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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.