A visit to Alaska’s largest megachurch, ChangePoint

Last week I wrote about my visit to Alaska’s second-largest megachurch, Anchorage Baptist Temple. Following that service, I visited ChangePoint Alaska. With an average weekly attendance of 3,300 according to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, ChangePoint is the state’s largest church.

Greeting and welcome

I’ve visited and written about ChangePoint several times over the past seven years. On this visit, I was a few minutes late in arriving. Only one road accessed the church Sunday. Traffic cops and ChangePoint volunteers directed traffic. Despite the volume of advice available to churches about using parking volunteers, ChangePoint and Faith Christian Community, to my knowledge, are the only Anchorage churches using this guest-friendly service.

Regardless of the number of times I’ve visited ChangePoint, I’m always at a loss to understand why it doesn’t capitalize on making friendly greetings at the outside doors and the auditorium doors. The outside door holder wordlessly held the door open as I entered. The bulletin passer did the same. ChangePoint is more casual than Anchorage Baptist Temple, where more formal attire is common. Blue jeans are the rule at ChangePoint.

Music

The music was in progress as I entered. Typically, I sit eight to 10 rows from the front during my church visits and did so this day. A four-person band was already into their first song. There were no drums for the first time of all my visits. Drums clearly add a noise level which helps push the needle off the chart, but the sound levels were still, in my opinion, excessive. The averages were in the mid to high 90 dBs with peaks of 103. Audiologists and sound engineers recommend much lower levels. But the music was pleasing and definitely spiritual. It included Hillsong’s “The Stand” and the old hymn “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.”

Announcements and greeting

An unidentified man, a guest-unfriendly practice, came out and made a series of announcements ending with a command to “Turn to those around you and say, ‘I’m glad you’re here.’” Although I had carpal tunnel braces on both of my hands, the woman in front of me turned and shook my hand. These moments are so uncomfortable to newcomers; in fact they are the No. 1 reason many refuse to return to a church after an initial visit. Why churches insist on this practice is beyond me.

Offering

The unidentified man then called for the offering, but first described ChangePoint’s practices using a slide. He noted it was a ChangePoint core practice that embraced investing generously, consistently and cheerfully. I do appreciate that ChangePoint is very transparent with finances. Its bulletin showed May giving approximately $35,000 under budget, and year-to-date giving approximately $350,000 behind. Very few churches offer this kind of transparency. Unfortunately, the man did not give a pass for guests, an unfriendly practice. Looking at the numbers just cited, a guest might conclude they have to dig deep to help right the deficit. During the collection of the offering, the band performed a beautiful Kristian Stanfill song, “The Lord Our God.”

Sermon

The guest speaker was identified by the announcer as Jay Lowder with his website, jaylowder.com, underneath his name in the bulletin. Continuing, he mentioned Jay had brought a number of people to a decision in the 9:30 a.m. service. Jay, a tall, lanky Texan hailing from Wichita Falls, told a lengthy story about his life during the sermon time on Sunday. (See tinyurl.com/qazcpr8 to listen or watch.) Using a Bible and striding around the stage during his talk, he recounted a life of sin, including substance abuse, leading up to a decision to take his life. Moments before Jay’s suicide attempt, his roommate, who had recently been saved and was following Jesus, came home unexpectedly, something he never did, and unwittingly intervened. This message was critical for Alaska, where suicide is a major social concern. After years as the state with the highest suicide rate, Alaska dropped to the No. 2 spot, according to the May 2015 annual report by the American Association of Suicidology.

This good message ended with an altar call preceded by a version of the “sinner’s prayer.” Lowder then asked those praying the sinner’s prayer and making commitments to follow Christ to come forward. More than 50 people did. In evangelistic fashion he continued to lengthen the service urging others to come forward. Unfortunately, I developed a serious coughing spell and had to leave the service to deal with it.

According to Lowder’s website, he and his organization provide evangelistic outreaches, adventure weekends, evangelism training, and school assemblies. Clearly his theology is Baptist. This type of evangelicalism is, for the most part, the only growing portion of Christianity in the U.S. in actual numbers. ChangePoint has hosted other Baptist leaders as they did when they invited Ed Stetzer of Lifeway Research to address them several years ago. Stetzer gave a fantastic, energizing talk.

There are many similarities between ChangePoint and Anchorage Baptist Temple. Both churches appear to hold many of the same beliefs in common, and are aggressively using many state-of-the-art electronic tools to broaden their reach.

I enjoy worshipping at ChangePoint. ChangePoint’s dedication to extending the gospel to all the world is commendable. Its website states its vision is “Life in Christ for every Alaskan and the world beyond.” I like its mission statement: ‘To live as a community intentionally focused on cultivating the life of Christ in others.”

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog,churchvisits.com.

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.

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