Walking from the parking lot into New Grace Christian on October 17, a mid-Hillside church, I became concerned about the potential for a poor visit after noticing their unkempt shrubbery/landscaping. In my experience, the treatment one receives inside a church often mirrors how well they maintain signage and the grounds. However, I was treated well and enjoyed my first visit to this contemporary church.
The music, contemporary Christian, was respectfully and reverently sung, at much slower tempos than in other similar churches in town. The attendees were an across-the-board mix of young adults, younger families, and middle aged folks. I was probably the oldest person in attendance. Warmly greeted, I felt accepted and at home. A good sermon was given and there were no offering or altar call pressures. I can’t believe any visitor wouldn’t want to come back for a second helping of New Grace’s hospitality.[img_assist|nid=154077|title=New Grace Christian Praise Group|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=78]
Welcome Was First-Rate
Their youngish male greeter was on his game coming out to check on incoming worshipers. Kindly holding the door open for them, he personally welcomed each while handing them bulletins. This is a bit unusual. I’m always amazed at the number of greeters who watch you approach and refuse to even help with the door. They probably could have used a second greeter on the left side of the entrance, but this man held his own.
Going into the sanctuary the odors were overpowering at first. I couldn’t determine if it was coffee odor or if they used some type of air freshener, but it seemed spicy to me. I got used to it, but it wasn’t pleasing at first. Pleasant odors in church actually make people feel at home, however too much pleasant odor can be cloying and offputting.
Several people stopped by, casually greeting me at my seat which was unusual and nice. I did not have that “slip in – slip out without a greeting feeling”. Best of all, I wasn’t given the 3rd degree interrogation by any of them. Pre-service, there was quite a bit of loud talking and laughing. It seemed to detract from the reverence I connect with churches.
It Starts With Music
The musical group gathered off to the side of the main seating, and at first I thought they might ask God’s blessing on their musical contribution as I witnessed so powerfully at Cornerstone, but they disappeared behind stage. Don’t know if they asked God’s blessing at all.
The service started 4-5 minutes late. I’m a stickler for starting on time as are others. But it did start with a difference. Those present were actually INVITED TO STAND, a major departure from many churches where worshipers are curtly told to stand or expected to stand when the first musical chord sounds. This group, a blend of about 11 high-school/college age to fifty’ish was great! They smiled, were not wooden, cared about the music, and brought the worshipers along with them. Five or six songs were played or sung before the rest of the service got underway. One of the key members or possibly their leader played great flute and sax throughout the entire of the service.
My only complaint with the music was with the way the guitar was played during various aspects of the service such as the prayer and scripture reading. Unfortunately it was played such a high volume that it had the effect of cancelling out hearing the scripture and prayer. It sounded as though they were competing with each other.
Offering Taken Without Comment or Pressure
I was surprised they started taking up the offering without comment. Personally I like a bit of introduction as a visitor to the various aspects of the service. However, they were visitor-friendly by putting a notice in the bulletin, “To Our Guests: Please do not feel obligated to participate in the offering. The offering is intended for the regular attendees who consider New Grace Christian Church their church home.” It is so rare that churches extend such a courteous notation to guests that it saddens me. To guests it seems it’s “all about the money”. I hate to mention this because many pastors are touchy about the money issue.[img_assist|nid=154078|title=Special Music|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=226]
Beautiful Special Music
So few churches offer special music these days. They rely totally upon the praise group when so many members have highly cultivated musical talents. But, this day, a woman praise team member came forward, offered her testimony, then sang the most beautiful song. Don’t know who she was as the bulletin didn’t list service particulars or even the order of service, which I recommend they do, if only for guests.
It turns out Brian Chronister, the regular pastor was quite ill that day so his assistant, Michael Buckland, was pressed into service. I thought he did quite well, speaking on Genesis 40, the Joseph in Egypt story. His speaking was marred early on by an aluminum foil hat given him by the musical group who also wore them for a number prior to the sermon. He’d folded and placed it on the podium but was touching it constantly producing interference with his microphone for the first 10 minutes of his talk. I was getting ready to go up and release him from this disruptive demon until the pastor’s wife figured it out and put an end to the problem. Doesn’t take much for little things to ruin a service. Buckland is a fairly articulate extemporaneous speaker with good thoughts. There were a couple of times his jumps in logic left me in the dust but it may have been the odors messing with my mind.
Communion that Worked
They held communion this day but took the time to inform attendees of the manner with which it would be partaken. A statement of whom might partake was also made. So many churches leave visitors in the dark regarding the partaking of communion. I was glad they dealt appropriately with it.
Although there were a few annoyances, on the whole I enjoyed this service and sincerely feel it would be a comfortable church for a first-time visitor to attend. I know I’ll revisit this church. Hopefully they’ll work on the landscaping before then. My best to this growing congregation.