Monthly Archives: July 2013

Two Theater Churches Failed Me Today

Theater Churches
A church trend across the U.S. I really like and generally endorse is the practice for start-up churches to rent space in movie theaters to conduct their worship services in them.

Some of these churches have become so popular they hold many services on the weekend, and have members in the thousands. The advantages of these churches is they’re not hard to find, have lots of parking, and do not require the pricey mortgages so many members hate to take on. Rather these church’s income is used to pay for clergy, and to become involved with practical local and foreign missions.

Church #1 – Confusion at C3
Chugach Covenant Church [C3] meets at Muldoon 8, the esteemed 2nd run, low-priced theater in East Anchorage. I showed up this morning at 9:55 to attend their 10 a.m. service. Entering through a knot of 10-15 people at the entrance, many in black C3 t-shirts, only one person said “good morning” to me.

There was an even larger crowd in the lobby with no direction and lots of kids. Once again, no one recognized or talked to me. It appeared they were waiting for something. At 10:07 the crowd was told to go to Theater 3 where someone flipped on, front and rear, blinding halogen emergency lights. (See pictures below) At this time, the crowd of thirty or forty was told this was what the pastor hoped would be C3’s annual day of caring. They were told their mission was going to Alaska Native Charter School to unload pallets of supplies for teachers followed by a potluck.

I couldn’t recall seeing a notice on C3’s website about this day of caring, so checked it again and still could find no reference to it. To eliminate confusion, churches should post any non-normal church activity prominently on their website in advance. Not every guest to this church would be able or interested for such an activity, no matter how worthy it is, and might give a visit a pass until a “normal” service.

Unfortunately, C3 clearly lacks in guest greetings and hospitality, something a start-up church avoids at all costs. I generally do not recommend churches that are inhospitable to guests. Guests decide in 5-8 minutes whether they would make a 2nd visit to a church.

Church #2 – Resonate…Missing in Action
After the unfortunate experience at C3, I figured I could catch the Resonate Church 10 a.m. service. They meet at the Regal Tikahtnu Stadium 16 after recently moving from Creekside Elementary School. I got there just around 10:20 a.m. Inquiring of where Resonate met, the ticket taker pointed to a table (see picture below) with literature on it and said there had been someone there. I left my card on the table and went home. Whatever buzz Resonate has been trying to generate to attract the public failed me this morning.

Moral of the Story
Starting a new church is hard work. It takes a strong devotion to the Word of God, a strong caring ethic, and a willingness to connect with members and guests. Neither of these two churches showed their pastors or members were willing to extend themselves to this end. I’m further amazed with the number of Anchorage churches whose pastors have never said a word to me, a casual visitor who becomes a one-time visitor. Usually in these churches the members emulate the pastor’s attitude to visitors as well.

First Covenant Unfriendly – Ultimately Impressed Me

New Church for Church Visits
I’ve been driving by First Covenant for years. Located just off C Street South of the Delaney Parkstrip, it’s convenient to find. Their paved parking lot was only half full when I arrived for their 10 a.m. service on Sunday July 7. I’m always excited to visit a new church but was underwhelmed by my first five minutes at First Covenant. Read on.

No Greeting or Bulletin/Worship Guide
Despite the lobby being quite full with people having coffee and chatting, no one greeted me or gave me a bulletin when I walked in. There was a single greeter who was talking with another person. Entering the sanctuary, I found a seat about half-way back. At no time during or after the service did anyone approach me. This is inexcusable in any church. As a church visitor, I never do the work the church should be doing. Yes, I could have gone back and retrieved a bulletin, or introduced myself, wringing a greeting from someone. However, I’m there to experience how an average visitor is treated, not to train church members how to respond to me. Many pastors tell stories of people coming to church as a last desperate act before they end their life. In Anchorage, I could have gone on to end my life many times after visiting many churches where I’ve been totally ignored. It’s inexcusable!

Before Worship Service
Although I arrived on time for the worship service, few people were sitting in the sanctuary. I’d estimate 10-20. Most everyone was in the lobby having coffee. I don’t know why the service was late starting. Possibly the coffee crowd may have been the reason. I was there at the posted time, where was everyone else? Those sitting in the audience started talking louder and louder, over an organist who was mainly playing delightful renditions of hymns. At 10 a.m. she sat down in anticipation of a service start which didn’t happen. First Covenant’s website talked of a diverse multi-cultural membership but I saw little evidence of it. There were a few Alaskan Natives present this day, but I did like the mix of ages of the worshipers.

Finally the Service Starts
At 10:07 the service finally got rolling with a pastoral welcome. The pastor focused on visitors who were part of a Merge team from the Yakima, WA area who were performing various hands on work and other ministries. Even at this juncture I did not feel he was welcoming me or any other non-Merge guests.

An upbeat group of 3 younger acoustic guitarists, a drummer, and pianist began the first of four hymns, pleasing to hear, and quite theological, a surprise in Anchorage where so much weak theology Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) is performed every week. The 15 minutes of singing was a joy.

