Saturday night I had the chance to go to two different churches for two very different worship experiences. I will share about the first experience here and the second in a later post.
The first church I went to was about as close to a mega-church as we get in New England. A big, modern building with all the fixins — big video screens, stadium/theater seating, full-service cafe, etc. Some people have strong negative reactions to these buildings and others love them. I am somewhere in between. Done well, I think they are great. Not done well… a whole other story.
This blog post isn’t about architecture, but if it were I would have a list of issues with the design of the facility. A couple of quick observations:
– The building is a classic example of what my friend Mel McGowan would term “mooning the community”. Nuff said on that.
– Despite being big and modern, it was actually not very obvious where the main entrance was. As a first time visitor, it left me confused in the parking lot.
– The worship space has been designed more as theater than sacred space. A lot of churches do that these days and I have seen it work well. This did not work well. The issue I had with the space is that it was designed to look bigger than it was and to emphasize passive watching of a performance. All the sight lines are designed so that you don’t have to see the people you are worshiping with — only the main stage. I have seen big spaces like this one that feel intimate and smaller than they are. This space felt cold and not intimate at all.
Now a few observations about being a visitor:
– First, the language they used was always “VISITOR” — and that is what it felt like. The bulletin referred to me as a visitor, they referred to visitors from the stage, and the “connection card” was labeled as a “Visitor Information Card”. There is a big difference between a VISITOR and a GUEST. A visitor is a bit of an intrusion, not really expected. A visitor is just there to check things out and decide if they want to come back. A guest, on the other hand, is someone you are expecting and planning for. A guest is often treated in a special manner — welcomed, introduced to people, etc. When you host a guest, you go out of your way to make them feel at home. I felt like a visitor, not a guest.
– On the positive note, the church was filled with young people, the worship team was solid, the greeters and ushers were friendly, and most of the technical aspects of “doing big church” were done well. But that was the problem… you were well aware that they were trying to do “big church”. I have been to some really big churches (Willow Creek, Saddleback, etc) and they do a great job of trying to hide the “big church” stuff. That was not true here.
– I thought the worship was pretty good, but the sound mix was distractingly bad. I am not super-sensitive to sound mix issues, so it has to be really bad to be distracting to me. This was. (In their defense, they are in the middle of a major play production so this may not have been their A sound team or they may have been dealing with some reconfigurations on the sound board due to the show. On the other hand, you only get one shot at a first impression…)
– Not one person introduced themselves by name from the main stage. Not the worship leader, not the pastor doing announcements, not the pastor who preached. This to made me feel like an observer/visitor and not a guest. When you have guests, you introduce yourself. Seems pretty simple, but so often missed.
– The service was about 2 hrs long. That is a long service. As a visitor, I did not expect this. There was nothing on the website indicating the length of service. That information would have been helpful.
Those are my “first impressions” thoughts. I also have some additional thoughts on the sermon, but no need to go into detail here. Suffice it to say that I would describe the sermon as something I easily could see on TBN.