Monthly Archives: December 2010

10 Things I’d Like to See Anchorage Churches Address in 2011

Here’s my annual wish list for area churches. I can already hear my “morbidly” local Mormon critic trumpeting “You’d never find any of these problems in a Mormon Church”. Or the critic who complains “what do any of these things have to do with real church?”

The relentless march toward religious “nothingless” continues. If local Alaska churches want to maintain the status quo and continue at the bottom of national church membership and attendance patterns, then do nothing. Or, you could examine your current practices to see if improvements could be made to the various ways you present your church to the public.

1. Greetings & Hospitality
Churches in Anchorage & the Mat-Su, with a few notable exceptions, continue to treat their guests (visitors) poorly. Tied to this, if greeters do recognize guests, they often do so intrusively with distancing questions such as:

-Is this your first visit to our church?
-What church do you normally attend?
-What’s your name?
-How long have you been in the area?

Instead, guests should be greeted with a smile and a handshake, and a warm “Welcome, we’re glad you are joining us in worship today. My name is ____________. If you have any questions, please ask me, and I’ll do my best to help you.”

Want to see great greeters in action? Try Cornerstone Church or Trinity Presbyterian any Sunday.

2. Use the Term Guests Instead of Visitors
Do you use the term visitor when someone comes to your home? Obviously not! They are your guest and you treat them kindly. Why would we use such distancing language as “visitor” when they are really your guest?

3. Invite Guests to Lunch
Churches and/or their members fail to invite guests to lunch, even when there is a fellowship luncheon. They assume a brief mention of this is sufficient. Many churches demonstrate this is an “insider function” by not pointedly inviting guests to join them as they leave the church. Christ’s parable of the sheep and the goats make it clear where these “insiders” will be going. In ten years of visiting Alaska churches, I’ve been genuinely invited to lunch only once or twice.

4. Fix Your Websites
Many area churches have websites that are an absolute disgrace. They’re adorned with pictures of the church, the pastor, or Alaska mountains, lakes, and streams. Few church websites depict members in action, doing what motivated Christians do. Sadder, many church web websites do not contain, on their main page, worship times and church addresses, the two main reasons people visit them. Many churches spend more on cookies, donuts, and coffee than they do on ensuring their websites are presentable, up-to-date, and worthy of being published. Too many churches rely on volunteer labor to maintain one of their most important aspects.

5. Provide Decent Coffee
Alaska is known for great coffee. Many roasters here produce excellent coffee. People know this, use their products, and expect to have decent coffee served at church. Too many churches serve inferior, weak coffee, made from canned product. People are not stupid. When they’re served a watered down product, they can easily make the bridge that your brand of church is also watered down. It costs little extra to serve the best. Let guests know your church does the best because your love impels you. Coffee is a great social bridge, that helps insure great conversations, sometimes building lasting friendships. Why stint? And advertise what you are serving for coffee. It will build relationships with the roaster, and the guest or your member.

6. Misuse of Contemporary Christian Music
Too many churches have leapt to Contemporary Christian Music praise format to arrest declining attendance and membership. Often this will only hasten the demise of your church. I recently attended a church that was attempting this transition. The bulk of the members in attendance on that Sunday were mature with grey or white hair. These members seemed unenthused with the process, partly because the music was poorly presented, and partly because of the lack of theological import. A well-known theologian, David Wells, recently reviewed over 600 Contemporary Christian musical pieces against a similar amount in an average church hymnal. Approximately 60% of the CCM songs contained not a single theological message, while it was difficult to find a song in the hymnal that did not contain multiple theological messages.

7. Stop Using Music as a Draw
The theory behind the use of much of today’s Contemporary Christian music is that it draws the seeker. Unfortunately, many Christianity lite lyrics and contemporary musical idioms, such as rock styles, cheapen the gospel message. The gospel is about Christ’s mission to reconcile man to God, not to bring God down to our level. Anyone who has a clear idea of the holiness of God knows this was the true message of the atonement. Many churches have lengthy, 30-45 min, portions of their service devoted to narcissistic, “me” oriented, music. I’m not condemning all Contemporary Christian music here, just the misuse of music. Music should be used, whatever your form, as part of true worship to God.

