Press "Enter" to skip to content

The Church Search, Week 1

Yesterday morning we did something we haven’t done in a couple of months now: set our alarm on a Sunday morning, got up, and got to a morning church service. (Yes, we have been to church in the past two months… but Imago meets on Saturday nights.) As I noted on Saturday, our first stop was Stonebridge Church. Stonebridge is an Evangelical Free church with an average attendance of just over 600, which, by our standards, is a large-ish church. Stonebridge just finished building a new facility; yesterday was their second Sunday in the new building. They hold two services each week, and we attended the earlier one (9:00) on Sunday.

First Impressions

  • They had a parking lot attendant to point people to the right row for parking. That same attendant was handing out, to folks walking in, 3×5 printed cards describing the traffic flow of the parking lot to reduce congestion between services. My logistical wife’s heart was warmed.
  • Inside the door, the foyer was quite busy – lots of folks milling around, talking, drinking coffee. There is a hospitality booth inside the door on the right where they had free coffee and cookies, and a booth marked “Guest” something (I forget what, exactly) a little further into the foyer.
  • It took all of about three seconds of us standing there, taking in the scene before a man came over to greet us, introduced himself, asked if we were visiting. We said yes, and he asked if we’d like to go find the children’s ministries for our girls. His wife then joined him and they walked us over to the children’s area where we signed in our kids, met their Sunday School teachers, were handed pagers so we could be buzzed if there were any issues. They were obviously still working through issues with the new facility and procedures, but they were doing a good job.

Music

  • Stonebridge has a rather large worship team led by a guitar-playing pastor. They had six vocalists, two guitars, a bass, and two percussionists. (A rather uncomfortable-looking pianist joined them for one song.)
  • On a whole, I liked the setup; there were enough vocalists to give it a solid, group sound. The musicians were fairly solid, and the music minister was obviously quite talented.
  • The music minister has a computer monitor/mouse right on the stage, which he was referencing a few times. At first I thought it might just be displaying the lyrics, but eventually I came to conclude that he was, a few times, turning on a track of some sort to go with the worship team. Not sure how big a fan I am of that, but it was seamless, so, good for him.
  • During the first couple of songs, the congregational singing was fairly weak. I knew the songs, so I assumed the congregation should as well. However, the music minister said something about one of the songs being “unfamiliar”, so maybe he was just springing new stuff on the congregation. When they sang a couple more familiar songs after the sermon, the singing was strong.
  • Overall, the songs were pretty solid, though I really would’ve loved to have another hymn dropped into the set somewhere. Still, I won’t judge it on a single week.

Message

  • The senior pastor is preaching a series from the Psalms, which to my mind isn’t an easy task. Sunday’s passage was Psalm 8. I felt like he did a good job of taking David’s psalm of praise and showing us how we could apply it to our lives. He pointed to the several passages in the New Testament that refer back to Psalm 8, too. The sermon was about 30 minutes, didn’t feel too short or too long.
  • The pastor made an effort to bring current events into the sermon, referencing the economic situation a few times, to decent effect. He brought the Gospel into it near the end, which was welcome. There was no “altar call”, but he invited anyone who wanted to talk further to come down and chat with him after the service.

Children’s Ministries

  • Stonebridge has Sunday School for children of all ages (and perhaps adults, too – I’m still fuzzy on that) during the 9:00 hour, and then has a sort of junior church for Kindergarten and below during the 10:45.
  • In a surprising, but welcome, turn of events, both girls’ Sunday School classes were taught by men; Laura’s by a grandfatherly type, Addie’s by a guy somewhere near my age. Both classes had additional helpers, and we were told they rotate parents through the class, too; if your kid is in there you’ll be asked to just show up as a helper once a quarter or so. (As far as I’m concerned, that’s a FANTASTIC strategy, on several levels. Well done!)
  • We didn’t get much out of Addie about her class, but Laura was quite talkative about hers. First, though, all we heard was that “they needed someone to be a princess, so I raised my hand, and I got to be the princess!”. We were rather confused. Finally, she provided some more background: “most of the other kids were crocodiles, and there was a baby in the river… ’cause we were talking about Moses!” Ah, it becomes clearer!

