And on the topic of new places and toughing out fears of new places…
We switched churches.
Yeah, that one has been coming for about 5 years or so… so I’m sure the only shock is that we actually did it rather than just talking about it.
So, none of the issues were really new things… just lots of the same old things… not feeling like I belonged there… the aftermath of the not so distant church split… the one pastor of the three that I was really into their sermons left…
But, honestly, it really boiled down to two things…
One, my kiddo had always been close with the childrens program leaders (a large part of why we stayed previously) but with moving up to the youth group she never really developed much connection, so she was rarely cooperative on getting up to go… but I can’t say I blamed her much.. I found myself wanting to leave after the worship portion of the service..
And the other, as mentioned a bit before, was a complete lack of anyone asking or seeming to care that we’d been gone extendedly from my knee injury. Obviously, we weren’t missed… even the church members who were my friends on facebook never said a word even around with the surgery.
I’m all for loyalty and trying to tough it out through the harder spells with a church… but ya know what? It’s been 9 years.
I just didn’t have a good reason to go anymore.
And so we began the search. Ok, mostly I began the search… researching online, listening to online sermons, checking a few services out by myself..
And nothing really wowed me. At all.
Nothing really said this is home… this is where you belong.
I did discover that after being with the vineyard denomination for so long, I’m very spoiled on worship.
Nowhere else goes even remotely as long… and I’m used to a lot of the vineyard, bethel, hillsong, style of songs… maybe dipping into Christian radio songs as far as chris tomlin, but that’s about the extent. Very, well, all absorbing songs, but usually fairly simple and repetitive to learn.
But, really, the worship was the only thing really doing any good for either of us at vineyard… and I’ve got my mp3s.. so I sort of realized anywhere we went was probably going to be different in that aspect.
So, the search wasn’t pulling up much of any real draw anywhere.
One of the few people who really talked to me at vineyard had left a year or so earlier over some completely different issues… and knew that I was looking, and tagged me in some of her facebook posts about her new church’s services… so we decided to try it out.
I gave kiddo the option to come along, because she knew them as well, so she decided to tag along on this first trip, even though I hadn’t taken her along on the others figuring that I wanted to get a good read of the place before seeing how that went.
And thus we ended up at life.church.
Normally I try to keep things a bit more vague around here… but when that really doesn’t narrow it down and leaves 25 possible cities, well, I’m just not going to bother this round.
Life.church is quite possibly the least likely candidate that would have been on any list of where we would end up.
It’s just not anywhere that I would have really considered much at all.
For those not familiar with it, it’s a "multiple campus" church, with church locations in 24 (soon to be 25) cities. The sermon is given in a main church, the rest are via video after the live worship band on-site.
In theory, I usually fall on the side of the objections on the idea of multi-site churches… that new leaders can and should be brought up and learn to teach rather than just using one person’s message for many places… and to allow the speaker to better be able to gauge the flow and response of their entire audience and flex as needed.
In practice…. it’s not nearly as odd feeling as I expected it to be.
Honestly, it’s not much different from the experience of having a bible study on dvd.
The main pastor for the campus is on site… does all the announcements and such, and the invitation and prayer sections after the main message are lead by him. The worship band is on site as well. So, it’s just sort of like a standard church using a video series…
Which I guess is essentially what it is… not sure why I expected it to be different… but I guess I expected it to just be more of a passive, observing type of feel.
But the whole feel of the church itself… honestly, the best way I can describe it is like a concert. (I don’t mean that as a negative at all, most of you know that some of my deepest experiences have been at worship concerts)
It’s a really big place. Even when you only look at our campus, a recent post listed the numbers as being 1700 adults and 400 kids between the two services.
So, it’s not too hard to slide around without being obvious as a newbie and being attacked by the greeters like some places. Even if they don’t know you, they just assume that you always go there and just haven’t been by them before.
It’s also dark… like a concert.
This probably should have been expected… I mean, they are using a video system, of course its going to be darkened in the room to see it… but I guess I just never thought about that.
Like a concert, this actually helps ease tension a bit. You can see enough to read or whatever, and you can see people around you… but there’s not the whole looking around checking what other people are doing or wearing or whatever.
It’s sort of a comforting thing… as odd as that probably sounds. It makes a giant place seem like just the area around you.
And it’s loud.
As in, there are ear plugs at the doors loud.
You can feel the vibration of the bass in your chest even sitting at the back loud.
Like a concert, nobody can hear how off key you are.
But, they do the stage lighting well… rather than bringing focus to the band members, its more lit like the background singers and band would be at a concert… the video screens not showing live video, but just lyrics and more artistic style video.
Which is part of the big thing that surprised me, and that is a big draw… and that’s that things are done very intentionally. They are very planned and thought out.
Ushers have a set method on helping people find seats in the dark. For the earlier seating, there are big curtains on each side that reduce the auditorium to half the capacity or so, then when it fills in, they start pulling them back to open the side sections as it fills, then when those fill, they go more like a movie theater usher and locate rows with empty seats to wave people into.
Parking is well designed, and also well managed to keep people flowing in one direction and going to the closest open space. Golf carts enclosed with plastic covers and with heaters going drive around to bring people from their cars and back when its cold if they are further out or have trouble with walking.
