Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Two very different churches in Delaware: The Journey and Newark Church of Christ

The Journey Church
We don't usually talk a lot about the men's rest room in churches we visit, let alone start there. But above the urinals at The Journey there are little TV screens. And each of those TV screens is playing ESPN. I don't mention this solely because I want to post a picture of ESPN on a TV above a urinal. Not solely. I also want to emphasize the point that the Journey takes seriously the challenge of reaching men ages 20 - 40, and they think creatively about how to do this.

For instance, the themes in their sermon series are certainly guy friendly. We were there for the final sermon in the "Limited Edition" series, which is about our limitations as people. But the visual theme is cars and racing. The cafe was decorated with racing flags, and Rascal Flatts' "Life is a Highway" was playing overhead. In the auditorium, before Pastor Mark gave his message, there was a short Fast and Furious-lite video. In the sermon, Mark gave a short illustration of a time when a friend let him drive a race car. A previous sermon series used Zombie Apocalypse as a theme. And the series starting in June is "The Good Father."*

Church growth statistics say that if you draw men to your congregation, you will also draw women. The opposite is statistically less likely. The leadership in The Journey studies church growth statistics, business models, and systems. They believe in writing things down. Pastor Mark says, "I don't believe it unless it is written down." (The idea is that if a process or plan is written down, then it can be carried out by anyone, which is better than relying on one person to carry out a process or plan.)

There is an effort to pare things down to the basics at The Journey. For example, there are three basics for spiritual growth at the church: Gather, Connect, and Serve. The gathering part takes place at the five worship meetings during the weekend, Saturdays at 4:30 & 6:00 pm and Sundays at 9:00, 10:30, and Noon. The Connect step happens at the JGroups (J is for Journey) -- small groups that meet primarily at people's homes during the week. There are dozens of small groups that meet for fall, spring and summer sessions. Serve means being involved in ministry, and there are many opportunities to serve in the church. On Sunday evening, we went with folks from a couple of JGroups to The Paris Foundation in Elkton, Maryland, where they serve a meal for the homeless on a regular basis.

Children's and youth ministry in the church is based on the same model. The children "gather" together, and then divide into smaller groups. The youth worship with the adults in the weekend gatherings, but have youth group meetings on Tuesday night. Like adults, they can serve in sanctuary set-up, in the cafe, in children's ministry, etc.

Of course, even with the best of planning, stuff happens. We planned to attend both Saturday evening services, and all went well in the first service; during the second service, not so much. The message from Matthew 17: 14 - 21 about the disciples' failure to cast out a demon and the need for faith was preached well by Mark the first time around. (I did find it interesting that the only time Scripture was read was during the sermon, working through verse by verse of the passage.)

Anyway, during the second worship gathering, the sermon had just gotten started when the fire alarm went off. (The lights flashed, and a robotic voice said, "There is a fire emergency in the building. Please leave through the nearest exit.") What I thought was interesting, and kind of great, was that people weren't sure if it was a real fire alarm or part of the service. As we walked out, people were saying, "I thought that was part of the sermon." I think it's a good thing if people expect to be surprised in a church (I know that sounds like a contradiction but it is not.).

A great thing was the church handled the situation very well. The children were ushered out of the building by their teachers, and they were kept in a group outside the door for their wing. I didn't hear any kids crying. Parents (and/or guardians) still needed to turn in a ticket to get their kid. After a few minutes, Pastor Mark made an announcement outside, saying that there was no fire, but that the power would take twenty minutes to, well, power up, so the service was canceled. He encouraged people to come to one of the three Sunday services to hear the rest of the sermon. Someone asked Mark to preach the rest of the message on the loading dock. He answered that if he did, there he would have no voice left for preaching the next day. I hope everyone made it back Sunday morning, because it was a good message. But Mindy and I had somewhere else to be.

 Newark Church of Christ
We were excited to go to church at the Newark Church of Christ on Sunday morning, because they were doing an outside service and barbeque for Memorial Day Weekend. We'd gone to the church's Wednesday night prayer meeting because it was near where we were staying, and the time of the prayer meeting was convenient for our plans. The people were quite friendly on Wednesday evening, so we were excited to see them again Sunday morning.

