Ever received one of Northern Lights Baptist Church’s pamphlets? (See below) Strongly toned, it nonetheless piqued my interest since receiving them at home in West Anchorage via recruiting members, and during teaching stints at East High.
Thus I visited this church, October 10, to see what was waiting for typical visitors behind the pamphlets and the hyperbole in their Google listing, “The Best Church Ever!”.[img_assist|nid=153737|title=Northern Lights Baptist Church Pamphlet – Front/Back|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=267]
I discovered this Fairview-sited church does not appear to live up to expectations they set. I wasn’t greeted; the church was extremely noisy and started late. They had the PA cranked up to 11 leaving my ears ringing by the time I left. Their preacher is the shouting kind. He also conducted a lengthy Altar Call with more verses of Just as I Am sung than are in the hymnal. Looking for a new church, and have fragile nerves? It’s possible Northern Lights Baptist might not be a good choice for you.[img_assist|nid=153738|title=Northern Lights Baptist Church Pamphlet – Inside|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=266]
Many People Around the Entrance – Not Welcoming
Arriving just prior to the 11 a.m. service, I entered via Northern Lights Baptist Church’s main doorway which was thronged by many, inside and out. Obviously church members, not one individual said a word to me as I walked in. No bulletin was given me as I made my way to a seat. Just before the service started, Pastor Gregg Clark did come down the aisle, shook my hand, introduced himself and greeted me. But, it’s not the duty of the pastor to be the only one to greet newcomers. A woman standing in the pew in front of me, during the meet n’ greet, also did greet me. Typically, a visitor makes his/her mind up about revisiting during the first 5-8 minutes of a new church experience.
Noisy, Noisy, Noisy
This proved to be one of the noisiest churches I’ve visited in Anchorage. Non-reverential loud talking and laughing, before the service started, marred my visit. All the while a piano and organ were being played, loudly. Seemingly, the audience was trying to outdo the music. This scene conjured up visions of a ‘shouting Baptist’ or revival service atmosphere in the Southern U.S. with which I’m intimately familiar. Starting late, for no apparent reason, the service began with the choir entering 6 or 7 minutes past 11.
The song service began with the director commanding “Let’s Stand”. Too many churches don’t invite attendees to stand; they choose to command instead. As a visitor I bristle at being told to stand, or sit. I, like many others, respond to invitations. It’s more people-friendly to hear a warm invitation to stand to “join us in singing praises to our God and King” than just “Stand!”, or “Let’s Stand”. The first song, the old hymn “Blessed Assurance” was sung so fast, I was out of breath quickly, and I have great lungs. The song leader’s special music, a traditional Southern tune, was also sung very fast. In fact, their numerous hymns all tended to be sung very up-tempo.
The pastor alluded to their “Fall Program”, a code phrase for inviting and bringing visitors to church. Teams are awarded points for bringing them and the point losers have to treat the winner in some tangible way. My visit might have been more pleasant if I hadn’t been subjected to hearing about their church rivalries in bringing visitors. The pastor said he wouldn’t embarrass any visitor by revealing them but then proceeded to ask visitors to stand to receive a special loaf of bread baked by a member the night before. It’s visitor-unfriendly to ask them to identify themselves. Most visitors do not appreciate such behavior. It lessens their likelihood of returning. If you are uncomfortable with being singled out, it’s my opinion this may not be the best church for you.
Double Tithe on PFDs
The pastor called on members to remember to pay a double tithe on their PFDs to increase the church treasury, something I’ve not heard of churches doing in Alaska. I strongly believe in religious giving. Most church members, however, do not understand the real concept and authenticity or lack thereof for tithing, and are often easily manipulated to give more than they can bear, i.e. double tithe.
Meet n’ Greet
Northern Lights Baptist had an awkwardly long meet n’ greet session. I was greeted by one person, but the members had a field day greeting each other. It’s funny how I can slip in the door without a greeting, and then slip through a meet n’ greet session with minimal greeting. It was loud, long and noisy.[img_assist|nid=153739|title=Pastor Gregg Clark Preaching|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=127]
The sermon began with an anecdote by the pastor about his recent bear hunting trip and experiences which explained his use/choice of Psalm 40 as his key text. Well, it’s Alaska but…I couldn’t make the connection.
The sermon centered on a standard Baptist theme of being saved and salvation. Those words were drilled into our heads relentlessly. As mentioned, this pastor is fairly young and quite loud, moving all over the platform to make his points. He asked for the PA to be turned down several times, but then seemed to compensate and preach louder when it was turned down.
This church maintains a file of sermons on their website for online listening or download. The latest sermon available at this posting is 9/19/2010. You can listen to Pastor Gregg’s preaching style and hear the 10/10/2010 when it’s posted. 3 weeks in arrears is a bit late for posting sermons in Anchorage. Click here to go to NLBC’s sermon page.
This all culminated in an Altar Call when he said, “Do you have that salvation today? If you died right now, could you honestly say your soul was saved?” He then asked people to put their heads down, close their eyes, with no one looking around, promising he wouldn’t call anyone out, and asked the people for decisions. “Don’t leave today without knowing”, he said. He then asked people to raise their hands, and put them right back down quickly, indicating their decision, and his view of it. The choir started singing “Just as I Am”. There are 6 verses to this hymn but they must have sung each 3 times. Respondents to the Altar Call were announced and Pastor Gregg immediately held a baptism for one of them, adding several boy’s parents were being contacted for permission for their baptism too.
All of this made for one long service, 1 ½ hours, much longer than most churches. I was worn out after leaving this service. Every church has its own styles, history, and traditions. I feel Northern Lights Baptist is not friendly to visitors and appears to use Altar Call pressure to gain converts. Sharing a bit more about the love of God, vs. Alter Call decision pressure, would have gone far with me.
Their little tract may land them in a church-state scuffle unless their younger members stop handing them out in the schools, and especially, leaving/strewing them in the classrooms, as I’ve witnessed. Can you imagine the outcry if an Islamic, Jewish or Scientology group were doing the same thing?
I visit churches to experience what potential visitors might see. All religions and their congregations present themselves differently. Many churches present public and private faces according to their prospective audiences. It’s not my intent to pass on the relative merits of any religion or church, and certainly not with Northern Lights Baptist. My focal point in these reviews is to describe what a visitor will likely experience. I was extremely surprised to see this churches’ heading in their Google search listing. “Best Church Ever!”