Tuesday, January 3, 2017

We Go to Spring Hills Community Church

Spring Hills Community Church, Santa Rosa, California
“We were fired from our church,” Rick said. And that turned out being a good thing.

Mindy and I were visiting Spring Hills Community Church, and just after we came in, we saw Diana and Rick, old friends from back in the day when we all attended Santa Rosa Evangelical Free Church.

We attended the first service of the morning at 9:30 am on New Year’s Day. Usually, there’s an 8:15 am service, but, you know, New Year’s Day. Most churches experience a drop in attendance the weekend after Christmas, but especially when January 1st is on a Sunday. So Spring Hills only had two services that morning, rather than their usual three (the other was at 11:15 am).

The Spring Hills foyer is spacious, with plenty of greeters handing out bulletins that let people know “We’re glad you’re here.” There was an abundant snack table with muffins and cookies. I overheard someone say to one of the workers behind the table, “You’re the most popular people in church.”  We discovered the coffee was from the Redwood Gospel Coffee Company which (not surprisingly) is a program of Redwood Gospel Mission in Sonoma County.

The countdown clock in the sanctuary told us we needed to finish our snacks (lidded drinks are allowed into worship, not not food). The singing didn’t start on the dot at 9:30, but it was pretty close. There were a fair deal of empty seats as the service began, which was to be expected on 1/1, but many of those seats filled in as the service continued.

The worship leader of the morning, Hannah, welcomed the congregation and began the first worship chorus. The lights dimmed and the words for the songs appeared on the screens (also on the screens: a background with a bit of a Space Odyssey feel).  

After a few songs, people were encouraged to shake hands with someone nearby.  Most exchanges seemed to be limited to “Good Morning” and “Happy New Years.” After more singing, Hannah invited the offering team to come forward to pass the buckets down the aisles.  

The pastor, Bret Avlakeotes, came forward and wished a Happy New Year to all and thanked people for spending part of the day at Spring Hills, then adding, “I’m Bret.” He mentioned that a new sermon series, “Love Like Jesus,” would be begin the next week. (That may have been the only announcement of the morning.)

Bret said he had five favorite New Year’s scriptures and had decided that instead of choosing, he’d present all of them. “Let’s pray, because this is going to be a different year, a great year.”

He started with 1 John 15:5, “I am the vine and you are the branches.” This metaphor that Jesus used used is especially effective at Spring Hllls, since the church sits in vineyard property. The church sells the grapes to local wineries (which can’t help but raise the church in the estimation of  those of us who visit a new bar every week). Bret said that in the new year we would need to keep our focus on Jesus and expect to hear from Jesus. The other four verses, Romans 8: 28 - 30, Philippians 1:6, Philippians 3:12-14, and Hebrews 12: 1,2.

Speaking about the verse from Hebrews, Bret said that the passage teaches “during tough times, we need to just keep going. Maybe that’s what someone here needs to hear, ‘Keep Going.’” Again he pointed to the need to focus on Jesus in the year to come.

Bret closed with invitation to receive Christ, “If you’re here this morning and don’t have a relationship with Jesus, what better day than New Year’s Day?”

After the prayer, Hannah and the worship team came forward to lead a final song. She gave the benediction.

After the service, Pastor Bret Avlakeotes shook hands with people as they entered the foyer. Diana and Rick chatted with him about the Christmas Eve service.

After the service we asked Diana and Rick if they’d like to join us for coffee (not that I like coffee, but that’s what you say when you want to go to someplace to talk when it’s not the right time for a meal).

Rick and Diana have been going to Spring Hills for three years now. Before that they were going to a local church where they were very involved, spending as much as four nights a week at church activities. And they weren’t happy. Diana said, “Church is the hardest place to share. They judge you left and right. We were judged and we judged others.”

That’s when Rick said, “We were fired from the church for complaining too much.”  Which Rick said led to a good thing. He said God began to show him that he was overloaded between church and his day job as a neuropsychologist.

He’d known Bret for years -- they’d played against each other in the same softball league. Rick asked if they could get together to talk. Rick mentioned that he saw his work as ministry, and that volunteering so much at church had been taking away from that ministry. Bret responded, “I wish other people had that attitude. Your job is your ministry.”

There was a relief in going to a big church, Diana said. “What I enjoy about Spring Hills is I don’t have to do anything if I don’t want to.” In a small church, you can feel personally responsible for keeping all the plates spinning, and Rick and Diana have both spent many years spinning those plates. They seem to appreciate the break.

Diana and Rick have been involved with the small group ministries of the church, and they appreciate the way Spring Hills provides good teaching that’s accessible to seekers and provides everyone opportunities to become more a part of the church.

We’ve appreciated the ministry of Spring Hills even as we were traveling the country. One of Mindy’s former coworkers, who hadn’t gone to church for years, began attending Spring Hills while we were on the trip. She appreciated the music and profited from the teaching.

So I don’t know whether Rick and Diana hired Spring Hills, or Spring Hills hired them. But I’m glad they’re together now.

Service Length: 1 hour 3 minutes
Sermon Length: 32 minutes
Visitor Treatment: visitors were encouraged to fill out a card in the bulletin and take it to the welcome desk. First time visitors were given a mug with chocolates, a pen, and information about the church.
Followup by Tuesday Morning: none visitor welcome email on Wednesday morning, invitation to various women's ministry events on Wednesday afternoon.
Our Rough Count: 225
Probable Ushers’ Count: 300
Snacks: cookies and muffins, coffee, decaf, hot water for tea, ice water
Musicians: drums (man)
Electric bass (man)
Vocals (woman)
Electric guitar (man)
Keyboard (woman)
Songs: “Closer”
“Your Love Awakens Me”
“O Come to the Altar”
“Came to My Rescue”
“No Other Name”
Miles to Church: 6 miles
WiFi: Guest sign in, no password required
Suit/Tie Count: none