They sang songs like:
-On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand
-Where Justice Flows Down Like a River (CCM and a bit tricky to sing)
-Come Thou Almighty King (updated and awesome)

The prayer time was lengthy and the prayer was read by a native member. I believe reading prayers takes away their impact. I’ve heard few truly extemporaneous prayers given in the years I’ve been visiting churches. So many are read, seeming to tell God what is going on in this world, instead of relating to God in thanks, praise, and requests. We were then asked to stand to repeat The Lord’s Prayer.

Offering Taken
This was another church that asks everyone, including guests, to give. We were instructed to give with a “joyful heart”, as giving was an “act of worship”. No exceptions were noted for those visiting for the first time. It’s such a kind act to mention to guests to let the offering plate pass without feeling obligated to give. One of the mission team members from the Yakima, WA area played an offertory on the guitar, teaching the worshipers a new song. I liked this part very much.

But Then Something Happened
Pastor Max Cepero started talking at 10:35. Titled “What Does the Bible Say About Patriotism?” it was one of the best sermons on the topic I’ve ever heard. Cepero preaches extemporaneously, using limited but effective visuals. He raised solid questions about whether it’s truly possible to serve God and country at the same time, pointing out that dissent is our highest form of patriotism.
Pastor Max shared three struggle/questions he had.

1. Why do church members claim this country founded as a Christian nation?
Facts don’t support it.
2. Why do we only pray for “our” people in this country?
Why not others in other countries?
3. When we say God bless America, how do we say it…boastful?
Why just America?

You can listen to Pastor Cepero’s excellent sermon HERE .

Communion and Dismissal
For communion a pre-communion hymn, Come Share the Lord was sung. Some readings and a commentary preceded communion but nothing was said about their practice of who may receive communion, a serious omission. The pastor wore a black anorak throughout the whole service, an Anchorage first for me. After dismissal I engaged Rob Williams MD, a member of the Merge team, in conversation and learned Compassion International was the organization directing them to their short-term mission assignments. The team of about ten limited themselves to budgets of approximately $1,000 each, a huge departure from the many Africa-bound short-term missioners from Anchorage last summer where $5,000 to $6,000 was the average for a similar length trip. There are other ways!

Why Did I Ultimately Like This Church?
I was conflicted by this visit. Although they don’t seem to have a guest-welcoming ethic, they have a great website, one of the best in Anchorage, one that drew me in. The music was a pleasant surprise. The variety of ages represented was very comfortable and a bit unusual for a church of this size. I estimate approximately 75-100 worshipers were present.

The sermon was Biblical, well-delivered, and easy to follow. Clearly this group is well cared for by an insightful pastor. They had a potluck after church to which all were invited. As I hadn’t had any interaction with a single member, I was uncomfortable staying. I’d visit again and would recommend this church for a visit by someone looking for a good church. It may have been a bad day for the hospitality. After some time has elapsed, I’ll check out First Covenant again.

Great New Church Meeting at UAA

What do you do when your church/denomination becomes so influenced by popular culture, it modifies the tenets of your life-long faith to the point it becomes barely recognizable? You can either accept the state of affairs, be quiet and submit to them, or you can organize a new church/denomination to maintain your belief structure.

A local group of Bible-believing Presbyterians has done exactly that. Meeting Sundays, 11 a.m., in UAA classroom (Room 117) in the Fine Arts Building they hope to move those services to the Recital Hall when its renovations are complete. Calling themselves Anchorage Presbyterian Fellowship they claim a non-denominational status. Last Sunday, June 30, I popped in for a visit and liked what I saw. APF adheres to 10 key beliefs as stated on their website.

Great Location
Who would have thought that a lecture auditorium at UAA would make a good setting for a new church, but it worked for me. With minimal effort, the classroom was transformed into an appropriate religious setting. A table on the platform was set up as an altar, with candles and flowers. A podium and piano completed the setting.

About 60 or attendees were cheerfully singing a hymn when I entered a few minutes late. The worship setting follows a comfortable, abbreviated liturgical form. I had missed the Opening Prayer and responsive Call to Worship but was there for the remainder of the service. They love hymns and joined in singing them unlike many other churches I visit. During this service they sang:

• Lift High the Cross
• There is a Balm in Gilead
• Make me a Blessing
• God Be With You Till We Meet Again

The hymns were appropriately and artfully led on the piano by well-known local pianist Marie Matetich.

Excellent Pastors
APF is recruiting a regular pastor to provide continuity for preaching and leadership in spiritual growth. However, for the present, they’re utilizing a series of local pastors speaking on Christian growth.

This day Rev. Sam Humphreys shared a wonderful message titled “A Healthy Church Has a Heart for Others”. Assisted by but not indebted to PowerPoint slides he focused on Biblical counsel from 1 John 3:11, 14-18. I enjoyed his remarks as did the rest of those present. They’ve had other pastors from the local community including Rev. Rick Benjamin. Next Sunday, July 7, greatly loved local pastor Rev. Keith Lauwers will lead the worship service, to be followed by Rev. Rick Benjamin on July 14.

Anchorage Presbyterian Fellowship is a work in progress but they are friendly, have a 1 hour service that is Biblically-based, music that is participative and delights at once, and seems to be a friendly and hospitable group. An after worship fellowship with coffee and treats was served. I highly recommend APF for a rewarding visit. They seem to be doing the “right stuff”.