For 2014, our family is on a quest to understand how all of humanity views God, and expresses that in the context of church. Through the year we’re visiting churches of all types, and telling about the experience, and sharing a little of their perspective. This is a chapter of our experience.
After publishing a couple blogs of The Church Project, we were invited by a couple different pastors to come to their church so they can see what their church is like from a visitors perspective. For full disclosure, this is one of them. We know the pastor of this church, and speak regularly about church matters. It is possible that he is the first person to use the term “beer goggles” when referring to how insiders see their own church. Everyone thinks their church is the best, they’re “really blessed to have such a great worship team” and their pastor “is one of the best preachers” and so on. I hate to tell you all, but it’s probably not true, and you just can’t see it. Thanks to today’s pastor for discovering “beer goggles” applies in the church world and not just late night hookups at bars.
The best part of the morning was when he saw us walk in unannounced. He said “Oh no!” and then laughed saying “I mean it’s good to see you!” I have appreciated his enthusiasm and friendship especially since typically the pastors tend to be the last one to become fans of The Church Project. I understand though.We’re holding a mirror up to (you) and then showing the image to others as well. Some people don’t like that. This pastor appreciates the challenge which makes for a fun time talking.
The Church Genius
The pastor is a church scientist and a guerrilla marketing genius. He is cautious not to fall into the usual trappings of most churches. I’ll share an example. At the end of the service they asked people to invite someone to a special service. Each chair had a card for you to fill out a note and put it in an envelope upon which you would write the name of the person you will later give it to. This was a great way of accomplishing a couple things. If you got a generic postcard you’d consider ignoring it much sooner than you would if you received an envelope with your name hand written on it. People were directed to think of one person on the spot (he even was quiet for a minute while people wrote the name of their potential guest). This is a much better way to invite people to church rather than leaving stacks of trash (church invites) at coffee shops, restaurants, or any place that has a counter to leave a postcard on. Frankly, it was a simple but genius tactic. This guy is full of them.
They Are Relevant
He knew what tone the stage lights should be, what songs people like, and how to do announcements in a way that you’ll pay attention without them being too long. He used the right balance of phrases like “in this place” to be a traditional spiritualist, and words like “authentic” or “relevant” to be modern and edgy. He preached with stories you can relate to, not heavy with doctrine, but chocked full of relevant life points. The sermon was good, it was relevant and it was sound teaching. You’d definitely feel included in this one. You also wouldn’t be offended, no matter who you are.
They are a Startup
This church is a startup as far as churches go. A “church plant” if you will. As we walked into their temporary meeting place at a hotel, you automatically know it’s not a regular church. First off their focus is not on a big cool building with hundreds of seats and a gym for the teens to hang out in. On their front table you see that they focus on connecting through participating in events in their community. They are different than all those other churches. In fact, their tagline says that very thing. The tag line could be paraphrased “we’re doing church different that you are used to”. They do movie nights at pizza place parking lots and worship events in local bars. They donate a dollar to a third world mission for every visitor they have come to a service. They don’t adhere to a specific denominational persuasion and don’t poop on your denominational background. They don’t make part time Christians or “seekers” (the not yet Christian) feel bad or guilty for any reason. If you have found yourself estranged from the church, or have never felt comfortable going to church, this is the place you want to go, because they are different.
Or are they?
This church has rock n’ rollers on the worship team who have a tattoos that peak out of their short sleeve T-shirts. They have lights (that they bring into the hotel) and cool backgrounds on the song lyrics shown on the projector screen. You’re welcome as you are, jeans, a suit (no suits allowed by the way). Whether you have a spiky hairdo or just kind of messy hair, come as you are!
OK, so basically they’re not different at all.
This church is a commonly classified church type. They are the cool church. They are the “we’re different and modern” church. This church was pretty much described in this video here in this video.
Sure, they are working hard (perhaps too hard) to be “relevant” or “cool” to today’s society but at least they are locally minded. It’s obvious that they make an effort to participate in their nearby community. Setting up a booth at a fair, setting up a tent and giving away cold drinks. This is why people in their area are talking about their church and they are growing in attendance. But not necessarily because they are doing something new. I think it’s hard to take a cookie cutter and say “let’s use this cookie cutter differently?”. You’re already starting with the cookie cutter. Maybe it’s because the cookie cutter made sense at one point (and perhaps still does). He preached a 3 point sermon, and while that may be a “churchism” to have a 3 point sermon, it’s because people process things easily when they are broken into 3 steps or segments. So kudos for being the same! You’re doing something that works! On the other hand, the things that are different seem more like renaming things, as if a 3 point sermon is now “triple point talks” (we made that up, they don’t use that term at all). I’m not saying they fell short. I’m saying, I don’t get what’s new or unique as a visitor.
Where did they fall short? Although they have a great community connection plan, they lacked the welcoming presence and warmth that churches desperately need when meeting on Sunday. No one said hi to us, or helped direct us other than the Pastor (who was the furthest from the door when we walked in). This may be because so many people are new to the church. It’s a young church that is experiencing steady growth. Once you get outside of the Sunday morning event, we see that they do service work at the local public school and have the aforementioned free community movie nights. They aren’t unaware of the marketing benefit those services deliver (I told you he was a church marketing genius). They know that it brings people, however I don’t doubt that it is genuine. It could be worse though. They could advertise on christian radio.