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

Grandview Baptist Church – Some Rough Moments

I’ve often driven Debarr Road in the Airport Heights area but haven’t visited churches in that area as much as I’d like. On November 10 I decided to visit Grandview Baptist Church located just east of Alaska Regional Hospital. Grandview Baptist has been in my view and on my mind for years, so I thought it was time. Although I enjoy visiting churches to survey their guest friendliness, and to worship, a bit of trepidation also accompanies me as I enter each church door. This visit was no exception.

Moderate Welcome
I was greeted by the bulletin passer at the door, and two people in my pew introduced themselves immediately. The congregation was quite noisy as I sat, in fact, it was so noisy I had a hard time hearing the announcements initially. A general greeting to visitors was given from the pulpit which was appropriate. I rarely hear Anchorage churches even greet their guests from the pulpit. It seems to indicate those churches are holding services for their own benefit, not also for guests who may happen to wander in. Guests often can become members, and to not greet them with warmth and courtesy is akin to shutting the door in their face.

Veteran’s, Meet ‘n Greet & Embarrassment
The person making the announcements asked all veterans to stand to be recognized. He then proceeded to ask everyone to go find veterans and greet them. It was a bit of an awkward moment for me. This emphasis was incorporated in a general Meet ‘n Greet, which I feel is one of the biggest and most embarrassing wastes of time in any church. During this time, the announcer came up and greeted me. I asked him if he was a deacon, as deacons often make announcements at the start of Baptist services. To my shock, I discovered he was the pastor! I mentioned it might have been helpful to guests had he introduced himself, so that people unfamiliar with him might understand his relationship to the church. He then found a deacon to introduce to me. It felt as if he was intentionally trying to embarrass me for my comment, which I felt was absolutely appropriate.

Music Program Done Well
The music was rendered by a band of eight, and a choir of 12-16 (singers came and went so I never knew who was really there). However the music was skillfully led, performed well, theologically correct, and sounded great. The music director also led the church in the singing.

Good Dramatic Presentation – “Lazarus”
A teenager, dressed in simulated grave wrappings, came out after the prayer and gave a monologue as though it were Lazarus speaking. His lines were well rehearsed and I thoroughly enjoyed the presentation even though it seemed a bit “flip” in places. This was well worth the price of the trip.

Sermon Typical Baptist
Pastor Randy Graham gave what I considered to be typical Baptist fare. He’s a relatively good speaker but the sermon didn’t really grab me. Parts of his remarks were based on 1 Corinthians 13. No title was given in the bulletin for his sermon, and no replays are available at the church website. Pastor Randy ended with the traditional Baptist altar call but no one came forward.

Hand Holding Awkward Closing
A closing chorus, “On Eagles Wings”, was sung. I quickly discovered their practice was to hold hands during the singing of this. The person to my left took one hand and the person in the pew in front of me turned sideways taking my other hand. I audibly discovered I was saying “awkward”! If this church was truly visitor friendly they would have mentioned this practice in advance. Another visitor friendly gesture would have been for them to say they were taking an offering, but guests were not required or expected to give.

Although Grandview Baptist fared well on some points I always look for, in other areas I felt they were unprepared for guests when they arrive. Their website was designed so one had to hunt for worship times, buried under two pull down menus. A church’s worship times are the main reason potential guests visit their website. They should be prominently displayed so one does not have to scroll down or click other menus to find them. The splash screen on their website displays a changing cornucopia of coming events, but sadly nothing about the time of worship or the pastor’s topic.

To me, the lighting in the church seemed to detract from my ability to see what was transpiring during the service. It was quite dim. I found it made for some difficulty in reading my Bible and the bulletin. In some ways Grandview felt very family oriented, with a good mix of ages and programs. It seemed to have some of the “right stuff” but I left to brave the trip home on ice-slicked roads without anyone saying goodbye.

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