People

  • I was impressed by the friendly people at Stonebridge. The greeters at the door smiled and shook our hands on the way in, the folks who showed us around were quite nice as well. As I was waiting for Becky at one point, another woman came up to greet me, saying “I don’t think I’ve met you…”. As we talked, she acknowledged she was hedging her bets, because they’ve just compressed from three morning services (at the old facility) to two, so some of the faces at the new services are unfamiliar.
  • I ran into a couple people I knew from work. Always interesting to encounter those folks in a quite different situation. Gives you some new perspective on them.
  • In the oddest twist, we looked across the sanctuary to see a couple who are friends of ours from Noelridge. We had a very “what are you doing here?” moment after the service.

Observations

  • One of my concerns going in was the big new building. Have they really spent their money wisely? Have they gone into lots of debt? I don’t have an answer on the debt part, but I was suitably impressed with the design and economy of their facility; they appear to have spent the money in places where it was needed without going overboard.
  • Sitting in the sanctuary (which seats about 500) I could easily have brought myself to believe I was sitting in a much larger auditorium. I had to look around and remind myself it wasn’t that big, and there weren’t that many people.
  • The sanctuary could really use some more helpful aesthetics. I’m not complaining about the fact that it’s obviously a metal building and you can still see some girders, bolts, ventilation ducts, and cables up in the ceiling; I’m more disappointed that there was nothing on stage to give you any indication it was a church. There were a few banners in the back of the sanctuary, but nothing on the stage. From appearances, I could’ve just as well been in a high school auditorium. I’ll give them a little slack on this one – they’re only a few weeks in to using their new facility. If they get to Christmas and the stage is still just as bare, then I’ll have some more serious questions.
  • The Young Adult pastor is a dead ringer for Jeff Holland, and even dropped a “y’all” into his talk during announcement time.

Overall, we had a quite favorable impression of Stonebridge Church from our first visit. We’re planning on going back again next week – one week is definitely not a large enough sample on which to make decisions.

14 Comments

  1. The Young Adult pastor is a dead ringer for Jeff Holland, and even dropped a “y’all” into his talk during announcement time.

    So if you go to a local UMC, you’re gonna run into my CR dopplegänger? 😉

  2. Andrew Andrew

    Hey Chris,

    After an extensive review of Stronebridge church, i think it’s a pretty soild place. Not like you need me to figure this out, but there’s a few things i noticed in their web sight that i thought valuable.

    1. Their view of childrend ministry. They expect parents to be the primary for their kids, and offer their programs as ‘suppliment’.

    2. They have quite a missionary list that they support. (among which i saw Wycliff represented)

    3. Their Doctrinal startment seemed very ‘to the point’. (i’ve made it somewhat of a hobbie to look up churchs doctrinal statements and see what they actually believe. in doing that, i’ve found some really wimps)

    anyway, i’m sure you already noticed all this, but i thought those were some strong points.

    Andrew

  3. Andrew, can I just say it’s awesome to have you commenting on my blog? And I’m further honored that you took time to go through their website in such detail.

    Yeah, I was happy with their doctrinal statement, too – let’s face it, if I had issues with their doctrinal statement, we wouldn’t have been going there in the first place. And I was very encouraged by the attitude I saw in the church and heard from the pastor re: teenagers. The pastor noted that he’s going through the book “Do Hard Things” (by two of Josh Harris’ younger brothers) with his teenage son. And he was encouraging the other pastors on staff and the ministry leaders to expect great things from the teenagers in the church. I saw several teenagers helping out with the children’s and greeting ministries when I was there. That speaks highly to me of their attitude toward service.

    I somehow missed the list of missionaries that they support, but I’m glad to hear that it’s long. I’ll have to go take a look.

