Hillside Baptist: A Problematic Visit

Visited six months ago, Hillside Baptist might not be the best choice for a first time visitor. Their website didn’t list service times without clicking around, and poor signage made me miss the church the first time.

The music was uneven, appearing unfamiliar to the trio of ladies leading it from the podium. The meet n’ greet time was noisy and awkwardly uncomfortable. An unbelievable number of crosses throughout the church, unusual for a Baptist church, coupled with extremely feminizing touches such as hearts, candles, and flowers might be a bit too much for some visitors. Finally, the lengthy sermon was via PowerPoint accompanied by a “fill-in the blanks sheet”.

How Do I Find Thee?
First of all, I do not visit churches not having websites. A poorly constructed website is almost as bad. Viewing Hillside Baptist’s website, I could not find service times posted. Finally I clicked Calendar and found the service times. Most potential visitors are usually looking for only one thing on a church website, the service times. An early mark of a visitor-unfriendly church is hiding the service times behind mysterious jargon known only to members or their volunteer webmaster. ALWAYS PUT THEM ON THE MAIN WEBPAGE IN PLAIN SIGHT! Though this was March, December material was still on the website. Driving up O’Malley on March 14, I went sailing past the church entrance because their sign is small and hard to see from the road. The service times are unreadable from O’Malley. Turning around at the next intersection, I went back, turning in to a driveway not well plowed and quite narrow.[img_assist|nid=153449|title=Hillside Baptist’s Tiny Sign, Far From O’Malley|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=467]

Greeting and Starting
I was nicely greeted and handed a bulletin by a gentleman. Taking a seat in the rear of the fairly small auditorium, I tried to be inconspicuous, which is hard to do with an audience of 40 adults and numerous children.

The music started and we were told to “All stand and sing!”. Personally, I like to be invited to stand and join the group in singing. I feel commands are a bit presumptive. A trio of women were leading the music, accompanied by a guitar and piano. The music was familiar but the women’s eyes were glued to their music as if they didn’t know the songs. After five songs there was a “meet n’ greet”. I’m not a big fan of this time because in most churches, it’s a time that members yak long and noisily with each other, and ignore the visitors in their midst. I found this time to be overly long, noisy, and personally awkward. Sitting down the children’s story was presented. They were asked “What is evil?”, an unusual start for a children’s story.

Puzzling Interior
The interior was an interesting mix of stylized, black iron crosses, of which I counted seven. Don’t recall seeing more than one cross in a Baptist church previously. A considerable number of feminine touches were evident. Two candelabras, each with seven candles, two flowery hearts, and artificial flowers galore decorated the church. There must be a story behind all of this feminine-centric finery. I believe many visitors would find this display out of character with what they were looking for in a church.[img_assist|nid=153448|title=Pastor Loeffler Preaching|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=110]

Strong Sermon
Pastor Garry Loeffler’s topic was “The Problem of Evil”. Utilizing PowerPoint slide and “fill in the blank” sheets, he escorted those assembled through the various aspects of evil via key words and proof texts. Defining evil as “the absence of good”, he also took Rabbi Harold Kushner to task a number of times. A lengthy sermon, and due to it’s construction, it was not extemporaneous. I would have preferred him merely talking plainly from scripture with the small crowd. His sermon ended with a standard Baptist altar call question, “If you were to die right now, would you go to be with Jesus? Are you sure?”

I was uncomfortable at Hillside Baptist. It didn’t feel like a particularly warm church. Finding them was not easy, and navigating their website was a pain. The music lacked joy, and the preaching did not engage me. I might have caught them on an “off day”. Maybe another visit will reveal a different experience. The truth is that most visitors decide in the first 5-7 minutes whether they will return.

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