Disclaimer: I am by no means an expert at how to “do” church. I offer these insights only to help the church as a whole begin to rethink what we do when we gather, in an effort to create the best and most irresistible environments we can. This is not a critique of the church, but of the Sunday morning service I attended. The name of this church has been left out.
Today I attended a church in Barrie, ON. I attended the 12:00pm service (praise the Lord!). There were approximately 100-120 people in attendance, in an auditorium that seats approximately 300-400. This church hosts 4 services, which gives it a capacity of about 1600. There are lots of empty seats for people to bring friends!
In this review, I want to tackle three main issues: first impressions, the worship set, the hosting/community involvement, and the communicating.
I came into this experience with a little bit of knowledge about the church. I had heard they were a church of approximately 1200 people (one of the largest churches in our area) and that they were contemporary in their style of worship. I drove into the church parking lot, not having any idea where I should park or where I should enter the building. Once I found my way in, I had to squeeze my way through the “lobby” (read: incredibly tight hallway with people stopped gathering coats and engaging in conversation). I walked past a coffee table setup (I already had my tea misto from Starbucks) that was not accessible due to the clutter in the hallway. I also saw a table set up with resources, but no one there to explain what they were for or how I could access them.
I walked into the auditorium and was not greeted by anyone. I stood around drinking my misto for about 10 minutes until some friends from Connexus came and said hello. I was not greeted by anyone from the church, and was not offered anything to give me an insight into what to expect during the service, or to provide information about what happens during the week in this church community.
I found my way to a seat in the back, close to the aisle (even though I would never leave a service unless something really offended or scared me, I always like to have an escape route). My exit plan was foiled part way through the service when a family asked me to slide in.
Overall first impressions: I really wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived, and really didn’t find any comfort in the lack of welcoming. I still don’t know the name of who led worship, who was hosting the service, or who the communicator was.
I was pretty excited about hearing what this church had to offer in terms of their music environment. I attended Harvest Bible Chapel Barrie back in July, and had really enjoyed the music that the church of about 600 could produce. It looked like it was going to be a full team, with drums, bass, keys, electric guitar, acoustic, and 3 backup vocalists.
The set began with the worship leader welcoming people to the church and inviting them to join him and the team in singing. He didn’t really grab the crowd’s attention, as most people were still coming in while he was talking. He also spoke as if he was speaking to about 10 people, rather than trying to engage an audience of over 100. The first song began with him on acoustic, and then the band joined in, successfully recreating the Maranatha Praise sound of the 80’s and 90’s. The mix was very quiet, with the keys and electric guitar completely unheard. When the vocals kicked in, they really overpowered everything else in the mix.
The team performed 4-5 songs, almost all of which I did not recognize (they did do “Not To Us” by Chris Tomlin, which was also successfully recreated to fit the 90’s feel). There was very little in terms of dynamics, most because everything was so quiet. I will say, those for whom this church is home were really singing out. However, I had a hard time being engaged because I was so lost. It made me really think about the purpose of music in a service. I know that this church’s model is not the same as that of Connexus, but at some point they must ask the question “what do our guests think?” It actually got to the point where I had to sit down because I was so uncomfortable. If I were an outsider, I likely would not have enjoyed that aspect of the service one bit, and would fear having to endure it again just to be a part of that community.
On a positive note, the team did play well together. Only once did there seem to be a bit of miscommunication. Otherwise, the songs were well performed, and as I said, really engaged those who call this church home.
Overall Worship Set: The set was really long, and didn’t have much in the way of coherency. Songs did not flow from one to another, and the topics did little to set up the message. The sound was really outdated, and the mix so low that I was uncomfortable even singing the one song I did now for fear of being heard louder than the band throughout the auditorium.
Side Note: During the last song, someone from the crowd (who I knew to be one of the pastors, only because my Connexus friends knew him) got up and started talking about God delivering us and helping us through hard times. He made a very big blanket statement that all of us were dealing with something we couldn’t get through. Even if this is the case, I have a big problem with people that do not know me telling me how things are going in my life.
