Tag Archives: Anchorage Grace

Anchorage Grace – Not Much Change

3rd Visit – Long Way to Go
I’ve now visited Anchorage Grace three times over the past three years. You can access my previous two visit reports by clicking on the appropriate visit. FIRST VISIT or SECOND VISIT. (These two hyperlinks not currently available.) 

During previous visits, I was not greeted, given a bulletin, or talked to during my entire visit. The service was long and music loud. On my most recent visit, August 11, I was very pleased to see greeters at the main door. They were also holding them open, a very strong gesture. A male greeter gave me a smile and shook my hand. The bulletins, instead of being held, were located on a table by the entrance into the gym/sanctuary. However, no one else spoke to me during my entire visit, going or coming.

Noisy Congregation Before Service
There was a definite lack of reverence before the start of the 10:45 a.m. worship service, a constant in all of my visits to Anchorage Grace. Several musicians, woodwinds, piano, and drums, were playing before the service but noisily chatting worshipers were clearly trying to drown out this pleasing, spiritual music. It was difficult hearing the musicians. At 10:45 a.m. most people were still standing in the back even though the official worship start time had arrived. A person, I guessed to be the pastor, tried calling worshipers to their seats and finally succeeded. No names were given for any of the onstage participants, either vocally or in their bulletin, a clear disservice. (See my recent post on what worshipers want in a bulletin versus what churches are giving them.)  (This hyperlink not currently available.) I don’t recall hearing welcomes of any kind by pulpit personnel. The pastor started with prayer. Then,what I took to be the worship leader (today’s euphemism for song leader) launched into “All Creatures of Our God and King”, and “How Great is Our God”.

Offering Disappointed
The pastor called for the offering with an impassioned plea to GIVE. No one was excepted, including guests. It’s little wonder many guests and members complain that in churches it seems to be “all about the money.” Churches should audibly and in print (bulletin) tell guests they are not required to give. It is inhospitable not to do so! Crotts further told the congregation there was a huge delta in July giving which needed to be made up in August. He then offered what I call a “tell God” prayer, telling God for all kinds of things God must know already, taking time to tell God about their upcoming August baby dedication, and so forth. If God is who the church says He is, this type of prayer is unnecessary.

Music – Interesting Dynamic
The worship leader (no name given) stepped up to the pulpit to lead the congregation in several songs. Two other unidentified male singers were standing 10-15 feet away. It seemed as though those men were not connected with the worship leader. It might have been more appropriate for them to have flanked him at the pulpit, standing a few paces back or on either side. For some unknown reason, the audience was told to stand half-way through the first song after the offertory. The music leader said “We don’t do what we do here for entertainment.” Glancing around me, I noticed few people singing or with any volume. This being true, the music WAS more entertainment rather than participative, especially with the music leader distancing himself from the onstage personnel. Three songs were sung at this time including “Jesus Messiah” and “I will Glory in My Redeemer”.

Sermons Subject Was Not for Guests
I discovered the pastor speaking today was Jeff Crotts after looking him up Anchorage Grace’s website from my seat in the audience. You never know at Anchorage Grace because they often have other speakers too. I’ve heard three speakers during my three visits. He started speaking at 11:22 and concluded at 12:12. The main thrust of his remarks was a journey into Timothy dealing with the qualifications of a deacon. Listen to this sermon by clicking HERE and selecting August 11. Most guests would find this a pretty dry topic that would be difficult to hold one’s attention. If Crotts and Anchorage Grace is building a better climate of understanding for church office qualifications, I could see this sermon in the overall context of educating for spirituality. I think Crotts is an excellent speaker, good communicator, and quite energetic. However, I approach these visits from the standpoint of what visitors can expect from a visit to a specific church. This sermon did not seem to be one an average guest would walk away from saying, “What a sermon! I’d like to know about this church from hearing this sermon.”

I believe this visit was the best of my visits to Anchorage Grace to-date, but remain absolutely astounded this congregation remains so un-friendly to guests. They appear to be extremely friendly to each other but not to strangers. The gospel is the “go-tell movement”. Building friendly relationships is important to the Christian’s work given by Christ to build a receptive context for hearing the message. At the conclusion of the service, there was a stampede to the food tables located in the back. I found my exit impeded as I swam through this feeding frenzy. My only suggestion would be to locate the food elsewhere out of the main entry/exit corridors.

