This person expressed concerns about “loud worship bands” and the use of music to stimulate the emotions to given ends. The use of “onstage lighting” and expensive “visual aids” is also mentioned, and the reader questions whether we really need all of this to “give God a moment of our time”. The reader wondered why they don’t hear the word “SIN” used without all the “hellfire and damnation” talk usually accompanying it. “Fuzzy Grace”, I call it “cheap grace”, is also mentioned as a concern. There’s more, but I think you get the message. Read more in the extract below. I’d love to hear what the Church Visit reader community has to share with someone looking for a church unburdened by the experiental trappings described.

Extract of Reader “X’s” Letter
I have been reading some of the articles about your church visits. I had been going to one of Anchorage’s “mega churches” before moving down to the Lower 48. Now that I am back, the church I started with has gone through some major changes etc… and I find it just isn’t what I need in a church anymore. Firstly, I know more now thanks to wonderful resources of Biblical info like James McDonald, David Jeremiah, Michael Youssef, Jack & Rexella Van Impe and a wonderful rancher, self-professed “layman” named Les Feldick from Oklahoma—his TV program that I was able to see in the Lower 48 called “Through the Bible with Les Feldick” has really opened up the Bible for me and help me to understand who God is in a way that my church never has. I guess in the beginning it was alright because I had no background in church or God’s Word or anything so I didn’t notice the little discrepancies or taking the Bible verses out of context etc….

But now I find myself disinterested in the loud worship band which just seems there for mere entertainment purposes, but will play a slow, emotionally moving song when the money bags are handed around to gather the tithe. Is this the new definition of “worship”? I almost expect to look up at the stage one day and see an “applause” sign blinking frantically!!

Are we as Christians that needy and ignorant that we need all these “bells and whistles” in order to give God a moment of our time, before we get back into our cars in the parking lot and back on our cell phones and text message people while we drive away from “God’s House” because after all we’re busy, important people? It almost seems more of a enabling manipulation, like some New Age momentum has creeped into what used to be sound doctrine.

I myself can’t seem to find a happy medium when it comes to my search for a church. I want a church that isn’t afraid to utter that 3-letter word (SIN) yet I don’t want to be yelled at constantly about hellfire and damnation. How can we be convicted to change with God’s help when all that’s out there is the warm and fuzzy message of God’s grace???? I think it needs to be a more balanced message. I believe Jesus is the one true way to God and that salvation is a gift from God when we believe the Gospel, and ask Jesus into our hearts, but I don’t believe the common thought that all of us are meant to be missionaries. If there were never followers who were working behind the scenes—whether it be at church or at home being the best they can be—what kind of families would we have? And if we can’t have strong families and people in our churches, how could we possibly help anyone when the situation presented itself? All it has created is a bunch of needy people who end up feeling more empty upon leaving church than when they arrived—unless of course they were able to take their mega coffees with them into the service as they slowly stroll up the aisle 15 minutes late into the service—then I guess they became physically full, but spiritually void. Don’t get me wrong—I enjoy being in comfy clothes as I try to draw closer to God—-I just feel that somewhere we lost all respect for the Almighty, and replaced it with “feel-good” theology. I would much rather hear a sermon that convicts me or makes me, then go somewhere to pat myself on the back for doing my Christian duty by showing up for church, shaking a few hands and singing a few songs.

It honestly feels more like a Woodstock concert these days then a church service. Last week I thought I would have to leave early because the band has gotten so loud! At one point I wanted to weep over the fact that I couldn’t understand why I was attending this church anymore, and how much it had changed. It seems to have died from the inside out…eroding more every Sunday.
It reminded me of when I was younger and would shop for Christmas presents at the malls and how overwhelming it could be with the crowds and the noise and hustle and bustle, and how after awhile I would seek out that one corner of solace—a lone person playing either an acoustic guitar or a piano and gently playing a soft song like “Silent night” amid all this confusion and chaos—the true meaning of Christmas was there–in that quiet song bringing me back to “the heart of worship”. All the other stuff was just “stuff”, but this soothing melody was able to bring me a connection with my Saviour…time seemed to stand still while the tune brought me to the greater reality that one can find God in the most unlikely places.

My question to you is, how do we hear His still small voice amidst this so-called “Progressive Christianity?” I don’t need to be entertained by a loud band—if I want that I’ll pay to see a rock concert. I don’t need tests and gimmicks to discern my “gifts” and how to use them. I just need God. The funny thing is, I can’t seem to find Him in church…

One of my favorite books is by Corrie Ten Boom called Tramp for the Lord and after I read certain parts of it I can’t help but wonder about people in foreign lands who meet secretly by candlelight—risking life and their family’s lives to get together to share God’s forbidden Word with each other. All that is needed is a Bible, a desire to learn about God, and people gathered together with an uncompromising courage. Their reward is fellowship, community and learning and applying deep spiritual truths by studying ALL of God’s Word—not just the “feel-good” parts…..What would this place be like if we all could remember how awesome our God is, and be able to rejoice in it together, and not in some rehearsed counterfeit way?

I guess my question to you is if you ever find a church that still preaches about Jesus being the only way and convicts us of our sin and doesn’t need fancy music or graphics to do it, please let me know. I know there aren’t any perfect churches out there. After all, this isn’t heaven. But I would still like to know if there are any churches out there preaching the truth in season and out of season—when it’s popular to do so, or not! It’s not about the size of the church either—a small or large congregation can care about each other very affectively. In my searching, all I seem to come across is compromising and “Pastor’s visions for bigger building structures”—fully financed by the congregation of course—-oh, don’t get me started!!!

This reader has commented upon some of the same church conditions I also find in my Anchorage church visits. I receive other similar communications and web comments from time to time, and while not everyone seeks what “Reader X” is looking for, many are! It also may be appropriate to consider whether current church worship forms are meant to appeal to man’s tastes and desires or whether God is the supreme object of our worship motives and practices. Please share your thoughts on this reader’s quest for their desired worship experience.