This weekend, after attending a Rotary Conference in Homer, I dropped into Church on the Rock’s services. Held in the gym at Homer High, 10:30 a.m. Sunday mornings, this had also been the venue for my Rotary meetings, so I was very familiar with the surroundings.
My visit, the Southernmost visit in Alaska I’ve posted, left me amazed and amused at the same time. I was “touched” four times only, a serious omission: Twice at the door entering, once by a bulletin-passer as I entered the gym for the service, and once by a jerky passer who was handing out jerky from a 5 gal pail to folks entering, a first in all of my church visits. No serious words were uttered in each of these “touches”.
The gym had been configured for church with bleachers on the back wall, and chairs on the main floor. A huge black backdrop was behind the stage, with flanking projection screens on either side of the stage. Dazzling white backdrops had bright colored lights playing on them, while the backdrop, center stage had large colorful flowers attached to it. This was clearly contemporary church with no hint of it being a religious service. (hmmm, maybe it was a “spiritual service” instead.)
A countdown clock was ticking away on the screen and the band promptly launched into it’s first song when it reached zero. The band of eight was quite good, but incredibly loud. I estimate 90-95 ear damaging decibels (seriously). After one song, the band invited the children up for the children’s song before children’s church. Around twenty responded. Toddlers, those most vulnerable to ear damage, were inches away from the speakers. As mentioned in previous posts, it will take only a few Alaska lawsuits from parents with hearing-damaged children, before church leaders will wake up and realize this is unacceptable behavior. See my previous post on hearing damage here.
The children’s song was the Superhero song, which the children obviously loved. Click here for lyrics. (You’ll need to click your browser’s back key to return to this review.) After the song the children were dismissed for children’s church.
There was a general welcome and first-time visitors were asked to raise their hands to identify themselves. This guest embarrassing experience should be unnecessary if the church is doing it’s job in identifying and greeting first attenders properly. Next, members were asked to greet each other with special emphasis on those they did not know. During the meet n’ greet* (see note below), I was totally ignored, although I was sitting on the front row in one of the most conspicuous areas of the church.
A period of jokey patter commenced from two men I could not identify. (The bulletin did not identify elements of the service nor those participating, a visitor-unfriendly gesture.) I guessed the patterers were several church pastors. They proceeded to joke and humorously work their way through coming events and news of the church. I felt each was trying to outdo each other by their mirthful remarks.
The sermon was delivered by one of the patterers, a middle-aged man attired in sport shirt, jeans, sandals, and bizarre lip goatee, quite a statement for a man of God. The sermon title was The Women: Prominent Women in the Ministry of Christ. Although well-delivered via PowerPoint and the spoken word, it did not seem to portray any strong theological doctrine. You can listen to this sermon by clicking here. Church research reveals that close to 90% of guests come to church to hear a sermon, and especially doctrine, i.e. what a church believes, and not to be entertained. This was not one of those sermons
At the close of the sermon the pastor(?), invited the musical group back onstage. They proceeded to play four lengthy musical selections to bring the service to a close. This group is quite good with some excellent talent represented. However, I did not feel the music tied to the service except in a general Contemporary Christian way. After this the pastor made a few concluding remarks to tie things together and dismissed attendees from this 2 hour service.
Although this service was attended by an eclectic mix of young and old, I came away unfulfilled. Church services such as this play into our current, widely-documented, strong American religious trend of “spiritual, not religious”.
My recommendations to this church are:
1. Treat your guests like guests: Don’t ignore them!
2. Show your order of service in your bulletin, along with events, and names of participants
3. Explain your beliefs in sermon, word, and deed
4. People decide whether or not to return within 3-8 minutes of showing up. Make every moment count positively.
5. Don’t make music the centerpiece of your worship. Studies indicate 2/3 of contemporary Christian music is devoid of theological content
6. Stop damaging the hearing of your attendees, seriously.
Christianity Today ran an article titled, How to Become a Visitor Friendly Church, 13 years ago. It is clearly even more pertinent today. Click here to read these timeless words of wisdom.
I left without anyone saying a word to me, and hurried back to my B&B to ponder this adventure.
*Meet ‘n Greet – A time during the worship service when pastors invite their parishioners to greet each other, usually with an admonition to go to people they do not know, to welcome them. What really happens is amazing. Attendee’s instead choose to chat with their best friends, sharing recipes, news of activities of the week past, and updates of the latest gossip. This is a dreadful time when visitors are humiliated, embarrassed, and left to twist in the wind. If you are ignored in such a time, I strongly urge you to leave, shaking the dust off your sandals, and never return to such a church. Such a church is unworthy to be called Christian and should be denounced for such behavior. Any self-respecting pastor should know this. They themselves are often the worst culprits in such behavior, ignoring guests and gleefully connecting with their most supportive members.