Anchorage Grace runs a good Christian school on the Hillside, but this review is not about the school. It’s about being an inviting church that welcomes guests with open arms, offering a guest-friendly service in every aspect, and providing meaningful bible-based sermons. For the most part, this third visit offered a slim departure from previous visits. Maybe instead of deep diving into instruction-centered council like the book of Timothy offers on qualifications of deacons, this pastor might consider offering a series of sermons on the biblical imperatives of Christian hospitality and practical ways to achieve them. Genesis 18 offers a graphic story of the visit of the three strangers to Abraham, the attendant story of Abraham’s extreme hospitality to them, and the end results of his hospitality. This might serve as a good starting place for this church.

Anchorage Grace: Hillside Cool

[img_assist|nid=141007|title=Anchorage Grace – Huffman Road Sign|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=208]
No greeting, a goodly amount of expected standing for the musical part of the service, and a disappointed crowd expecting a sermon from a no-show prospective pastor, marked my visit to Anchorage Grace Church on March 29. The gymnasium setting didn’t feel like a church setting for me. A senior pastor, Ron Whitt, let the crowd down gently with news the potential new guy would not be there due to the recent eruptions at Mt. Redoubt. Marooned on my feet by an overly long musical service (over 30 minutes) with a fairly good worship band and singers, I fought a strong temptation to leave.

The sermon by Pastor Whitt was read, not extemporaneous, but had valuable information. Due to the circumstances of Whitt’s preaching, it felt as though his sermon was a last-minute retread from a previous delivery. I was disappointed by the lack of attention to visitors and felt let down by attending. It may have been an off day for Anchorage Grace, but no church can afford to have these kinds of off days. Simply put, visitors don’t tend to return to unfriendly churches.

Suggested by a Friend
I can’t claim to know much about Anchorage Grace, but when a good friend asked if I’d ever attended Anchorage Grace Church, I said no but made plans to do so in the future. Easily accessible off Huffman on the lower Hillside, my initial impression was of a school with a church as an afterthought. Clearly the school dominated. With no clear entrance markings, people were going in and out of the school. Finally detecting an entrance further north, I walked in. Expecting a warm greeting, I discovered no one there to greet me. I flowed into the auditorium and was not greeted except to be handed a bulletin. I made a mental note to ask my friend if he had any real experience with this church.

A big fan of low cost church spaces, I found it hard to connect this gym as being a church setting. Granted, there was a sparse crowd that day, 1/4 full for the 10:45 a.m. service and barely 1/2 full by the time services were underway.
[img_assist|nid=141009|title=Praise Team & Pastor Whitt|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=186]
Musical Mystery
The musical setup baffled me. There was a twelve piece orchestra, a mixture of all kinds of instruments, and a four person praise team. The music was mainstream contemporary Christian music, i.e. quite possibly unfamiliar to visitors. As the music started, the praise team leader asked the audience to stand, and there we stood for 30 minutes. Looking around, I found many audience members singing automatically, not at all or visibly lackluster. Few in the audience seemed to be happy with the experience of this singing. One praise team member did appear to be emotionally involved with the music. Thirty minutes is a too long a time to stand for this type of experience: song after song without letup. In all fairness, several band members, including the keyboard artist, were awesome.

What do Visitors Know Anyway, Really?
Churches should assume visitors know little about their practices. It is kind to share information about:
– Who is preaching and why.
Certainly important this day. If this is a visiting pastor or layman, especially so.
– What is your practice regarding taking communion?
Open, closed, how taken?
– Offering expectations?
Visitors should NOT be made to feel pressured to give, especially on a first visit. Let them know this.
– Distinctives in the order of service?
Baptism, altar call, offering, welcome?
No such help was offered at Anchorage Grace. In all fairness, communion was not served but the comment still applies to this and any other church practice.

I was able to surmise, the senior pastor at Anchorage Grace had departed, leaving a hole. A potential pastor was unable to reach the church this day due to the air travel disruptions we experienced in the Mt. Redoubt eruptions, so a senior pastor was filling in. Pastor Ron Whitt delivered a sermon titled “Danger!, Danger!, Danger!” (click to listen). Based on Mark 6:30-34, it warned of the danger of apathy. Tied to his sermon notes, Pastor Whitt hit his stride when he finally stepped out from behind the pulpit to deliver heartfelt concluding remarks. On cue, the keyboardist helped the pastor finish with the traditional altar call, an emotional decision moment supported by “decision music”. I’ve learned to forgive churches of this part of the church service which, like tear jerking music in a movie, serve to bolster decisions but more often comes across as emotional blackmail.

I left Anchorage Grace without a single person speaking to me, and quite letdown from my visit experience. I certainly hope it was a fluke, but like many visitors to unfriendly or cool churches, may never know whether or not this was the case.
[img_assist|nid=141008|title=Anchorage Grace – Exterior|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=145]