Because of being outside (an annual event for the church), we didn't expect a repeat of the fire alarm incident. The service definitely had fewer technological needs. While The Journey uses special lighting effects, I don't think Newark Church of Christ uses such things even when they are inside. They don't use musical instruments, and do all of their singing a cappella.

Their outreach to the University of Delaware was a ministry we found most interesting. On Tuesday nights during the school year, they have dinners for students. Students from a variety of backgrounds meet together, and it has been a great outreach for the church. During picnic lunch I talked to a young woman who came to the church because of the campus ministry. And in the food line, another young woman needed to know whether all-beef franks were being served. She was a Muslim student who was drawn to the church through the campus ministry. The church supports a campus minister, and during the service a young woman who had graduated the day before was introduced to the congregation because she too was going into full time campus ministry.

Delaware is a little state. But it's obviously big enough for God to work in varied and interesting ways.


Newark Church of Christ
Wednesday 6:30 pm 
Service Length: 1 hour 14 minutes
Lesson Length: 48 minutes
Visitor Treatment: We were welcomed and greeted by at least ten people (the group was small, and we were obviously new), including a staff member and two elders. We parked in one of the first-time guests parking spaces. Several people invited us to come back on Sunday morning. We filled out a guest card we found.
Followup by Tuesday Morning: none
Our Rough Count: 36 divided among two adult classes, with a children's class as well
Snacks: decaf
Musicians: none
Songs: Just a Closer Walk with Thee
Footprints of Jesus
Stepping in the Light
In the Garden
Where He Leads, I'll Follow
Amazing Grace
Miles to church: 1
Miles from start: 14,062
Total 2016 Miles: 13,765
Church website: http://newarkcoc.org/

Sunday Morning
Service Length: 1 hour 19 minutes
Sermon Length: 34 minutes
Visitor Treatment: After we parked in the visitors' spot, we were greeted by a man who told us the worship service was outside. Several people remembered us from Wednesday night and greeted us. Visitors were welcomed during the service and invited to go through the line for lunch right after the veterans. There was a greeting time during the service as well.
Followup by Tuesday Morning: none
Our Rough Count: 109
Probable Ushers' Count: 125
Snacks: hot dogs, hamburgers and a really good assortment of salads (and chips, dessert, and sodas and bottled water) for lunch after the worship service
Musicians: none
Songs: Blessed be the Lord God Almighty
Shout to the Lord
Step by Step
Shine, Jesus, Shine
Trust and Obey
Seek ye First
Miles to church: 3

The Journey
Saturday 4:30 pm gathering
Service Length: 1 hour 36 minutes
Sermon Length: 35 minutes
Visitor Treatment: Visitors are encouraged to fill out a connections card and bring it to the volunteers at Visitor Center in the Cafe after the service ends. Visitors are given a branded mug, information about becoming part of the church, and a treat (we'd gotten mugs when we met with one of the pastors, so we didn't get another, and I didn't see exactly what treat was being given out. Maybe biscotti?)
Followup by Tuesday Morning: none
Our Rough Count: 93 (probably the lowest attendance of the five worship experiences each weekend)
Probable Ushers' Count: 150, including children in the kids' area
Snacks: coffee, decaf, hot water for tea, lemonade, iced tea, individually wrapped mint lifesavers
Musicians: bass (man)
vocals only (two women)
electric guitar (two men)
acoustic guitar (man)
keyboard (woman)
drums (man)
Songs: Shine a Light
Grace like a Wave
Give me Faith
Miles to church: 1 mile
Miles from start: 14,077
Total 2016 Miles: 13,780

*In a promo video for the Good Father series, Mark did a bad Brando/Vito impression (and I say bad because you could understand almost every word he said, unlike Brando) urging folks to come to back to church, and to invite others to come. ("Bring a friend, leave the cannoli.") 

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