  4. Just realized it’s not apparent to anyone but me which Andrew this is that’s commenting – it’s my younger brother Andrew, a resident of the fine state of Washington. I’m not sure he’s ever left a comment on my blog before. Hope that clears things up.

  5. Angela Angela

    Hey Chris,
    I am so glad to have your comments on churches you are visiting. Sounds like a nice church, but WAYYYY too big for us!! I would surely crawl under a seat and croak. I would like smaller than Noelridge even. Remember when our 9:00 service used to be about 20 people? Bingo. My kind of service.

    Ah, Andrew… all married now. You do know that you broke a few girls’ hearts at NPC, right? (Bronwyn, Genesis, Abbie to name a few). Hope you and your new wife are extremely happy.

  6. Kari Kari

    This is interesting to me, Chris, because I love lists, but I have never approached a church search by writing a list. I don’t think that a list would work for me in this sort of situation, because parking issues and music issues would mean a lot less to me than the community and what was being taught. But even then, I wouldn’t just make “the gospel was brought into it” a bullet point on a list. Are these in any sort of priority for you?

  7. That’s a great question, Kari. My engineering mind tends to gravitate to data and lists above poetry and prose, so I end up writing drab posts like this one to gather my thoughts and to help me remember things for later. As a former church leader, too, the details stick out to me – things they do well, things they do poorly.

    Sure, there is some priority among all the data I listed. Shall I make a list? 🙂

    1. Theology. If the teaching is seriously in error, I won’t go there. I just won’t.
    2. Community. (If this could be item 1a, it would be. But I don’t know how to make HTML do that!) The lack of community is one of the big reasons we are leaving our previous church.
    3. Attitude toward children/family. I want to be in a church where children are truly seen as a blessing; where parents are recognized as having primary responsibility for training their children (not just abdicating the teaching responsibilities to the church); and where teenagers are expected to become disciples, not rebellious brats. (In poetry and prose I am unskilled, but I’m not afraid to use hyperbole!)
    4. Music. Given that I’ve been a church musician or worship leader for nigh on half my life, this is going to be relatively important. Still, if the church does well on the first three points, I’ll forgive a lot here.

    When we come down to actually making a final decision, though, I think the importance of the data will fade some; regardless of how geeky we are, we’re not going to just plug all the data into Excel and decide on the church with the highest score. Ultimately it will come down to God’s leading, which, in the absence of audible voices or letters on our doorstep, ends up meaning that we pray a lot, discuss it a lot, and then go with a combination of these listed factors and our gut.

    • Bruce Shauger Bruce Shauger

      Hey Chris. Not sure if you remember me from work or not. I was just curious what started you on your search for a church.

      • Hey Bruce, great question. It's really a long story. When it comes down to it, the primary issues were 1) the need for true community and 2) the need to get my time priorities realigned so I was able to spend the time I need to with the family.

        We tried hard to get those things worked out at our church rather than just up and leave, but in the end the Lord led us pretty clearly to look elsewhere.

        • Bruce Shauger Bruce Shauger

          Thanks Chris!

          So how would you describe "true community"? That's a popular word today.

          What church were you at (you can answer that offline if you wish unless this is the church where you attended Saturday nights) and where has your journey led you since your first week of searching?

          This is rather interesting reading your insight as I am somewhat familiar with Imago and very familiar with Stonebridge. Thanks for sharing!

          • Bruce,

            First I looked back with a grimace when you point out that I used the phrase "true community". Eek. Defining what I think that is and what it would look like is far more than I want to bite off in a blog comment (or post). But let me try to summarize a bit here, and I'll respond via email with more detail.

            In a nutshell, when I say "community", I mean "life stuff that happens mostly outside of church". Church is where we come together, but if our interaction with each other doesn't extend outside of the couple hours we meet on Sunday, well, we're missing the point.

  8. What sort of name is “Genesis” for a girl? Seriously, people.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.