The Hosting/Community Involvement
This is the one aspect of every church service that I am constantly critiquing. 9 times out of 10 this part of the service is so insider focused, it leaves those who are not part of the community out in the cold (this even includes our own announcements at Connexus, which we are working to make more engaging and outsider friendly). This morning there were very few announcements. I heard something about a skateboard ministry (Jesus loves skateboards). I also experienced something that my parents described to me once as the most uncomfortable experience ever at a church (though, to a less degree than they went through). During the announcements the host had those who were attending for the first time raise their hand. Once they did, they were given a book about 2 inches thick. I can tell you if I were an outsider, my first though would be “great… I went to church and all I got was homework.”
The very first thing the communicator did this morning was lead the congregation through a chorus. The chorus had something to do with God being more than enough. Aside from the very southern accent applied to the name “El-Shaddai,” the song was even more outdated than those in the worship set. If I was uncomfortable during the worship set, I was really uncomfortable while the communicator played through this song.
The speaker stated from the top that the bottom line for the morning was that we need to read our bible’s every day. That is a bottom line that I could understand. That is a bottom line that an outsider could understand. However, all throughout the message, the communicator introduced new ideas every 5-10 minutes, and by the end I really had no idea what the bottom line was anymore. He talked about Jesus and the 12 leftover loaves (John 6:13). Somehow these loaves represent the 12 months of the year, and the “leftover blessings” we carry with us from year to year. He jumped through a few more verses totally unrelated to loaves or reading the Bible every day, and came to three main points. I don’t remember them.
At the end of the message, the communicator had everyone bow their heads and close their eyes. He made the invitation to “invite Jesus into our hearts as our personal saviour.” He had people raise their hands if they wanted to accept the invitation. I know I shouldn’t admit this, but I was peaking. While he was saying “thank you” to a few people who had raised their hands, from my vantage point, I couldn’t see anyone with their hands up. After this he had everyone stand up, and invited anyone who had put up their hands to go to the front to be prayed for. No one went. So, somehow the message went from being about reading our bibles, to having loaves of blessings, to accepting Jesus as our “personal saviour.” Even as someone who had gone to church for the last 7 years, I can tell you I was totally lost.
Overall Communicating: From some of the stories the communicator shared, it seems that he was a missionary of some sort. I am not saying this is true of all missionaries, but for many missionaries, being a missionary does not mean they have the gift of teaching/communicating. Again, I am not a professional, or an expert, but I did not sense this gift with the communicator this morning. He was interesting to listen to, and had a ton of energy that I am sure if poured into an avenue that best suits his gifting, could really make a huge impact on our world.
As my disclaimer disclaimed, this is not a critique of this particular church as a whole. There are so many other aspects to church life that my 1 h 10 min in a Sunday morning service does not reveal. However, for most people, Sunday mornings are the first steps into church life. My experience this morning overall was not engaging or irresistible.
There are so many things I learned from my experience at this church. First is the importance of first impressions. A big reason why I wasn’t engaged during the worship or the message was because I did not feel like they wanted me there. I did not feel as though it made any difference to them if I was there or not. It made me wonder if those who walk through the doors of Connexus for the first time know that everything we do is for them, and that we would not exist if it weren’t for them.
It also gave me a lot of new ideas about music in church, its purpose and the win when we do music each Sunday. I am going to be writing a post in the next while called “The Case For Fewer Songs,” where I hope to tackle the question “how many songs should we do in church?”
Last Word: Again, I really want to make sure people know that I am not critiquing this church or any other church with the attitude of superiority or pride. I am passionate about seeing the church communicate the timeless message of Jesus to a culture that otherwise has no interest. I want to see every church be the absolute best it can be, and the only way we can do so is by looking at what we are doing, and continuing to improve. The same is true of this church, Connexus, and every church that wants to have an impact on our generation.