Sunday, February 26, 2006

Church Visits

In the midst of my continuing spiritual dilemma, I'm being required for my Intro to Worship class to visit sveral churches that do worship in ways which are different from my every Sunday experience. To kick us off, we spent our class period last week visiting two churches in order to analyze their worship spaces (after being assigned reading that dealt with what goes into sacred space and what things should be considered when designing worship space).

Our first visit was the Church of the Resurrection (in Overland Park, KS), one of the largest United Methodist churches in the country, and I believe, in the world. I had no idea just how big it was going to be, but it has its own campus, which I think is actually bigger land area than the Saint Paul School of Theology campus (hmmmm, interesting). We met in the narthex, or gathering area, where there is a huge open staircase, several clusters of chairs, a coffee shop and a bookstore (also bigger than that of our seminary, but that isn't saying much). From there were took a look at their newest chapel, a small, intimate worship space, fairly plain except for the specially commissioned stained glass cross window at the front (gray walls, one wall of glass, very contemporary styling, probably holds around 50 people). Then we went to the ushers' gathering room - where the collection plates, attendance pads, radios, etc are stored and the ushers coordinate with a head usher and a diagram of the sanctuary to make sure each person knows which section they are serving. It's really quite the undertaking to deal with so many people in one worship space. Next we went into the sanctuary itself, which I don't really know how to explain other than just massive. It felt kind of sterile to me - cement floors other than carpeted aisles, stadium seating, plain walls, no windows. Everything was done in fairly neutral colors, including the altar which was massive and made of some kind of natural stone. The room itself, as well as the altar table and baptismal font, had eight sides, to bring out the theme of the 8th day or new creation. The most prominent things to me about the space were (1) the audio-visual equipment and (2) the very large screens on either side of the altar area. Clearly electronics are important to this congregation as there were at least 4 cameras, maybe 6 or 8, situated around the sanctuary and there is an entire ministry team devoted to working them. The sound board was huge - nicer than some of the professional concert and theater venues I've worked at. Our guide (who was, incidentally, Lucinda Holmes who I used to know of from the Oklahoma Conference) pointed out several times how much equipment they had and how many people and how much coordination it took to do all the things that they do. There was another woman also leading the tour who talked about "the pastor" (Adam Hamilton) a lot - basically giving me the impression that he very much runs the show, a charismatic leader who makes a big impression on everyone. The prayers that he likes and ideas he have somehow become the favorites of everyone around him. It was kind of creepy, almost like a cult...

We went to two other spaces while we were there - the Wesley Covenant chapel (named for one of the pastor's favorite prayers), a more "natural" decor with windows, plants, rock altar surrounding the ever present media screen, and lots of wood beams, and the youth center. I don't really know what to make of the youth center - it was an incredible place, but not what I would categorize as a worship space. There was an internet cafe with several tables full of new Dell computers, a concert stage with more sound and light equipment than my high school had, an indoor skate park, a snack bar and a rock climbing wall! We didn't even see the whole thing but it was enough to get the idea. I have to admit that I had heard things about COR before this visit and they were not slanted in a positive light, but I honestly did try to go in with an objective mind to learn about how they set up their worship space. I just don't understand the mindset that has to show off the "stuff" they have and somehow relate it to worship. There was a cross and pulpit and those "typical things" on the altar, but they were so dwarfed by the other things that I had to remind myself to look for them. There were some copies of famous paintings (the Last Supper, etc.) that had been blown up onto sheeets of vinyl, like large posters, which were hung by either projection screen and there were four tapestries depicting acts of Jesus from the gospel of Luke, but not a whole lot else to "decorate" the sanctuary (at least not that I recall). I also admit that I'm not used to seeing projection screens, so they may have caught my attention more than they would others. It just felt very superficial and materialistic to me - not at all what I would want in a worship space. I know there are people who are drawn to this kind of atmosphere, but I don't understand why. I felt like I was going to a show or movie more than church, and maybe that's the idea. The mission of this congregation is to reach the unchurched and those that have lost their connection to church, and the area is very affluent, white suburbia, so I guess the niche was met and filled. The church is still growing, which says something. They are actually in the process of making a new, bigger sanctuary and will convert this one to a gym! I just question the validity of measuring success by money, numbers of people and how much stuff we have. Yes, this church is bringing people in, but so what? What kind of Christians are they? What kind of gospel are they learning and teaching? What does it say that they have this huge space, filled with all of this stuff, and they come every Sunday to their small groups and worship in their SUVs? I didn't hear a lot about mission and outreach, although I'm sure they do that too and it wouldn't have been entirely appropriate to the point of our visit, but I wonder... As much as I know I would be uncomfortable, I think I need to experience a worship service there and see how people interact to truly try to understand. Any insights you might have for me if/when I go? Am I being too hard or judgemental here?


Kim in KCK said...

Interact? No. I think people attend there for anonymity. My daughter and I didn't "meet" a soul when we visited. We barely felt like we had the opportunity to "interact" with God, much less other congregants. Worship was very programatic. Granted, I've yet to hear the senior pastor preach, and I did attend one of their "contemporary" services, but I have been moved by the Spirit by large, contemporary services elsewhere. I could say size doesn't matter :) This place left me pretty cold. Just my impressions. YMMV

rae's space said...

I don't fit in well at the mega-churches but that's just me. More power to the folks that do. I remember similar comments (as yours) related to Church of the Servant UMC here in Oklahoma City. We always called it Six Flags over Jesus. lol.

Andy B. said...

Cult, club, clique - seems obvious.
I'm not convinced.
The way I know a peach tree is a peach tree is because it grows peaches. What kind of fruit is being grown?
Seems the most important things mega-church members ever mention are 1) their pastor, 2) their attendance figures, and 3) their gadgets.
Not on my radar screen, you know?

mandyc said...

Andy, I agree with your comment about what kind of fruit is being grown, and yet, they are fulfilling their mission - to reach the unchurched and marginally Christian. I would agree that they are still marginally Christian, but then they probably can quote more of the Bible than I can and know Wesley's prayers better than I do, etc. I bey thay have a more developed Christology than I do. :) Not that that's saying much right now. It bothers me that so many people put so much stock in this church because of its size and its pastor. I don't know enough about what goes on there to judge them on "quality of Christian life" - maybe they do more than I know of, but when I toured the emphasis was definitely more on "look at what we have" than "look at what we do."