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

Alliance Bible Church – Long Service and Gaps

Last Sunday I visited Alliance Bible Church on Dowling between Seward and Old Seward. I’d visited this church several years ago but never wrote up that visit. In the years I've authored this blog, there have been times I chose not to post a visit, either because the service was so disturbing, or some other reason.

I was greeted by a smiling woman who held the door open for me. That’s always nice and a practice I rarely see in Anchorage. There were two younger women passing out bulletins and smiles as I entered the church. The church is boxy inside with unusual contours. (see sketch) Unfortunately I picked seating I later discovered would not allow me to exit unless I walked in front of the entire congregation (x marks my spot). Sketch of Church Interior LayoutSketch of Church Interior Layout

Until the Meet ‘n Greet time, no one spoke to me. At the Meet ‘n Greet, I had about five individuals approach me, welcome me and subject me to the “20 Questions” routine. You know the kind. “Is this your first visit here?”, “How long have you been in Anchorage?”, “What brought you here?”, “Where do you worship?”, etc. These are lost opportunities for sharing why they come to this church to worship, offers to answer questions about the church, or share some significant activities people enjoy there. Churches and service organizations make huge mistakes by trying to get people to married on the first date, i.e. first meeting. One doesn't pop the question on the first date do they?ABC Bulletin - No Order of ServiceABC Bulletin - No Order of Service

As I reviewed ABC's bulletin, I was astounded its eight pages did not contain an order of service, a disservice to guests unfamiliar with their services. Additionally, it contained three inserts making it quite a packet. The music service started with a little bit of musical riffing, rewarded by audience applause. They played one song, "Glory to God", and stopped. Pastor Jeff Wiesinger came up and proceeded to read the announcements already printed in the bulletin. He and a couple of other announcers took over fifteen minutes to cover, longer than some Anchorage church sermons. Good church service practice does not permit double announcing to happen, but it did here.

ABC’s musical group of seven was good, singing mainly theological accurate songs with lyrics displayed on the screen above the stage. The sound level, measured in decibels, was extremely high peaking out at 117 db! I believe the shape of the sanctuary, and the sound technician’s efforts, contributed to this level more than the musicians, but damage to the hearing is nonetheless inflicted. I timed the musical portions of the service at close to 25 minutes, a long time. Studies show that music of this loudness, and its length, contributes to inability of worshipers to focus on the sermon.Speaker J.B. HecockSpeaker J.B. Hecock

They had a guest speaker J.B. Heckock, a Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA) missionary to Russia. The pastor briefly alluded to some mission meetings held during the week, but as a guest, I really had little idea of what had transpired during them.

Heckock preached a sermon titled “The Imperfect”, a sermon of three parts dealing with Joseph (Jacob’s son), Mary Magdaline, and the Apostles. Preaching for an hour, his transitions between the three sections were rough, making focus extremely difficult.

As Heckock started, he said we didn't have to get our Bibles out as it would all be on screen. Sadly, the scriptural passages were improperly formatted. Imagine his reading this passage of scripture (below) during the sermon.


In internet parlance, this is the equivalent of shouting. His thoughts were good, but as a missionary, he gave little hint of their mission (JB and wife). I wish I could share his sermon with you but the church website hasn't posted it yet. Note to all churches. If your sermons are not posted immediately, it’s less likely they’ll ever be listened to online.

I would have left earlier, but as mentioned previously, I was trapped. After the speaker quit, ABC continued with another 15 minutes or so with a presentation of Christian Missionary Alliance funding for missions, and an appeal to commit to a level of giving for the year. At this point, I was beginning to get desperate. When churches do these kinds of presentations, they should be kind and offer a minute or two for their guests to leave, but ABC did not offer this choice. Finally, after two hours, church was dismissed. Unfortunately, no one said a word to me as I leisurely left the church. How many other guests do they let slip through their fingers?

There were things I liked about the service, and obviously things I did not like. This church appears to very friendly to each other but not to guests. All told there were 75-100 attendees at the service. In the critical 5-8 minutes that guests make a decision about returning, I was ambivalent. By the end of the service my mind was made up. Their website contains many pictures of lakes, mountains, rivers, and other nature pictures. Churches have nothing to do with tourism. They should relate “…to the gospel going to all the world”, graphically showing how they are accomplishing that. Sadly, the website does not include, on their all important first page, or splash screen, the address and phone number of the church. You have to hunt for it, but it is the #1 things website visitors are seeking. Several other times the service was dysfunctional for me.

Yet, all told, four or five good service tweaks could produce miracles in their service. I hope they do. Usually, churches do not make the effort. I will go back to see if they have made needed changes and find each visit is the same.

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