Wednesday, May 31, 2017

We Go to Church for the Adventure

Adventure Community Church, Fresno, California
Adventure Community Church in Fresno CA
“Adventure” is a favorite word of mine. When I describe our quest to visit a church and bar in every state last year, I tend to talk about the “adventure” we had. That’s why I’m more than okay with it being used in the names of churches.

Last Saturday night, we went to Adventure Church in the Tower District of Fresno. The first little parking lot we drove into was full, but signs pointed us to alternate parking across the street, where we parked. We crossed the street and saw a canopy in front of the church with tshirts for sale and a sign saying “information.” We went up to talk to Felicia and Liz, who were manning the table. They welcomed us (warmly) and let us know that as first time visitors we were eligible for shirts and cups emblazoned with the Adventure Church logo.

Adventure Church information center, Fresno, CA
If you were wondering, there is no “Adventure” denomination (that we are aware of); this congregation is part of the Foursquare Church. (We have been to other Foursquare churches that used interesting names, including Hope and Spirit of Life). The denomination is Pentecostal, but most of the Foursquare churches we’ve visited value the spiritual gifts but are not excessively wild and woolly. (Aimee Semple McPherson, the founder of the denomination, had a fascinating life you may wish to Google some time.)

The worship center is cozy, but attractive (I liked the aquarium-like space for the drummer at the back of the stage). The service started a couple of minutes after the hour with a greeting from the worship leader, “Good evening, Adventure! It’s been a long road to the weekend, so I’d like to invite the Holy Spirit here… I want to leave here forever changed.”

After singing a few songs, we were invited to greet those around us with a handshake or a high five. There was occasional awkwardness, when one person high fived while the other person tried to greet with a handshake, but it worked out in the end. We saw several hugs. Then the worship leader, Jake, called people back and encouraged people, “Let’s give God a hand!” After more praise music, there was a break when people were encouraged to get water, coffee, and snacks at different stations at the back of the sanctuary. It was an interesting snack assortment; breakfast bars and CheezIts among the options.

We came back together for a baby dedication. Jake and Liz, the worship leaders, (and a different Liz than the one that greeted us initially) were dedicating their young child. Pastor Anthony Flores said, “I’m going to have to brag on these two for a bit. He called Liz an “OG” (original gangster) because she had been around since the church’s beginning. “She sings so beautifully, but at first, she wouldn’t sing. I’m so proud of you.” He said that the first time Jake came to the church, on their last weekend in their old building, he was dressed in a three piece suit. (No one that night was dressed in a three piece suit. I did see a number of motorcycle jackets.) Pastor Flores said that even though Jake was dressed fancy that first Sunday, he helped with messy work projects that day after services. “Six years later he is leading worship and I did their wedding.” And now he was presiding over the dedication of young Anakin (whose name, we were told, means “warrior” or “key” and apparently not “Jedi”).

It seems there has been a bit of a baby boom in the church. They built a corral for baby seats and strollers, with room for a dozen. The Sunday before our visit, we heard, it was filled up, and two strollers had to wait outside it. (At the information booth, by accident, we were initially handed a Baby Dedication form rather than a visitor form.) Anakin put up nicely with being held for the dedication. Pastor Anthony offered him the mike so he could preach, but Anakin declined (perhaps because he’s not talking much yet).

Pastor Anthony then began his sermon entitled “Poles and Nets.” He read Luke 5 and John 21 about Jesus and the disciples’ miraculous fishing adventures. Pastor Anthony said we are all called to fish for people, but some of us will use a net to reach a wide group while others use a pole to target one person at a time.

Pastor Anthony acknowledged that many people who have been in a church a long time lose contact with non Christian friends (those people you used to go clubbing with). When we hang out in churches too much, “We become soil testers rather than seed planters” (switching from the fishing analogy to a farming analogy).  He encouraged people to challenge themselves to reach one person a month.

Then Pastor Anthony gave what I thought were three practical tips for reaching folks. First, he said, Make Outsiders Feel Like Insiders. (Admittedly, this is to reach people who are already visiting a church. But as ongoing church visitors we appreciated the encouragement for the congregation.) “If you call Adventure home, you are commissioned as a greeter and to smile, and not with a cheesy smile.”

The second tip was to Add Value to People.  This was a call to treat others with kindness and respect. He quoted the saying, “On Earth, we value gold and walk on people...In heaven, we’ll value people and walk on gold.” He said that one of the ways we can show people we value them is to take the time to really listen to them.

And the third tip was to Be Available for Prayer. He said we should just ask people whether we can pray for them or a need they’ve mentioned, and with permission, do it then (because we often forget to do it later). He encouraged people to pray briefly and on point, but to take advantage of that gift from the Holy Spirit.

He encouraged people to get right with God and asked people to raise their hand if they were coming to Christ for the first time or recommitting their lives.

On the way out, we went to the information area again to talk with Felicia and Liz (we took a cup, but not a shirt). I asked what they felt were the strengths of Adventure Church. Felicia said, “Our sense of community. Healed people heal people. We’re always bring people one step closer.”

Liz said, “It feels like family, you’re made welcome here.”

We were certainly made to feel welcome and were happy to see people on the Great Adventure of showing others the love of God in Christ.

Statistics:
Service Length: 1 hour 9 minutes
Sermon Length: 26 minutes
Visitor Treatment: Visitors were encouraged to fill out an information card and turn it in at the information booth outside. Liz and Felicia were very friendly and helpful when we asked questions about the church.
Followup by Tuesday Morning: none We got a letter the next Tuesday, and Jake from the church messaged us via facebook on Thursday.
Our Rough Count: 88
Probable Ushers’ Count: 100
Snacks: Coffee, water, granola bars, CheezIts, fruit snacks, and a few other packaged items.
Musicians: keyboard (woman)
Drums (man)
Electric bass (man)
Electric and acoustic guitars (2 men)
Vocals (woman)
Songs: “Irresistible”
“You Make me Brave”
“I Surrender”
Distance to Church: 5 miles
Open WiFi: no
Tie/Suit Count: none
Church Website: http://adventurecommunitychurch.net/