Let’s finish this summary of my churchful weekend!
As Sunday continued, I was, until about Noon, aiming for TEN weekend church services. Following #6 at North Mountain, I had two church services in the on-deck circle: an 11:55am at one church, and a Noon at another. But making either of them less than 20 minutes after start-time wasn’t going to happen.
So… I retooled and reaimed, planning for a grand total of nine services.
And so I begin tonight with service #7.
Making my way to the next church service was the biggest ordeal of the weekend, which was funny since it technically could have happened anywhere.
This was “internet church,” my first online service of the year. Believe it or not… like it or not… the creation of Internet Campuses seems to be on the rise around the country. In this case, I planned to attend the Internet Campus of Flamingo Road Church in Cooper City, Florida – in large part because I could compare it to the live service I had experienced at FRC a month or two ago. And in larger part because, being three time zones ahead, their 5pm service fit nicely into my 2pm time slot.
I had to locate some wireless internet, though; my broadband card couldn’t be counted on to match the speed need of a full multimedia streaming experience. I had the option to use the motel’s internet, but with another church service looming at 4pm, it made more sense to drive thataway. (It turned out to be really good that I did.)
I settled in, but loud country music, a scrumptious brownie, and Olympic TV coverage meant this would be a different sort of church service indeed. The earphones worked well, though, and logging in was no sweat.
With all that pre-church hullabaloo, the Internet church service was actually a bit anticlimactic. Not that it wasn’t well-executed; I guess with all the hype over churches’ Internet Campuses I expected… more “added value” for the online experience, perhaps several “bonus” features unavailable in a traditional “flesh and blood” church service.
There was the chat room – but almost no conversation. And the staff of the Internet Campus (yes, they have their own pastor, in fact) provided a great intro and exit. (I especially appreciated the personal shout-out.)
But beyond those elements, the distinct fun of a Flamingo service – with its extremely unique Latin / rap worship flavor, the skit advertising an upcoming youth event, the panther caged on stage as an illustration – lost something in the transmission.
Like many, it’s hard for me to imagine ever wanting to make anybody’s Internet Campus my regular church experience if I have an alternative. But this is just experience one; like anything, I’m sure it could grow on me if it needed to.
Later, I found out I actually was attending church with my dad, since he logged on from their home in Warsaw, Texas. And that’s an added value of Internet Church, now that I think about it.
Compared to the previous experience, church service number 8 at East Valley Bible Church in Gilbert, AZ, was certainly more “traditional.” But any service would be, right? Thanks to the proximity of that Buffalo Wild Wings, I arrived with time to spare. While EVBC presented a solid, uneventful service, I do have a couple of reflections.
First, this was the service when I hit the wall. Less than 6 hours of sleep the night before caught up with me mid-service. And I still had another one to go. My church-attending skills were being tested, but that happens every weekend.
Second, this church was Reformed; they quite happily wear that theology on their sleeve… or site, as the case may be.
And that called to mind something I’ve noticed all year: Regardless of your own stance on the most prominent Reformed doctrines, we can all thank Reformed churches for modeling intentionality. They have a funny way of taking these regular weekend gatherings seriously, giving each component – from announcements to Communion to benediction – a weight proper to their place in the rhythms of Christ’s Body.
This includes East Valley Bible, which is far more “relaxed” than many Reformed churches but still seemed – on their site and in their service – to add intentionality where it’s often less evident in other churches.
At least that’s what I think I saw; by this point, hallucination was definitely a possibility.
finale and formats
Another church trend pertinent to this trip’s main exploration – ministry to college students – is the “new contemporary” worship service. While plenty of churches introduced a “contemporary” service format years ago, some have begun introducing Emerging or other “edgier” forms of “big church.” Sometimes this means a church may have three or more different options (traditional, blended, contemporary, “edgy,” etc.), all within the same weekend.
In many cases, these “new contemporary” services are formatted as entire “communities” within their church, with their own service projects, small groups, preacher, etc.
In the case of Central Christian Church of the East Valley, that community is called “Third Format.” With a darkened auditorium, a regular focus on social justice and other Millennial issues, a target audience of unchurched or church-annoyed individuals, and community elements – all fleshed out on their Third Format blog – “3F” definitely fits the bill for a “new contemporary” format.
And like many churches, they’re still trying to figure it all out: How do you do “edgy” when your service draws high schoolers and even a number of adults? How can you impact longtime churchgoers while also drawing the unchurched into this new community? How do you add lifechanging process to the challenging presentation of action-oriented truth? And if you draw young people by highlighting their favorite concerns, will your whole church live up to what you’ve advertised?
Of course, I didn’t understand all that from just my visit. But I was pondering some of these things from what I noticed Sunday night, and my new buddy Mitch, Central’s college guy, filled me in on the details.
Like I said, this discussion of new-format church services is quite pertinent to this year’s purposes. As an increasing number of churches hope to impact young adults, they’re often contemplating introducing these newer communities and services. Whether that takes an “Emerging,” “edgy,” or otherwise “new contemporary” form, I’ve seen plenty of attempts this year.
But using a new format…
and using a new format well…
are two very different things.
Hopefully what I’ve experienced this year will help us all think through these things even better!
Written from Tucson, Arizona