Church Visits

Visiting Churches: Chris Thompson (stainedglass) is an amateur Alaskan biblical scholar and student of religion, especially as it relates to popular culture. He regularly attends national and regional American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature events to interact with and learn from worldwide religion scholars. Through unannounced mystery visits to churches in Anchorage and South-Central Alaska, he observes how guests (visitors) are treated during this initial church visit. Research indicates guests first visit perceptions affects further spiritual growth and religious attitudes as they search for a church home. Chris' church visits focus primarily on Christian churches. This blog contains accounts of those visits, and related posts about religion in culture. Chris looks for the following in his visits:

•Genuine welcome, true Christian hospitality

•Friendliness and warmth

•Effective, well-delivered, Bible-based, main teaching

•Music deepening the worship, not just entertainment

Google map of churches Chris Thompson has visited.

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Significant 2013 Church Visits Posts

Top Ten Issues Local Churches Must Address in 2013

Ten Things Churches Did That Blew Me Away In 2012

Guest Post: Why Theology Matters to Musicians

Church Visits: What's it like visiting a church with a guest-friendly service? - 7/5/2014 2:08 pm

Church Visits: 10 excuses people give for not attending church - 6/28/2014 11:21 am

Church Visits: Religious pluralism in Alaska here to stay - 6/21/2014 8:28 am

Church Visits: Welcoming churches can reverse attendance slump - 6/14/2014 9:21 am

Crosspoint Community Church Revisit – May 11, 2014 - 6/13/2014 1:44 pm

Church Visits: 5 easy ways to increase your biblical literacy - 6/7/2014 5:23 pm

Church Visits: Cardinal Dolan discusses the pastoral challenges facing Pope Francis - 5/31/2014 1:07 pm

Beast Feast: Great Food and Conversation - 5/30/2014 10:10 pm

Great Land Christian Church - What a Great Experience!

Great Land Christian Church Meets HereGreat Land Christian Church Meets Here
A quiet street in Midtown hides a strong and vibrant church full of Christian vitality and enthusiasm. Great Land Christian Church fosters a younger congregation which worships in a conservative setting, but their strong faith and quest for community bursts up like water from a mountain spring. Their singing is a joy to experience. Led by an enthusiastic, clean looking and in-tune praise group, every attendee joins in the meaningful mix of hymns, recent gospel songs, and some folk music, all without instruments. Totally a cappella! Not singing or holding a songbook due to a sinus infection, I was offered one four or five times during the singing, a distinct departure from any Anchorage church I’ve visited. The preaching, led by Pastor Ray Nadon, straight from the Word of God, was on a topic not usually heard in church: Revelation 2-4. Unlike many pastors, I felt Pastor Ray’s clear and dynamic extemporaneous preaching style connected clearly with this group. The church was full, but it felt like a one-to-one conversation. After communion the lead singers quickly came up and closed the service in song. Several members introduced themselves after the service. More happiness on the faces of the singers and greeters who are visitor-aware would have capped the day delightfully!

Not My First Visit
I was invited to visit Great Land Christian Church by a young UAA coed on a flight from Seattle to Anchorage, some years ago. They were still meeting at the UAA Fine Arts building. I was put off on my initial visit by what I recall as the preacher bragging about being out duck hunting earlier that morning. The members were enthusiastic and engaging, but I didn’t return for another dose.

In my quest for churches to visit in Anchorage, I recalled Great Land and on November 9, decided to give it another try. They worship in the Korean SDA Church on quiet 34th St between C and Arctic. There was no other sign out front but the address was right and there were lots of cars in the parking lot.

Greeting Weak
A greeter just inside the front door said good morning. I was a bit confused where the service would be but sort of followed a few people headed toward some singing. A person at the sanctuary door gave me a bulletin, really a single sheet, more of a newsletter and calendar.

Awesome Singing Inside
Five appropriately attired singers were arrayed across the platform leading the singing in harmony, and a cappella! What a wonderful sound! Virtually everyone in the audience was singing along, except me due to my voice being out of commission from sinus. What an experience to actually hear the words and not be drowned out by a loud rock band. And wonderful too, to see clean cut and nicely dressed folks instead of the down-dressed and sometimes disheveled look of many Christian musicians. The singers would change places on stage with others from the audience as the songs changed. And the rafters literally rang with their praise music. A wonderful blend of Christian music from across the spectrum was sung, most of it familiar to me. I was puzzled the singers were not reflecting the beautiful lyrics with smiling faces, but for the most part, they had pleasant but unsmiling faces. Four or more people offered me a songbook to sing from, which despite my vocal challenges, was an absolute first in all of my Anchorage church visits. Sadly, I've not witnessed this behavior in any other Anchorage church visits.

A Younger Attendee
For the most part, a younger crowd attends this church. I would call it college to middle aged in composition. However, the service and message is certainly appropriate for any age. But from the outside, it appears to be a high energy group that is submitting themselves to the transforming love of God.

The Meet n’ Greet segment was somewhat the same as other churches. I did get to meet Pastor Ray during this time. It’s no secret I don’t like this segment because it’s so staged.

Pastor Ray Nadon Preaching from the WordPastor Ray Nadon Preaching from the Word
Inspired Preaching
The sermon was delivered by Pastor Ray Nadon, a high energy preacher. He has a gift to take scripture and make it plain, diligently making connections for its application. Revelation 2-4, his focus for the day, is not for the faint of heart. Pastor Ray pointed out we need to read Revelation with the right glasses. No long-winded emotional heart-tugging stories here. And it wasn’t a 3-point sermon using fill in the blanks slides. Nope. No slides here. Just good bible-based teaching with lots of great audience participation and rustling bible pages, again, uncommon in many of the churches I’ve visited. And to this bible student, it seemed Pastor Ray had the right glasses on.

The service ended with communion but without a word on how communion was taken in this church. I discovered the bread was consumed immediately upon receiving it, and the wine also, replacing the wine glass in the serving tray immediately. Some Protestant churches have different ways on serving and partaking of communion. Nonetheless it was a beautiful ending to a great sermon. Finally, the singers came up and an energetic song ended the service. If the greeters were as practiced as the singers, and the singers loosened up and smiled more, this church could be a powerful force to deal with in the community. Afterwards I had friendly conversations with several of the church members and it was refreshing to have this experience. They offer many additional options for bible study, women’s classes, finance, singles, and relationships. Ray’s wife Stephany Nadon also pastors leading out in women’s ministry. My best to this unusual church as they continue to grow.

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