Last Sunday, Ruth and I were in Fayetteville, NC visiting our son, David, and his fiancée, Liz. They are engaged to be married when David returns from an army deployment that will have him out of the country for the remainder of this year. We were glad we could make the visit and were also glad that they invited us to join them at the church they have been attending.
In Lancaster County, Pennsylvania we tend to think of ourselves as living in the "Bible belt" (and we do), but that belt in North Carolina is even bigger. It is Baptist country and the church, and church life, are a large part of most people's lives.
It is always interesting to visit another church. This was a large racially integrated church (probably 2,500 total) with three services. We went to the 9:30 am service. There were people in orange vests helping to park cars, people in orange vests at the doors greeting people ("Good to see you…glad to have you with us…good to see you…gland to have you with us…"), ushers in orange vests and finally (at the end of the service) counselors in orange vests. As we entered the auditorium the lights were low, with a loud recorded rhythmic beat of music going and on all three screens a stopwatch ticking down to exactly 9:30. At about 9:27 the seven band members got in place and at exactly 9:30 the service began. They got an A+ for punctuality!
The band played and sang three songs – all unknown to Ruth and me and (seemingly) to everyone else around us as I sensed no one was singing. The first two songs were quite self-centered about how God can help me do more, be more, achieve more. The third mentioned Jesus by name. There were no prayers. The pastor then came out wearing jeans and a rolled-up sleeve shirt that was hanging out. He looked to be about 45 years old and a bit overweight. He preached from Luke 23 and Christ's prayer from the cross: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." I was positively impressed with his speaking ability (no "uhms", stammering or stuttering) and it was quite sound. He preached Christ and him crucified. The sermon went for 35 minutes and by 10:30 sharp the service was over.
Now here is my evaluation (both positive and not so positive)…
1. I was positively impressed with the age of the congregation. I would put the average attender at around age 30-35. That was impressive and a GREAT ENCOURAGEMENT to my soul. We have all heard so many stories of how the younger generation (18+) is no longer attending church. Well, they were attending THAT church in Fayetteville in large numbers! I was glad to see it.
2. I was positively impressed with the sermon: it was sound, biblical and Christ-centered. It was not a "self-help" sermon. It was a "Jesus-saves" sermon. Again, good for them!
3. I was positively impressed with the facility: modern, clean, and comfortable (though a bit cold in temperature…65 maybe? I was glad I had worn a sport jacket).
4. I was negatively impressed with the music. Upon driving home Ruth spoke of how much more solid, deep and doctrinal are the songs that we sing at Burning Hearts. I would agree. Plus, I could not even begin to remember even one of the three tunes that we sang. The songs were not memorable. Plus, no one in the audience, that I saw, was singing. It was a concert. Even David, our son, bemoaned that.
5. Though the Bible texts were shown on the screens (Luke 23, Matthew 5, Isaiah 53, etc), someone like Liz, our future daughter in law, who was raised Roman Catholic, walked away with absolutely NO greater ability to handle her sword (the Bible) than when she came in. This is a GRAVE ERROR that is being committed by nearly every younger, larger church. They will justify what they are doing (showing the texts on the screen) as being an aid to those who are seekers but they are making a HUGE, HUGE ERROR. Indeed, I consider this one of the worst errors of the modern church.
So, that was our vacation church visit. Again, we were glad that David and Liz are attending church. May God direct their every path.