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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Chris Thompson’s email: churchvisits@gmail.com

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

Good Friday Services & Art Show: ChangePoint

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Yesterday I did something out of the ordinary for Good Friday. I attended what may be considered a contemporary style service at ChangePoint, a non-liturgical church.

However, before the service, an art show under the theme “Redeemed” was held in their commons area. The art show was a first for me in my Anchorage church visits. More churches should offer this form of religious expression. Most of the pieces on display were by women artists, an oddity to me. Very few men were on display, and the one key male artist was busily selling his art at this showing. From what I saw, he was alone in his commercialism. Many artistic expressions were photographs of non-religious themes. Although the art was good in many cases, I was disappointed that the Good Friday “Redeemed” theme, the locus of show, was almost totally lacking. I was told ChangePoint had about 100 artists among its members."Redemption" by Pullens"Redemption" by Pullens

Several pieces caught my eye and I captured them with my iPhone camera. Shown above and below, I apologize for the quality of the images, but these artists were crisp in their dedication to the theme of the show."Redeemed" by Brann"Redeemed" by Brann

Before the 8 p.m. service a poet standing off to the side of the art show, recited, slam style, an inspiring poem.

Slated for an 8 p.m. start, the service started late as many people were late arriving. It’s interesting that attendees to church services figure they can always arrive later than the announced starting time, holding up the start of the service for those who planned ahead. Pastors encourage this behavior by waiting until all are there and in their seats. Try that with a train or airline. Doesn’t work at all. I had the same thing happen at the last church I attended.

For one of the holiest and solemn church days of the year, the disrespectful din from the audience was disconcerting. I measured 80-85 db before the service with the peak decibels at 106. I’ve attended concerts at the PAC where 85 db was the normal concert sound level. Many other churches in Anchorage have extreme reverence on Good Friday with scarcely a sound to disturb the decibel meter. A church can set and manage expectations for noise during services. Normally Good Friday services begin and end with worshipers arriving and departing in silence, and in darkness.

The service started with three popular contemporary Christian anthems played and nicely sung by seated guitarists. Oddly enough, people were told to stand immediately when the singing started except the guitarist/singers remained seated. The tone would have been more reverent if people were not told to stand. This is a conditioned reflex in so many churches that do not consider the true role of music in worship.

The songs sung:
---When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
---How Deep the Father’s Love for Us
---Amazing Love

The commons where the service was held was darkened but not dark, with candles aglow in the front. I’d estimate the crowd to be 300-350, a tiny fraction of ChangePoint’s members. This is merely an observation, not a criticism. Many Anchorage churches attract only a small fraction of their members on Good Friday, one of the major Christian observances.

Teaching Pastor Dan Jarrell then proceeded with a brief sermon capped with a request to take a moment to consider the consequences of sin most grievous to one, to reflect on the cross, and its meaning, recording those thoughts on provided 3 x 5 cards. He encouraged individuals to share those thoughts. A nurse, alcoholic, college professor, middle school student, preschool teacher, soldier, and businessman briefly shared their thoughts. They were all good and brought me back to “testimonies” given in church back in my youth. People are rarely encouraged to share their faith in church anymore, and I applaud Jarrell for doing this.

The service ended with communion distributed from the front of the room.

I considered this an important service for a church wrestling with unaccustomed liturgical forms. The noise, and informality, however, distracted me from the true purposes of Good Friday.



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