Tuesday, February 7, 2017

We go to Church on our Street in Fresno

The Quest Church, Fresno, California
“Please let us know if there’s something you think we’re doing wrong,” we were urged by both a parishioner and the pastor. We had explained we were just visiting and that we’re committed to another church, and yet they seemed excited to hear what we experienced.

It can be odd to be a “professional” church visitor. There are churches we’ve visited where no one really greets us at all, or just shakes hands during the greeting time, mumbles “Good morning” and turns to shake hands with someone else. In those churches we haven’t needed to bother with the awkward explanations that lead us to say we’ll be writing about their church in our blog.

There are also churches where someone asks fairly quickly, “Is this your first time with us?” (This happens most often in churches where everyone knows everyone, and the fact that we’re new is readily apparent. Sometimes when we explain why we’re visiting, the greeter moves along very quickly. If we won’t be back, why would they bother getting to know us?

On the other hand, at The Quest Church, we were greeted by Susie fairly quickly after we came on property. She introduced herself and asked about us. When we told her about last year’s project to visit a church in every state, she told us about the pastor’s parents and their adventure of going to different states to help with the construction of churches. (She also showed us where the coffee and snacks were served and where people gathered before and between worship services.) And as I mentioned above, when we mentioned we write about churches, she was eager to learn what we thought, especially about how the church could do things better. That’s a very healthy perspective to have, but it’s sadly lacking in a number of churches.

Susie introduced us to her husband, Dan, and they told us a little about the church building itself. The Quest used to meet at Clovis High School, but when construction began at the school, the congregation had no place to meet. This was a couple of years ago, and that was when the Assembly of God denomination decided to gift the building to The Quest, which is an Assembly of God Church. Another AG church had been on the property years before, but that congregation left the building to the denomination.

When The Quest received the building, it hadn’t been particularly well cared for, and there was a lot of work to be done. The sanctuary didn’t even have heating or air conditioning and had single pane windows. (Despite the image some have of California in their heads, there are many parts of the state where it does get cold. Fresno is a place that can get very, very warm.) So the congregation, with limited resources, has worked to fix up the facilities.

We were enjoying our refreshments (oranges and some very excellent cookies among other things) in the Great Room, the fellowship hall. We heard that the room had been quite the mess when The Quest moved in, but a woman in the church donated money she’d inherited from her father’s to put the room into shape. Susie also noted that the children’s play equipment was another improvement on the grounds. She had seen a news story about a local pedestrian mall being redone,and she made the phone calls to find out that the old children’s play equipment could be purchased at a greatly reduced rate. And the kids love it. (The congregation also bought some park benches from Fulton Mall as well.)

As we stood talking In the patio area before the worship service began, Pastor Dave Erickson introduced himself and took time to talk to us. He told us more about the move from Clovis and the gift of the facilities. When we mentioned our visits to bars along with churches, he encouraged us in that work. He spoke of the church’s priority of reaching the unchurched and mentioned the Life Recovery Group that meets on Mondays at the church. As we spoke, we heard the service starting inside.

After some singing, there was a greeting time. As mentioned above, sometimes during church greeting times, everyone shakes hands and says “Good Morning” (or “Peace” in places where the peace is passed). But here, most people introduced themselves and engaged us in conversation. I was able to ask Dave about what he appreciated about the church. “People are welcoming here, there are no judgments. We all have a past.” (That kind of acceptance is what people often tell us they are looking for in a church.)

Pastor Dave called out “Visiting hours are over!” as the timer on the screen reached 0:00, and everyone returned to their seats. He introduced a new series, “Life of a Champion” and asked if there were any Seattle Seahawks fans in the building.

The response was silence. (I thought I showed good judgement and restraint by not booing the Hawks -- but that’s just me) He played a video of Christians on the Seahawks talking about the importance of character and integrity and trusting in Christ. The NFL video made sense as it was Super Bowl Sunday. (I’ll admit that if it had been a video with New England Patriot players, I probably couldn’t have restrained booing a bit.)

After the video, Pastor Dave proceeded with his message on the disciplines required for the “Life of a Champion.”  He talked about the problems of being just average. “When we choose ‘average’ it’s just as close to the bottom as it is to the top.”  He said that God wants more for us than just “average.” He stressed the importance of practicing the disciplines taught in Scripture to live an above average life.

I appreciated that Pastor Dave gives people the opportunity to ask questions on the sermon through texting (or as the message on the screen said, “Text QUESTions”). There are also small groups (Connection Groups) that meet during the week to discuss the sermon. (Susie invited us to the group that meets in their home. The bulletin reads, “There’s always room on the couch… to grow with us.”)

The service concluded with video announcements. People were invited to a Super Bowl party at the church and were encouraged to bring snacks and friends to watch the game on their “big screen.” They also showed a video of a recent church snow trip, showing people of a variety of ages having a very good time together.

I hope Susie and Pastor Dave won’t be too disappointed to read that I don’t have anything to write about what the church is doing wrong. We observed a kind and loving group of people looking to serve God and each other. All good from what we could see.

Service Length: 1 hour 15 minutes
Sermon Length: 32 minutes (including video)
Visitor Treatment: Susie greeted us almost as soon as we walked in (most people were still outside, but we didn’t know that yet). She introduced us to several people, including her husband Dan. During the greeting time, she came over to Mindy to invite us to the Connection Group that meets in their home on Wednesday evenings. Meanwhile, a number of people introduced themselves to each of us and talked to us. Visitors and everybody else were encouraged to fill out a connection card and put it in the offering box at the back of the sanctuary.
Followup by Tuesday Morning: none
Our Rough Count: 38
Probable Ushers’ Count: 55
Snacks: coffee, hot water for tea, toffee-doodle cookies, juice boxes, muffins and fresh oranges
Musicians: acoustic guitars and electric bass (2 men)
Keyboards (woman)
Drums (woman)
Vocals (2 women)
Songs: “Glory to God”
“Mighty to Save”
“Even So Come”
“One Thing”
Distance to Church: ¾ block
Open WiFi: no
Tie/Suit Count: none
Church Website: http://www.faithisaquest.com/