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

Abbott Loop: Incredibly Loud Music – Great Sermon

Third Visit to ALCC
I made a return visit to Abbott Loop Community Church on February 16. My previous visits are posted HERE and HERE. In many respects this visit was very similar to my first visit with respect to having loud music but presenting a great sermon.

ALCC has two Sunday services: 9 and 11 a.m. I attended the 11 a.m. service.

It’s been nearly 2 years since their ceiling collapsed, but the rebuild turned out well. Church was meeting in the gym this time. I was greeted with “Good Morning!” by the gentleman who opened the outside door. A bulletin was handed to me but no one else greeted or spoke to me until former Pastor Rick Benjamin came over to greet me. I've since come to know Rick better and have an intense respect for him and his service in the community.

No Service Information in Bulleting
A bulletin/worship guide had been handed to me as I entered. Perusing it I was astounded it was chock full of coming events and information about small groups, but not a word about the service that day. Church guests like to know what is happening and in what order. Typical with many charismatic services, when church started, there were still many empty seats which slowly filled until the preaching started.

Punishingly Loud Music
ALCC’s praise band of seven started promptly at 11 and pummeled our eardrums with up to 117 decibel music for almost half an hour. Their lyrics were generally theologically sound but the music was rock turned up to 11. I love rock music, but I now know how problematic it can be in church services. Glancing around me, I noticed that few people were singing. When the music is too loud, people figure it doesn't matter if they sing or not, and because the auditorium was blacked out, the praise band appeared as "stars" presenting what essentially amounted to entertainment. I was shocked to glance across the aisle and saw mother holding a newborn whose delicate ears, statistically, were being damaged as this music played.

Many of the songs they played and sang were unfamiliar to me, butn elicited charismatic responses from those in attendance. Music lyrics were shown on a screen behind the stage. I liked the endless numbers of individuals portrayed holding signs with sayings such as “Finding joy in Christ”, “Giving God Control”, “What if I Don’t go to Heaven?”, etc. The real gotcha for churches is that it’s been proven that an overly loud music service, affects worshipers ability to focus on the sermon and retain that information.

Meet 'n Greet - Why?
A meet ‘n greet was announced after the half hour of music. It was very long and many people around me seemed to be embarrassed with greeting others. For the most part, those who greeted me did so only with their names, and nothing else. I’m guessing many people did not know each other.

Worthwhile Sermon
The sermon that day was delivered by Mark Drake, who everyone seemed to know but was not really introduced to those present. From the internet I gained he got started in the Jesus Movement, but found no information about where he currently lives. He appears to head a ministry preaching God’s plan of salvation, plus printing and delivering related books and literature in the U.S. and various countries around the world. South Africa, Zimbabwe, and SE Asia were given as examples.

Mark’s sermon was well delivered, lasting close to an hour. You can listen to it by clicking HERE. ALCC took over 1 ½ weeks to post this sermon. Last time I went to ALCC, I also heard a fantastic sermon, but it took several months to post it. When I queried ALCC when it would be posted, I was told that work was done by a volunteer and that they had no control over the process. Many Anchorage churches post sermon recordings the same day or in one or two days. If not posted immediately, people lose the urge to listen to a sermon again or share it with friends. Maybe this practice is deeply ingrained in ALCC’s corporate DNA.

ALCC Website Not Helpful to Guests
When I went to ALCC’s website to view their service times, I couldn't find this information easily. I finally scrolled down to the bottom of the page and found it there. That's a sign of poor website design. Potential guests visit a church's website for two things: church location and service times. What a shame this information is not more prominently displayed on every church website. I believe ALCC’s sermons can be top notch. Personally, I recommend skipping the music, to save your hearing, and showing up at 11:30 for the preaching.

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