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

Top Ten Issues Local Churches Must Address in 2013

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Happy New Year 2013! Here’s my annual blast of issues I believe the majority of local churches are totally missing. As a professional church visitor, I see these or their effect in virtually every church visit. I invite your comments about them.

During the remainder of January I’ll tackle a few of these issues each week and flesh them out with examples. Gulp…really? Yep, I’ll showcase them with actual church examples. Please keep up with my blogging, and by all means, follow me on Twitter to know when I post each of my reports. Thank you for visiting my ADN community blog. Keep coming back!

2013 Top Ten Issues List

1. Get Friendly, Show True Christian Hospitality
After almost five years writing this blog on ADN, I’ve seen little improvement in this area. Most Anchorage churches are unfriendly, hoping a bulletin passer will suffice instead of a true greeter. “Good Morning” is not a Christian greeting. If you are visiting an unfriendly church, you should leave immediately! Unfriendliness can be a barometer of the people in that church. Most people make that choice to return in the first 5-8 minutes anyway.

2. Forget Short-Term Missions, Be Missionaries Here at Home
Many area churches are already planning their 2013 short-term mission trips. Research indicates many of these short-term trips are long-term failures and primarily a feel-good device. Meanwhile local needs go unmet because of the huge dollar commitments required by these short-term missions. Often foreign country involvement about their true local needs is misguided or totally lacking, rendering these trips lacking in true benefit.

3. Expect More from Your Pastor’s Sermon
It’s my personal observation that few pastoral sermons I hear use words or ideas that really change people’s lives. Often this is due to the way sermons are delivered, reliance upon story instead of scripture, extended Christian book reviews, focusing on a "hot" author and covering many weeks of sermons, and/or personal harangues or ministerial diatribes instead of Bible-based Christian truth. The number one reason the unchurched visit a church is to learn about what that church believes, and to study the Bible. What are your guests hearing?

4. Clean up Your Websites
The average church website locally is a ringing endorsement of Alaska as a tourist destination, not a communicative device to connect people with God and build Christian community. Lakes, streams, woods, and mountains are shown, one after another, as if churches are in the tourist business. Tourists come to relax and play. Is that the Christian message we should portray? Many times websites are out-of-date, maintained by someone who has no idea of what they are doing; Sad commentary for something that has replaced the traditional Yellow Pages.

5. Confront the Issue of 18-29 Year-Olds Leaving the Church
A huge issue for the church is the documented flood of young adults leaving the church, in all likelihood forever, because of some pretty deep issues created by the church, its leadership, and individual members. Few churches are confronting these issues, but are hoping these young adults will ultimately return. Hope is not a strategy!

6. Understand Why the Rise of the "Nones" is Happening and Address it
Pew Forum and other research adequately documents the numbers and the why’s for the incredible rise of those with no profession of religion (Nones), now at 20%. There are reasons for this, ways to confront it, and people i.e., Nones, who might respond. Many area churches are totally ignoring this phenomena hoping it will go away. Once again, hope is not a strategy.

7. Don’t Surrender Control of Your Church’s Music to a Worship Leader
Too many area churches have totally surrendered control of their worship music to a well-paid worship leader (larger churches). This person often promotes an entertainment format, offensively loud music (105+ decibels), and the use of bland and/or trance-like lyrics devoid of meaningful, life-giving content. Often this music consumes more worship time than that taken by the pastor to share the Word. Studies indicate worshipers are less apt to concentrate on the sermon after such hearing such music. Many studies of the unchurched show they come to learn, not for the music. Is this a conspiracy, or lunacy at its best?

8. Pastors, Stop Hiding behind General Church Email Addresses
Many Anchorage pastors hide behind a general church email box, instead of making themselves available to the public who may need to approach them. Communications to these pastors are screened by a bevy of others deciding if they will trouble the pastor with this or that communication. From personal experience, I can document the exact churches in Anchorage following this disingenuous practice. They have not responded to my communications at all, such as my recent requests for Advent Reflections as mentioned in the post just previous to this one.

9. Stop Being Afraid to Share Information of Worthy Presentations
Anchorage pastors tend to discourage information sharing of other worthy Christian presentations in the community, possibly at another church. Over the past few years I’ve seen many great Christian presentations go wanting for lack of a supportive audience because pastors blocked mention of them, either at the pulpit, church newsletter, or in their bulletins. If your pastor is doing this, they are fearful of something. What could it be?

10. Effectively Announce What Your Church is Planning on Presenting
For some unknown reason, many churches do a poor job of showcasing or announcing what they’re doing or presenting in the community. The Matters of Faith page in Saturday’s Anchorage Daily News does a marvelous job of giving free publicity to churches with important things to share. For the most part, there are only 10-15 listings each week, often with multiple listings for the same church. Non-Christian churches are accorded the same right, so often there are only a few Christian churches with something to share. Why is this? The same goes for direct mailings. I only get 4-6 per year in my mailbox, usually from the same church.

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