In my Feb. 21 column, I wrote about two churches using Anchorage School District middle schools as places to worship. This week’s column is devoted to two more churches doing the same. I’ve attended services at both and find their worship is not impeded by meeting in a school.
Great Land Christian Church lives up to its name
It’s been my pleasure to visit Great Land Christian Church a number of times since I’ve been in Alaska. Initially I was invited to visit this church when they were meeting in a UAA Recital Hall. The invitation came from a college student I met on an Alaska Airlines flight years ago. She wanted to share her faith and where she worshipped. I responded to her invitation and had an interesting time at their service. GLCC started in 1992 and the Rev. Ray Nadon and his wife became actively involved in 2007.
While they worshiped at the Anchorage Korean Seventh-day Adventist Church I really became aware of them. Due to their growth, they needed a much larger meeting space, and settled on Central Middle School as that place. Central is a great place to meet. It has a large multipurpose room ideal for meetings. Last time I visited the church there I saw hundreds of energetic, engaged worshipers. People were open and friendly to me. The music was refreshingly a cappella, the preaching was energized and the audience was engaged in the sermon. To this day, it remains a high point among my church visits locally.
I asked GLCC pastor Nadon why they chose Central. He said there were five reasons: a home they could grow in, a home where they could have potlucks, a home with breakout rooms for the children, Central was “central,” and a home that “wouldn’t break the bank.” Nadon, elaborating on the money issue said, “We had considered buying, but the cost is so great and to be tied to such a big mortgage is not the best situation. We believe it can hinder your ability to preach the Gospel, as you may just be too concerned about money. As well, if you buy, then you are limited to that size or multiple services, which we are not ready to look at yet. We love the closeness of our family. One last thing on the buying: It does seem strange to own a building that remains empty a good part of the time, hence our schedule lines up quite well with a school’s.”
I’d noticed there seemed to be a high proportion of millennials at GLCC. Nadon said reaching that age group wasn’t a focus initially, but started happening over the past five years. He interpreted this as being “focused on serving the community and teaching a discipleship that was active. Over the years, we have seen that the millennials are kind of interested in God, but not the God they see in church. At least part of this seems to be that they do not see any meaning behind it or action attached to it — just Sundays and perhaps a worship thing here or there. Many do not want to ‘play’ church and most are looking for more than just a good ‘worship band’ or dynamic preacher. They want substance and we put quite high expectations on them when it comes to reading the Scriptures and digesting it for themselves. We try to connect them with the Gospel in a practical way. We also connect them with mentors to help them in life’s many decisions and choices.”
GLCC delivers much of what I seek as I visit churches: greetings, hospitality, well-delivered biblical sermons and music not intended to entertain. I consider it a great church and an asset to Alaska.
Calvary Chapel South Anchorage makes the switch
A relatively new church, Calvary Chapel, initially began meeting as a mobile church, migrating to a fixed site over the last four years. Two weeks ago, they began meeting at Hanshew Middle School. I attended their second service there last Sunday and found it sincere, with a warm greeting, singing, prayer and a good sermon.
Jeff Steiner, their pastor, feels strongly their move was blessed by God. “To see the body working together, serving together and fellowshipping in a capacity that would not have occurred in our other facility was a great confirmation of the Lord’s blessing on our move,” he said “This has a very fresh appeal in reminding us that the body of Christ is not a building, but people. Love is the greatest tangible expression of being a disciple, not the facility occupied.”
When I asked pastor Steiner if he was targeting any demographic he said, “Anybody and everybody. We are not really the cool or hip fellowship, nor are we liturgical. Our motto is simply ‘teaching the word of God simply, verse by verse and chapter by chapter.’ We have simple, singable contemporary worship and open Bibles. Our target audience is Christians who want to grow in their relationship with Jesus and be equipped. We teach ‘the Bible,’ and seek to do it in its entirety.” Steiner did note young families, mostly millennials, figure prominently in attendance.
What a concept! Meeting in a convenient location, plenty of parking, and the familiar setting of a public school. I’m not surprised more young families don’t jump at this type of chance.
Clearly one detriment for all churches meeting in public schools, as opposed to a fixed location, is having to move in and out every Sunday. This requires the offsite storage of audio/visual equipment, tables, chairs, and whatever else is necessary to conduct church, in a trailer or truck. It all must be set up prior to the service and taken down afterward.
Personally I’m fascinated with church plants, meaning a church being raised up in a new area. There’s always room for one more. I don’t see it as a matter of “sheep stealing” but making opportunities for worship in our community more accessible. Both are worthy of visits from those seeking a new church experience.
The views expressed here are the writer’s own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.