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.

Follow my Church Visits posts on Twitter

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 do millennials look for in worship? - 4/11/2014 10:29 pm

Church Visits: Visits to 2 churches leave 2 different impressions - 4/4/2014 9:19 pm

Church Visits: Research underscores deeper church attendance issues - 3/28/2014 9:19 pm

Church Visits: It's time we get back to observing the Sabbath - 3/21/2014 8:30 pm

Church Visits: Look deeper into Lent than just 'give-ups' - 3/14/2014 10:37 pm

First Congregational Church Revisit: Not Bad - Room to Grow - 3/14/2014 11:23 am

Church Visits: Pastors mark start of Lent by taking ashes to the people - 3/8/2014 10:56 am

Church Visits: Tools for finding the right church for you - 3/1/2014 3:03 pm

Anchorage Grace - Not Much Change

3rd Visit - Long Way to Go
I've now visited Anchorage Grace three times over the past three years. You can access my previous two visit reports by clicking on the appropriate visit. FIRST VISIT or SECOND VISIT.

During previous visits, I was not greeted, given a bulletin, or talked to during my entire visit. The service was long and music loud. On my most recent visit, August 11, I was very pleased to see greeters at the main door. They were also holding them open, a very strong gesture. A male greeter gave me a smile and shook my hand. The bulletins, instead of being held, were located on a table by the entrance into the gym/sanctuary. However, no one else spoke to me during my entire visit, going or coming.
Anchorage Grace - Time for Church - Where is Everyone?Anchorage Grace - Time for Church - Where is Everyone?
Noisy Congregation Before Service
There was a definite lack of reverence before the start of the 10:45 a.m. worship service, a constant in all of my visits to Anchorage Grace. Several musicians, woodwinds, piano, and drums, were playing before the service but noisily chatting worshipers were clearly trying to drown out this pleasing, spiritual music. It was difficult hearing the musicians. At 10:45 a.m. most people were still standing in the back even though the official worship start time had arrived. A person, I guessed to be the pastor, tried calling worshipers to their seats and finally succeeded. No names were given for any of the onstage participants, either vocally or in their bulletin, a clear disservice. (See my recent post on what worshipers want in a bulletin versus what churches are giving them.) I don't recall hearing welcomes of any kind by pulpit personnel. The pastor started with prayer. Then,what I took to be the worship leader (today's euphemism for song leader) launched into "All Creatures of Our God and King", and "How Great is Our God".
Anchorage Grace - Here They AreAnchorage Grace - Here They Are
Offering Disappointed
The pastor called for the offering with an impassioned plea to GIVE. No one was excepted, including guests. It's little wonder many guests and members complain that in churches it seems to be "all about the money." Churches should audibly and in print (bulletin) tell guests they are not required to give. It is inhospitable not to do so! Crotts further told the congregation there was a huge delta in July giving which needed to be made up in August. He then offered what I call a "tell God" prayer, telling God for all kinds of things God must know already, taking time to tell God about their upcoming August baby dedication, and so forth. If God is who the church says He is, this type of prayer is unnecessary.

Music - Interesting Dynamic
The worship leader (no name given) stepped up to the pulpit to lead the congregation in several songs. Two other unidentified male singers were standing 10-15 feet away. It seemed as though those men were not connected with the worship leader. It might have been more appropriate for them to have flanked him at the pulpit, standing a few paces back or on either side. For some unknown reason, the audience was told to stand half-way through the first song after the offertory. The music leader said "We don't do what we do here for entertainment." Glancing around me, I noticed few people singing or with any volume. This being true, the music WAS more entertainment rather than participative, especially with the music leader distancing himself from the onstage personnel. Three songs were sung at this time including "Jesus Messiah" and "I will Glory in My Redeemer".

Sermons Subject Was Not for Guests
I discovered the pastor speaking today was Jeff Crotts after looking him up Anchorage Grace's website from my seat in the audience. You never know at Anchorage Grace because they often have other speakers too. I've heard three speakers during my three visits. He started speaking at 11:22 and concluded at 12:12. The main thrust of his remarks was a journey into Timothy dealing with the qualifications of a deacon. Listen to this sermon by clicking HERE and selecting August 11. Most guests would find this a pretty dry topic that would be difficult to hold one's attention. If Crotts and Anchorage Grace is building a better climate of understanding for church office qualifications, I could see this sermon in the overall context of educating for spirituality. I think Crotts is an excellent speaker, good communicator, and quite energetic. However, I approach these visits from the standpoint of what visitors can expect from a visit to a specific church. This sermon did not seem to be one an average guest would walk away from saying, "What a sermon! I'd like to know about this church from hearing this sermon."

Summary
I believe this visit was the best of my visits to Anchorage Grace to-date, but remain absolutely astounded this congregation remains so un-friendly to guests. They appear to be extremely friendly to each other but not to strangers. The gospel is the "go-tell movement". Building friendly relationships is important to the Christian's work given by Christ to build a receptive context for hearing the message. At the conclusion of the service, there was a stampede to the food tables located in the back. I found my exit impeded as I swam through this feeding frenzy. My only suggestion would be to locate the food elsewhere out of the main entry/exit corridors.

Anchorage Grace runs a good Christian school on the Hillside, but this review is not about the school. It's about being an inviting church that welcomes guests with open arms, offering a guest-friendly service in every aspect, and providing meaningful bible-based sermons. For the most part, this third visit offered a slim departure from previous visits. Maybe instead of deep diving into instruction-centered council like the book of Timothy offers on qualifications of deacons, this pastor might consider offering a series of sermons on the biblical imperatives of Christian hospitality and practical ways to achieve them. Genesis 18 offers a graphic story of the visit of the three strangers to Abraham, the attendant story of Abraham's extreme hospitality to them, and the end results of his hospitality. This might serve as a good starting place for this church.

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