8. Give Us Bulletins that Work
Too many church bulletins waste time and paper. Many are extremely unhelpful to guests. Often there is no order of service listed and they are crammed with inserts of different sizes, colors, and shapes. The bulletin should be used to convey a sense of your service distinctives to guest and member alike. Personally I love Trinity Presbyterian’s bulletin. It is a large format tri-fold on a distinctive grey paper. A lengthy section of scripture is always on the front page. This scripture is read and referred to during their pastoral message. Inside, there is one page with a clearly articulated order of service. The remaining pages are devoted to a calendar for the current week at Trinity, announcements, and church business, and the back page is for notes.

9. Make Your Signs Useful
Many Anchorage church signs fail to convey anything other than the name of the church. If service times are posted, usually they’re in such a small type as to be unreadable from the road when passing at the posted speed. The name of the pastor is totally unnecessary, unless it’s in his contract and for his gratification. In addition to the name of your church, the sign should only contain your website address in type able to be read at the posted speed limit. The sign should be in good repair, well lit, and with current technology. If it’s a readerboard sign, dispense with the cutesy messages such as: “It’s a new year, why don’t you do something new: go to church.” What potentially new parishioner wants to attend a church that humiliates those who read that sign? Instead, use that space to share website address and worship times.

10. Use Welcome Gifts
A few churches use welcome gifts for guests to great advantage. First United Methodist gives a loaf of bread, Cornerstone and Trinity give a chocolate bar and a spiritual book, and a few give coffee cards. Of course information about your church, usually a trifold brochure, is also tucked into the gift. It is important that welcome gifts should be given without calling attention to the guest. A certain Assembly of God church I attended asked guests to identify themselves to receive a coffee card. I didn’t raise my hand, and I never returned.

Many Christmas Eve Church Service Choices

I’m sorry I won’t be in Anchorage this Christmas Eve to celebrate the birth of Christ as in years past. However, a Google search reveals there are many great service choices to select from. Using the search terms: christmas eve church services anchorage 2010 I located many great service selections.

Page 1 & 2 of these search results highlighted the following churches offering Christmas Eve services:
-Christian Church of Anchorage
-Brother Francis Shelter
-Central Lutheran
-City Church
-Trinity Presbyterian
-St. John United Methodist
-St. Mary’s Episcopal
-Muldoon Community Assembly
-Shiloh Missionary Baptish

I show only page 1 & 2 highlights because most searchers tend to look at the first couple of pages of a search. If a churches’ Christmas Eve offerings are not displayed, it’s often because they are not following solid Search Engine Optimization (SEO) rules and are overlooked.

If you substitute the name of a specific church in the search phrase, as shown below, you can find if services at a favorite church are being offered.

anchorage baptist temple christmas eve services anchorage 2010

Anchorage Baptist Temple (ABT) did not show up first choice on this search but did occupy positions 2, 3 & 4. However, these listings were not clear “at-a-glance” listings, but PDF’s that proved to be problematic for Google. Previously I’ve commented that ABT’s website is a confusing display of information and this search validates this comment. Otherwise, as Alaska’s second largest church, they’d appear in the pages 1 & 2 listings noted earlier.

Nonetheless, I wish each of you a blessed Christmas Eve service and a Merry Christmas!

From Ellensburg, Washington
Chris Thompson
ADN’s Church Visitor

Congregations Can Help Relieve Pain of Loss

My mother went to her rest last Wednesday. Her last week and a half was painful both for her and the family. During this time, I discovered the significance of congregations and a sensitive pastor in helping us deal with the pain of our impending and ultimately real loss. Although Mom’s physical condition had kept her from church during the last few years of her life, her church family did not totally ignore her; a few visited her regularly.

