Monday, July 27, 2009

The Great Sociological Experiment

As you probably know, the philosopher and I are Anglican. Unfortunately for us, we live in an area of the country where there is a paucity of Anglican churches (at least of the kind we would be interested in joining). So we've come to the point where - if we want to worship weekly with a group of Christian believers - we need to find a different denomination. One of the things we both deeply desire is the opportunity for fellowship in small groups, an opportunity to meet folks and "make friends." It sounds a bit childish, perhaps, but when you're in a place where you have few face-to-face friends, you realize how much you long for that kind of friendship.

With that in mind, we decided, rather than go for a church which is "closest to our theology", we should look for a community that has Christ-centered teaching first, and lots of opportunity for fellowship second. The philosopher immediately dubbed this our "Great Sociological Experiment." We would be venturing out of our comfort zone of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, and into the world of Southern Baptists, PCA, Bible churches, Methodists, and goodness knows what else. And who knows, maybe we'll learn a little about ourselves too.

Our first visit was to Church A, which we identified as the "stealth Southern Baptist" variety. It's one of the largest churches in the area, with "Community" situated prominently in the name. Their website was filled with information... however, it wasn't until we went to the regional Southern Baptist website that we realized they were listed as a member of the regional Southern Baptist convention. (Thus the phrase "stealth-Baptist.") We showed up about 20 minutes before the service, and were met in the Visitors Parking Area by a nice gentleman in a golf cart, who toted us to the main doors. (How embarrassing!) We walked in and stopped at the information desk, situated between the two doors leading into the sanctuary. We were given a hearty welcome and a hefty packet of materials (including a DVD). The sanctuary? At first glance it looked like a concert hall with squishy chairs and a lobster tank. (OK, I discovered a bit later that the lobster tank was a baptismal font with one side glass so everyone can see the full immersion...) Full choir! Full orchestra! Repetitive praise music all the time! Electric instruments! Booming sound system! Video equipment for the weekly tv program! Powerpoint screens in three prominent locations! Immersion Baptism! Loud and exhortionary sermon ending in an altar call! SENSORY OVERLOAD. Whew.

Reactions? (Other than the ringing of the ears and the slight dizzy feeling?) The preaching was all about getting to heaven, so that was good. And the preacher did say one thing that stuck with me. He talked about God putting us in uncomfortable situations for a reason, so we can learn how to better serve Him. Yeah. I am So There. I also like praise music, probably more than the philosopher, and I enjoy singing with a guitar. But I prefer hymnody, and I deeply appreciate a choir in four-part harmony singing beautiful choral anthems. So I don't know that I could worship that was every week. There's just too much going on and not enough "down" time. They do have about 50 Sunday school and small groups, tho. That's a plus!

I plan to continue posting about each church we visit. So look soon for the next one!


Blondie said...

I think this was the same one we visited a couple of years ago. (Or at least it sounds like it)

I've said before, don't be surprised if God drops you into a place you would have never picked for yourselves! He did that to us 5 years ago. We never thought we would still be there after this long - and be as involved as we are. We are about to launch (in February) a multi-site church only 1/2 mile from our house. Neither of us have ever gone to a church that close to home!

I may have a non-stealth Southern Baptist recommendation if you are interested.

(I am finally coming out of my Disney planning, packing, visiting, and returning phase. I have been in lurkdom too long!)

J said...

One thing about the Southern Baptist Convention "denomination" is that it is very strongly a convention of churches, and light on the denomination.

Some churches very proudly proclaim their participation in the SBC, but for many churches, the SBC is a cooperative group of churches focused on missions support and not so much a denomination to which one belongs.

For example, there is no such thing as a person who is a member of the SBC (excepting maybe administrative staff?). Churches as a whole are members of the SBC, but not individual members, even the pastor.

This goes along with light control on individual church practices and theology beyond the very broad stroke. Occasionally churches have been removed from membership in the SBC, but the SBC require certain practices or theology beyond a VERY broad "Baptist" concept.

(I've heard that there was an AG church as a member of the SBC at one point, though that could have been an urban myth.)

I'm not part of a church which is part of the SBC, but I just recently watched a discussion about what the SBC is. I hope I haven't too badly mangled the SBC-church relationship.

Long story to short - it probably wasn't an intentional "stealth".