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'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

Rabbit Creek Revisit – Good Experience Overall

Second Visit
My first visit to Rabbit Creek Community Church was on June 8, 2008. (Click here to read) After the passage of five years, I was curious to witness noticeable changes as my first visit had been mainly positive. I can’t believe five years had elapsed between then and my second visit a week ago on August 25, 2013. This also was a positive visit, but saw some notable changes from that first visit.

Greeting & Hospitality Changed
This time I was met with a friendly greeting by middle-aged couple who held front doors open for me. The man shook my hand and both welcomed me. There were plenty of friendly smiling faces as I pressed forward into the auditorium, but outside of the greeters, no one else spoke to me during the entire service and after. The previous visit I was greeted multiple times before I reached my seat. The table where people were given a name badge was swamped. I went on by without anyone noticing me. It was clearly understaffed. Maybe a couple other helpers with clipboards and badges could do it on the fly. I think name badges are a great idea, and great leveler.

Noisy, Confusing Service Start
The worship band started promptly at 10 a.m. but there was much noisy visiting after the music started. It lent a confused sound. Many people were loudly talking over the music, especially a table of women at the rear of the sanctuary. I believe this type of behavior is disrespectful. The seven musicians sounded good and were not loud. In fact they were a comfortable 10 to 15 decibels lower than many other churches in Anchorage. It is sheer disrespect to worshipers in Anchorage churches that boost sound levels to 100-105 decibels when one can go to Anchorage’s performing arts center (PAC) and measure the sound of most concerts at 20-25 decibels lower, yet comfortably hear every word and note.

The group led off with Sing, Sing, Sing, a Chris Tomlin tune that is quite spiritual. (Lyrics attached below)

Meet n' Greet Self Serving
No one approached me during the Meet n’ Greet. I observed it as a time friends sought out friends with great demonstrations of affection for one another. At least one guest was ignored, me, and probably others as well.

Announcements Well Done
Rabbit Creek’s announcements were delivered by a laid back layman, and also utilized video. I especially liked the humorous one about “Socks in September”. The Small Groups announcement was very good. Small groups are a great way to strengthen a church. This time was a nice change from the typical boring run down the list of every church announcement that week, assuming people cannot read.

Stand & Sing, Sing Loud, Clap Your Hands
The band said these words to the worshipers, but oddly enough many were not singing, not singing loudly, and not clapping their hands. I believe it was because the music group had the congregation singing an unfamiliar set of three songs with uniquely different rhythms. Christian songwriters are beginning to discover their music is difficult, unfamiliar, and quickly passes off the scene. A new breed of songwriter is beginning to emerge that is writing fewer, but more singable and memorable songs. I’ll be focusing a blog post soon on this current trend. The band might pay more attention to this trend and present the church with slightly more familiar songs. They sang a group of three songs during this time: O Happy Day, He is Jealous for Me, and Beautiful Things. Beautiful Things (lyrics attached below) is not a theologically strong song. It has so much repetition it is almost a trance song including 20 repetitions of “You make beautiful things” and 14 repetitions of “You make me new”.
Rabbit Creek Pastor Dr. Mark Goodman PreachingRabbit Creek Pastor Dr. Mark Goodman Preaching
Great Sermon, Biblically Strong
Pastor Mark Goodman started preaching around 10:30 and continued for 25 minutes. He started by noting that going to church was not enough. One also needed devotional time, and staying in the Word. Titled “Integrity in Faith”, Goodman did a deep dive into three chapters in the Book of Judges. A good speaker Dr. Goodman stayed mostly in the biblical text, talking extemporaneously holding only a bible, and not resorting to the use of a podium. It was one of the best biblical sermons I’d heard in years. So much of preaching these days is read sermons, many non-biblical stories and illustrations, sharing thoughts of contemporary authors, and repetitive social justice themes that are elevated about all other biblical learning. To me, the members of Rabbit Creek Community Church are coming together to study scripture and learn the lessons the bible contains. You can watch this excellent sermon by clicking here. The object lesson of this sermon was that just like the experience of the children of Israel’s backsliding and reform, we follow the same, unnecessary tortuous path in our lives. Goodman then turned the remaining time over to a new-found friend, Ron, who briefly told a similar story of his life, moving away from God, and then returning to Him. It was a fitting conclusion to Goodman's teaching. I enjoyed it.

Offering Changed
In my previous visit, guests were told they were not required to give. I was floored because it was the first time in all of my Anchorage church visits I’d heard that. I’ve only seen a couple of other churches say this orally or in print since. Last Sunday, I’m sad to report, this practice has been discontinued. I strongly believe this conveys a message to guests that it’s all about the money. Maybe it was forgotten just this once, but I fear for the worst.

In Conclusion
The musical group concluded with “Lord I Need You”. About half the service was via the music group, which I believe to be a bit much. Less is more. Better audience participation is critical.

Final Thoughts
The bulletin was good, honoring the elements church members really want in their bulletin. A major change had been made by having two projection screens in the front of the church, a substantial departure from the single screen, with the yellowing image projection as noted in my previous visit.

If you’re looking for a spiritual service, respect for scripture, bible-based sermon, and a good greeting, go here. This church seems to have backslid away from being hospitable to guests, and some of its music seems theologically unsound. I enjoyed the majority of the service. Part of the reason I revisit churches regularly is that they morph over time. All in all, I believe this church is a safe haven for a visitor seeking a sound service.

AttachmentSize
Beautiful Things.pdf48.66 KB
Sing, Sing, Sing.pdf49.19 KB

JOIN THE CONVERSATION
Anchorage Daily News is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service