Tuesday, September 15, 2015

EvFree Fullerton

We counted about 50 people (not that numbers matter, of course) in the 8:30 "community group" called Joint Heirs.  During the 10:00 am worship service, there was an announcement for an upcoming day of prayer and fasting ("Usually with a prayer meeting we might have 50 people attend, but this time we want to need to open up the sanctuary doors."). And at 11:30, we went to another community group, Encouragement, Inc. (a group Mindy and I helped establish nearly thirty years ago), and counted about 90 folks.

Looking over the attendance numbers at churches we've visited over the last few months, I found these numbers: 24, 20, and 30 adults (with 4 children and 2 dogs). That's for worship services. Our daughter in the Seattle area recently visited a church where she was one of seven in the pews. In the 10:30 worship service at Ev Free Fullerton I was spit-balling 1500 in worship. (I wish to make it clear I was not shooting spitballs during worship because, of course, Mindy was sitting next to me.)

I grew up in a church that usually had a few more than a hundred people every Sunday. That's about the same number of people in the churches I attended in college and seminary. It was quite a change when I began my internship at First Evangelical Free Church of Fullerton, which had 5,000 people on the membership roll. The leader of our internship program, Paul Sailhamer, told me at the time that in a church that size I would, in a year, see almost everything that might take place in a small church over ten years.

I bring all this up to point out that the size of churches can make for very different kinds of ministries. Some people long for the sense of community found in a small church. A friend of ours recently mentioned that his sister began attending a megachurch, and he was concerned she would get lost there. But large churches can offer some valuable elements besides name speakers and state of the art facilities (which are nice, of course).

For instance, a small church must decide on one worship time. Some people may prefer an early time to free up the day, others a later time for sleep. Fullerton has three Sunday morning services in the main sanctuary at 8:30 am, 10:00 am, and 11:30 am, as well as more traditional worship services that meet at the same time in another building (many large churches share the sermon via closed circuit television in a second venue, but Ev Free Fullerton's conditional use permit with the city doesn't allow for that. The city of Fullerton's attempts to control the growth of Ev Free Fullerton has been a point of contention for many years.) There is also a Sunday evening worship service at 5:00 pm.

Small churches must often decide whether to have Sunday school for children and youth during the worship hour or at another time. At Ev Free Fullerton, nursery care and Sunday School for elementary aged children is offered at the same time as the three morning worship services. During the third worship time, junior high and high school groups each have their worship/teaching time. Junior high and senior high students are encouraged to attend the main worship service during one of the other worship times or to assist in the nursery or Sunday school classes.

Through the years, we've witnessed the frustrations faced by the parents of kids with special needs. Sometimes they've been told by a church (sometimes by implication and sometimes quite directly) that they weren't welcome; their child was too much of a disruption. (This is more of a challenge for small churches, but often even large churches often don't handle things well.) We learned from a young woman named Becca that Ev Free Fullerton has made real strides in this area of ministry. Becca said a parent of a special needs kid was never asked to stay with their child, and a parent wasn't to be called out of worship. This would be a huge blessing for many parents.


Of course, the small church always has an advantage in greeting new people because everyone can see who is new. Therefore, it's important for a large church to offer opportunities outside of the worship hour. Among other programs, the church is starting a ten week program called "Rooted," intended to help you see "how your story fits into God's story." The church makes a real effort to help people join smaller groups to encourage fellowship and accountability. I liked the idea of groups called Six Packs. Men from six decades (a guy in his twenties, another from his thirties, forties, fifties, sixties and seventies) meet on a monthly basis. Accommodations would be made, I assume, for men in their eighties and nineties.

One of the great challenges of a large church is to see that people aren't merely spectators of a worship show, but truly part of the Body of Christ. It was a pleasure to see that after all these years, the staff and leadership of Ev Free Fullerton are ably taking up that challenge.
-- Dean

Statistics:
Service Length: 1 hour 6 minutes
Sermon Length: 38 minutes
Visitor Treatment: We saw information tables at all available entrances to the worship areas along with people in black polo shirts labeled "guest guide," and welcome brochures on seat backs along with connection cards to be filled out and put in the offering basket (or wall box, which we did, since we didn't notice them until after the offering time was over). Each of the "community groups" also recognized and welcomed visitors. However, none of the guest guides volunteered help while I was hovering around the information tables looking at brochures. When I asked for help, though, it was quick, kind, and accurate.
Followup by Tuesday Morning: Three emails on Monday regarding different activities we might be interested in (including a luncheon for visitors that happens one Sunday each month). In addition, the librarian we talked to (more about that tomorrow) followed up on our conversation via email as well.
Our Rough Count: 1,500 in the worship service, 58 in Joint Heirs, 88 in Encouragement, Inc.
Probable Ushers' Count: 1,500 in worship service (or whatever room capacity was; there weren't many empty seats in the room)
Snacks: Community groups had coffee, tea, iced tea, water, fruit juice, oatmeal, various pastries, apples with honey (for Rosh Hashanah), Concord grapes and donuts. Coffees, tea, hot chocolate and pastries were available for purchase between worship services on the Plaza walk and in "The Well," which shares space with the library. Water and lemonade were available (free!) in several places around the campus.
Musicians: 2 drummers (male)
            2 singers (female)
            1 keyboard (male)
            1 acoustic guitar (male)
            1 electric bass (male)
            1 electric guitar (male)
Songs: He is Faithful
            Great I Am
            No Other Name
Miles to place: 469
Total California Miles: 12,562