Everything just flows with a precision that is pretty impressive. Even the recent baptisms worked smoother than I’ve seen them go even with a much much smaller church.
But beyond the physical feel, the whole setup seems designed to be open and welcoming. Seeker friendly is almost a bad word anymore , but it does apply here. Even being so big, they do have community and they do small groups… but its more of a no-pressure, opt in style… more than the forced small talk in the name of fellowship style of setup.
In a way, the video sermon system actually helps the dynamics, leaving the on site pastor to focus more on shepherding. We’d actually met him a couple of times before I realized who he was… he’d just been in the lobby chatting like everyone else and introduced himself by just his first name, and we usually sit far enough back that we don’t really have the greatest view of his face when he’s on the stage. But it also helps that feelings towards the sermon aren’t getting directed at him either.. if you don’t like a point, its not his fault, and not going to be creating rifts with him.
The messages tend to be focused a lot more on life application… on how god matters to day to day life.. rather than getting into deep theology territory.
And, well, its fun. They don’t take life too seriously.
The Christmas eve service, we came in to the seats having cups, finger cymbals, and clappers on them…. and the service opened with the video screens showing each item, followed by a color… that turned into a guitar hero style audience play along with the music for several songs that was a blast. (Followed by having all the instruments picked up before it got too deep into serious songs and having them be a distraction.)
One morning, my daughter pointed out a disco ball on the ceiling, asking why it was there. I told her that maybe it was used for concerts of something. Oh no. Yes, they actually used a disco ball during the worship band. (Can’t even remember the song, but it was a verse about stars as the time, it made sense… ). Kiddo and I just looked at each other and laughed.
Super bowl sunday, the people directing traffic were dressed as referees. Which was only the beginning, as we walked into the lobby to find that it now had green astroturf marked as a field with 8 foot tall or so inflatable players on each side of the door, and tailgating tents had been set up over the area that usually has coffee and pastry stuff… which had been replaced with grilled hot dogs, bags of chips, and coolers of pop. The sermon that day featured tv commercials being played, followed by a biblical lesson that could be demonstrated by that commercial. (well, except the one that the head pastor admitted was just included cuz it was funny and he liked it.)
But, in the midst of the silliness… they also featured a message about domestic violence. One that had compassion for the abusers mentioning that most of them had probably been abused themselves and giving advice on seeking help. After the video feed cut back to the local pastor, there was a very specific woman on staff who was pointed out (with a light on her) as a specific point person to come and contact if you were being abused and needed help.. rather than just leaving it open to "talk to someone and seek help"
Another method of reaching out that surprised me is when the offering is collected… and it is openly stated each time that "if you are an adult in need of food, clothing, or shelter, you may take any loose cash to help meet your critical needs".
Does anyone do it? No clue… but ya know, I’m sure that there are people who have needed that help, and wouldn’t have ever been willing to go up to someone and admit that they were going hungry and needed help… or even just people that have needed to know its an option that’s there when they are getting close to that situation.
I’m thinking that most of my previous churches would have freaked about the idea of not having control and not having an exact count of giving vs help given to people rather than leaving it between god and the person.
But even as part of a larger whole.. youversion bible app (on about ever Christian’s smartphone) and bible.com is one of life.church’s ministries.. not to mention the big things they do in other cities. Rather than feeling like an overflow room for the main church, it feels that there really is a connected part of the whole, and actually feels like a good demonstration of how all churches are part of the larger body of Christ as a whole. It feels like our fairly new campus is just as much of the life.church whole and their ministries as the older locations.
The youth group is just as intentionally done, but beyond that, its able to be done in a way that most single churches could never dream. Things like custom produced video series forming a mystery story… custom printed shirts… computerized self-checkin systems.. it’s just sort of amazing to see how they manage to use resources to keep 75-90 kids drawn in… and to compare to how lifeless the youth group seemed at the old church.
And, that, is what ended up being the draw.
My kiddo doesn’t want to miss youth group.
My kiddo wants to go to sunday services.
We went to the first Christmas eve service (actually on the 23rd), and my kiddo was disappointed that we couldn’t come back and go again to one of the services on the 24th.
Getting a teenager to respond like that… is an accomplishment.
And honestly, that’s why we are attending life.church.
Everything else is nice… but, that’s the deal maker.
Taking some time to read about the church online, to read the anti-posts against the lead pastor and the whole idea of multi-church campuses… if I’d been going by my research I probably wouldn’t have gone. After a bit, I decided that I didn’t even really care anymore, surprising even myself with not even feeling like I needed to read through the lead pastor’s books that he has written and that sort of thing before entrusting our minds to his care.
I’d have probably considered the messages to be too focused on using the bible to support points rather than digging into a section verse by verse… would have written it off more as milk than meat.
And, maybe it is.
But right now… slogging through depression and just general life stuff.. my tummy is feeling a bit upset anyway. Milk feels like about my speed.
And if the appeal of the chocolate in the milk is getting my kiddo fed… well then that’s good enough for me right now.
I don’t know if we will stay here for the long run. Maybe when she gets a little older and things change in life, it won’t hold the same appeal anymore.
But for right now.. it’s a comfortable place to park it.
I don’t know if it’s home, but I do know that I’m far more at home and comfortable attending there in just a little while than the church where I’ve attended for years and years…