Located in the Huffman Business Park, Anchorage Faith & Family Church, a small church, offered me a warm greeting, tempered by the perennial guest-distancing question, "Is this your first time here?". Visiting on May 30, I then experienced a near first in my Anchorage church visits when my greeter actually showed me the way to the worship area, kindly pointing out the bathrooms on the way. A 5-piece praise band played very upbeat contemporary Christian music for about 20 minutes.
The largely unsmiling pastor, Brant Barker, spent a significant amount of time with preliminaries, announcements, etc., including a lengthy offering appeal. One hour and twenty minutes after the service started, Pastor Brant, as he’s known, began preaching. I wish readers could listen to his sermon but it’s since been removed from AFFCs website. To me it felt like a tirade against everything wrong in America, dressed in patriotic clothing, and delivered with more than a pinch of condescension. He spoke for an hour making the services two hours and twenty minutes long. In my opinion this is much too long for a service of this type. I'll detail my mixed experience below, but as a guest, I'll give it some time before attempting a revisit.
Greeting With Heart
The heart of any church has to be the quality of the greeting given by someone who really cares about people. Why? Because it’s a supreme act of sharing love for one’s faith to do so. St. Paul often reminded believers to greet each other warmly and to be kind to strangers. If you are a greeter, it’s never about you; it’s about those you are welcoming to your church. This day my greeter smiled, warmly welcomed me, but then asked me the guest-defensive question, “Is this your first time here?” The guest is immediately thinking, “What’s the next question?” The friendliest thing a greeter can do is to offer their own name, willingness to help, and a warm thank you for “…choosing to worship with us today.” My greeter warmly showed me to the worship area, an unusual act for a greeter, pointing out the washrooms on the way.
The 5-piece musical group was up-tempo. I liked their sound. Playing for 20 minutes this talented and dedicated group seemed focused on praising, not entertaining. The congregation was young to middle-aged. I may have been the oldest attendee. Maybe it’s their music. You can’t forget those hymns for folks over 50. The brightly lit church was peopled by 45-50 this day. Getting up, the pastor started with prayer, and abruptly ended with “Anybody have a word to share that God is speaking to them?” There were no sharers and he seemed disappointed.
Coffee Ministry Report
The pastor next attempted to report on a recent trip to serve coffee throughout the day at the Hope Junction rest stop. Unfortunately it was preceded by significant dead air space due to fruitless attempts by the techies and the pastor to get a PowerPoint presentation started. In all fairness this should have been postponed until another day. It was a bit tense. Through all of this the pastor’s demeanor was deadpan, which was discomforting and distancing for me, their guest. The presentation was ultimately given, with lots of pictures and dialogue.
And All The People Gave
Their website warned the offering appeal would be a lengthy ten minutes but it turned out to be an overly long twenty minutes tinged with prosperity gospel catchphrases. One good thing they did was to verbally exclude visitors from giving, a guest-friendly and virtually unseen practice in most churches. The pastor had four individual people offer prayers before the offering was taken. It is their practice to hold their offering envelopes or checkbooks in the air during these prayers. Code language was used a number of times including “kingdom builders”, “kingdom advancers”, and “next generation ministry”. Churches should never use acronyms, or code language without explanations.
Visitors Identify Yourselves
This church chooses to ask first-time guests to identify themselves, a guest-unfriendly practice guaranteed, in many cases, to discourage further visits. At this point, one hour into the service, we were asked to do a meet n’ greet. Several people greeted me and engaged me in conversation, including a nice woman with a walkie-talkie, and the band lead. For me, it was a long 5-10 minutes. This portion of the service concluded with several members giving lengthy testimonies at the podium.
Finally the Sermon
At 11:20 a.m. Pastor Brant finally started preaching. In the first five minutes he explained he didn’t believe in taking up politics from the pulpit but as the sermon progressed, he got heavily into politics. Wars, homosexuality, financial markets, politics, “don’t ask, don’t tell”, Palin, Obama’s agenda for redistribution of wealth in America and more were covered during the course of his remarks. A number of military/ex-military were present to which he kept referring for support. This went on for an hour; I was personally uncomfortable as well as for those present. For me, church had ceased and was transformed into a platform for railing at the American system. At this point I would link Pastor Brant’s sermon here for your listening enjoyment. I downloaded it recently from their website, but find they have since removed it. I’ll post a copy soon on my new Church Visits website under construction (www.churchvisits.org) or you can email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) for a downloadable copy.
I did not find Pastor Brant’s unsmiling delivery appealing. It was delivered in a manner akin to condescension. His constant calls for “Amen?”, and phrases such as “Is this ringing a bell for anybody?”, “Y’all still here or have ‘ya gone home?” wore thin with me. This may have been a bad day for Pastor Brant as possibly signified by his sermon being removed from their website after being posted for the public. I have asked Anchorage Faith & Family Church for clarifications about certain visit details, including the removal of his sermon, and will update this post when I receive more information.
AFFCs website is difficult to use to obtain meaningful information. Their first screen is almost totally covered by a beautiful mountain picture. If their ministry is based on selling beautiful views of Alaska, then it’s ok, but I don’t think it’s in any church's interest to just show Alaska scenes instead of critical information such as location, times of services, phone contacts, etc. If you only wanted this church’s worship time, which tab would you click on: HOME, WELCOME, IDENTITIES, CALENDAR, DIVINE CONNECTIONS, YOUTH AND NEXT GENERATION, MEDIA, WE BELIEVE or GIVING? Click on their website here (http://www.affconline.com), check it out and give me your opinion. Confusing isn’t it? Their website is not in touch with what most people look for on church websites.
I’m sure there are sincere people attending Anchorage Faith and Family Church with a real hunger for God. I’ll place them on my revisit list.