We held a service for her on Friday in a small chapel of the parochial school where she’d taught music and art for many years. Granted, she was 91 when she passed, having outlived most of her age-peer friends, I was nonetheless struck by the faith and support of the few who attended her service. In addition to warm things being said about her, my family and I were comforted by these strong affirmations of hope given. The officiating pastor shared “funerals were not for the dead but the living”. I totally concur.

Life is hard, fast, and then we die. Most congregations have regular opportunities to meet together to honor those among them who deceased. I believe these services can be just as important as weekend services.

In a Christianity Today article titled, Life-Giving Funerals, well-known pastor/author Calvin Ratz shares some important advice about the role of pastors and congregations with respect to funerals and comforting the bereaved.

“How we bury the dead goes a long way in determining our acceptance in a community and the depth of our spiritual impact on a congregation.
—Calvin Ratz

I love funerals. Not that I enjoy death, it’s just that I agree with Solomon, who said, “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting” (Eccles. 7:2 niv). After talking and praying with the bereaved, I go home feeling I’ve made a difference; I’ve touched people at the point of their deepest need.

Burying the dead is part of pastoral turf. How we handle it goes a long way in determining our acceptance in a community and the depth of our spiritual impact on a congregation. Any strengths I muster can lose their power if I can’t help people who are bereaved.
A well-handled funeral can be the best opportunity for genuine public relations a church and its pastor can have. It doesn’t lead to instant church growth, but it breaks down barriers and builds an attitude of respect and appreciation. It’s a positive point of contact with people who have drifted away from the church.

Whenever I’ve gone to a new congregation, I realize my first funeral is a chance to let the people see a side of me not obvious from the pulpit. Parishioners are initially skeptical about a new leader. They’re wondering what the new pastor will be like and how much they can trust him or her. When they see me conduct a funeral service, people notice whether I care about them as individuals, even in their darkest moments.“

I realize it’s Advent season, and these are somber words, but Christians should be able to approach death with assurances of hope, regardless of the season. For me it has been an important time to consider how congregations and pastors might better come together to deal with loss. It’s our Christian heritage. How is your church doing?

Advent from a Hospital Room

I’m still in a hospital room in Tennessee with my mother. Advent seems so far away this year with the exception it seems more traditional than ever. By traditional I mean that early on, Christians marked the Advent season with solemnity, fasting and prayer.

This commemorated the tense, hopefulness that the Messiah would come and rescue His people. Of course this season has been transformed into one of extreme gaiety and crass, narcissistic commercialism, one where we celebrate ourselves instead of commemorating the birth of the Saviour of the world. Clearly it is giving Christianity a bad name.

No church visits for me this week. This hospital room has become church for me. During this time I’ve reflected on Christian attitudes and practices toward those in hospital. A long-time pastor friend of my mother has visited three times to pray for her. Her natural pastor, albeit unknown to her due to his recent assumption of his position, was called but never even returned the call. A few friends have come to visit, but due to the vast number of friends and people who know her, I’m surprised so few have taken the time to see her.

Jesus, in Matthew 25:39, presents the separation of the sheep and the goats. “When did we see you sick…and go to visit you?” He responds “…whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Those who showed such love toward their neighbor inherit the kingdom and those who did not are condemned to the eternal fire. Pastors tell me that congregational attitudes toward the sick, dying, and shut-in have changed. No longer is there a strong willingness to practice inclusive Christianity by visiting the sick. Most expect the pastor or someone else to fulfill these duties, but certainly not personally.

In recent memory, I recall the wife of a friend in Anchorage was dying in a local hospital. The choir with which I was singing was invited to go sing for her. Less than half of the choir showed up to share a couple of songs. She died shortly afterward.

