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

First Congregational Church Revisit: Not Bad - Room to Grow

My only visit to First Congregational Church was in 2008, shortly after I began this blog. You can read that review HERE. I can’t believe almost 6 years have passed since that first visit. First Congregation Church During Worship Services - 3-9-14First Congregation Church During Worship Services - 3-9-14

Last Sunday I made a return visit and discovered similar characteristics of that previous visit still present. Arriving a few minutes late, the service was just starting. Grabbing a bulletin and a smile from the greeter at the sanctuary doors, I took a seat just behind the bell choir. From my vantage point, I had a striking view of this beautiful sanctuary. It appeared the congregation was slightly smaller than it had been previously with less than 100 present.

First’s services start at 10:30 and the first hour was taken up by the progression of the liturgy. The sermon and New Testament Lesson took about 10 minutes. The sermon was brief but very good, delivered by Sr. Pastor George Blair, III. It may be read HERE. After the lengthy preliminaries, I was concerned the sermon would make for a much longer service. Most liturgical churches seem to aim for about a one-hour service. However, after a closing hymn we were out of church before 11:45.

Things I Liked
*Ceremony accepting new members to the church
*Bell choir special music
*Choral anthem
*Beautiful sanctuary
*Sound at acceptable levels
*Great, biblically-based sermon
*Several members greeted me separately, and kindly

Things I Didn't Like
*Meet n’ Greet – Was awkward as a guest. 2-3 people greeted me.
*Reading the sermon
*Long pauses and dead air as pastor wrote down special prayer requests
*Call for people to introduce themselves if they chose
*Children’s story seemed above their heads
*Call for offering didn't except guests
*Queue in front of pastor at door after the services
*Pastoral microphone picked up pastor's breathing

In all, my visit wasn't unpleasant. I've known some of their congregation over the years, but none seemed to notice me this day. To grow, a church needs to draw. To draw, prospective members need to be attracted. For one of the more beautiful and attractive churches in Anchorage on one of Anchorage’s most heavily trafficked thoroughfares, I’m surprised First can’t attract more members. It can’t be the theology.

The choir had shrunk and was less than half the size previously. A good choir can be a great draw. The website was cleaned up in the interim and is much more functional, especially showing the church address prominently on the main page. The sermon title “Sin Boldly” was prominently displayed in Matters of Faith in Saturday Anchorage Daily News religion section. My lasting impression of First is that it’s staid and proper. A breezy sense of informality could go a long ways here. That can go far in making lasting impressions with potential members.

In closing I’ll add I was asked to come downstairs and join the congregation for coffee and fellowship. Time did not permit me to join them this day, but I’m sure another opportunity will come.

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