Editor's note: Associate Conference Minister Andy Gustafson is on sabbatical, traveling across the country. He will be visiting United Church of Christ Justice and Witness immersion centers and mission sites and the UCC General Synod and blogging about what he sees. His posts about those sites will be posted here on macucc.org. His full travel blog is here :http://travelblogs.mapquest.com/32860/changing-lives-tour.
We went to Dan and Kim;s church - Living Word - a "four square" evangelical church. We were greeted to coffee handed out by youth from the church from their espresso bar in the church lobby. No steeple. Comfy chairs in theater style. A band set up on the stage. No bulletins - everything is projected and the service is so simple no bulletin is needed. The service consisted of a word of welcome, four sets of praise music from the band (a long time to stand), sharing the hand of fellowship, brief prayers, and a long (but excellent) sermon, and a "that's it" for the benediction.
There were lots of people of all ages including young adults. This was one of three services.
I think there are some things we can learn from our evangelical brothers and sisters. The use of contemporary up-tempo music. I found the repetitious lyrics boring, but I am sure there is good contemporary music with meaningful lyrics we could be using. A band instead of an organ is a lot more appealing to a lot of younger people. The use of power point for visuals, lyrics and the scripture passage was very effective. But most of all - really good preaching. The preacher only sparingly referred to notes off to the side. He was dressed in jeans and a dress shirt with rolled up sleeves. He moved around and talked directly to the audience. He put the scripture in context, related it to his own fallibilities, used humor and rather than tell people what to believe, he put the questions out to the people to ponder. It had to have required great preparation. There is clearly a great emphasis on the worship experience at perhaps the expense of pastoral care. They had banners on the wall reading "Befriend" "Transform" "Equip" and "Send". They know their mission and exactly how they are going to carry it out. The other thing I noticed is that they leave guests alone and just give an open invitation to learn more. I think this is a very effective way to make visitors comfortable, especially shy people.
In "Prophetic Renewal", Mike Piazza makes many points which affirm what I am seeing: The need to use modern methods of conveying the Gospel, excellent worship, clear vision and plan for living it out, using the pastor to do what only the pastor can do and equipping laity to do the rest, and being a church for others.
The late Andy Gustasfon served as the Associate Conference Minister for Stewardship and Financial Development from 2004 to 2014.