I’m not angry with church people for a Christianity lite attitude toward those in the hospital. But unfortunately, this same attitude is shown toward the hungry, homeless, the thirsty, those needing clothes, and those in prison. A church committee or program is not likely to address this issue. And community initiatives will similarly fail to meet their objectives as well. Only a change of heart, one that recognizes that Christ is in the business of making heart repairs, provides the solution. Personally taking responsibility for those in need around us is the only way.

The things I write about in this column are true, exactly as I experience them. The dying mother in this room taught her children, early on, to care for those less fortunate. We would visit those shut-in, sick, and afflicted, every weekend, singing praises and bringing a bit of church spirit to them. She would invite the stranger to a meal. Our home was always open to strangers.

Barbara Brown Taylor’s latest book An Altar in the World recounts how the various situations of life have become altars to her, a very practical view of the Christian life. Whether doing laundry, visiting the sick, pulling thistles, or interacting with people in her life, these experiences can all become altars, or reminders of encounters with God. Likewise this hospital room has become an altar for me. As you observe Advent, don’t forget the weak around you. These actions may become the most important Christian actions you’ll ever make.

Trinity Presbyterian – Mixing Music With Missional

Over the past couple of years, I’ve shared my positive impressions of various Trinity Presbyterian programs and activities. This Advent is no exception. Trinity is at it again, mixing music with mission.

During the course of the Advent season they are presenting a series of Christmas concerts to benefit worthy charities while sharing good cheer. Anything Trinity sponsors is always done well and with lots of heart. I strongly urge you check out their 4th Annual Benefit Christmas Concert Series on Huffman.[img_assist|nid=154767|title=Trinity Pres – Mixing Music With Mission|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=281|height=490]

Friday 12/10
South High Choirs Concert/Dessert
Proceeds benefit South Choirs

Sunday 12/12
DanMac Quintet Concert/Dessert
Proceeds benefit Alaska Sudan Medical Project

Monday 12/13
Yuletide Big Band/Dance/Dessert
Proceeds benefit Mary Magdalene Home

All event times 7:00-8:15 pm
Tickets are $6 per event. For tickets call: 345-4823
(Location: Trinity, at Huffman & Lorraine,

Airport Church Visit

My mother’s life is slowly fading in a Tennessee hospital room. Making the long trip from Anchorage to see her one last time, I found myself in the Atlanta airport Saturday night. Feeling blue while trudging through the masses of pre-holiday travelers, an unexpected spiritual oasis appeared before me as I was hiking to the next terminal for my last flight.

The oasis was an Interfaith Chapel, prominently located at a major terminal crossroad.[img_assist|nid=154680|title=Interfaith Chapel – Atlanta International Airport|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=161]

Overwhelmed by curiosity, and drawn by the promise of spiritual refreshing, I dropped into this tiny house of God. I was very surprised by what I found. Simply furnished, this small chapel offered comfortable seating for twelve, restful lighting, and was amazingly quiet.[img_assist|nid=154681|title=Small Seating – Large on Spiritual Value|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=263]

Entering the chapel I was drawn to tiered shelving offering choices of Muslim prayer rugs and Koran’s, Jewish prayer shawls and Torah’s, and Christian Bibles, plus a camouflage Bible for servicemen.[img_assist|nid=154682|title=Rugs & Korans, Shawls & Torahs, and Bibles for Use|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=467]

A generic picture at the front of the chapel set a religious tone without favoring one faith over another. Presumably the table under the picture could be used for communion, or any other ceremony.[img_assist|nid=154683|title=Generic Picture and Table at Front of Chapel|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=467]
The Atlanta Airport Authority is to be commended for providing this spiritual oasis for people of all faiths who transit through this and any other concourse offering this accommodation at ATL. I intend to look more closely for other similar airport facilities in the future. While not the typical venue for one of my church visits, this small chapel provided me with a much needed spiritual refreshing. I wonder if such a chapel exists at Anchorage International Airport? Time for investigation when I return from this joyless trip. If they don’t have one, it may provide a suitable project for Anchorage churches.