|971: Crossroads Bible Church, Bellevue, Seattle, Washington, USA|
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Mystery Worshipper: Bede the Venerable.
The church: Crossroads Bible Church, Bellevue, Seattle, Washington, USA.
Denomination: Baptist General Conference.
The building: The church recently moved to this site, which was previously some sort of office building. It's a large, one-story sprawling space with a large worship center and mazes of classrooms and office space. The central feature is a huge public foyer complete with a coffee bar and a large stone fireplace. They have made a valiant effort to make the space seem more ecclesiastical, but it still seemed more like a hotel or conference center than a church.
The church: It was a large, generally upper-middle-class, almost exclusively white group. There were numerous ministry offerings womens' and mens' groups, youth activities, etc.
The neighbourhood: The church is located in an office building and is neighbored by other businesses and Interstate 405. It is in southern Bellevue, a middle-class suburb of Seattle.
The cast: Rob Bigley, worship leader; Rev. Jayson Turner, preacher.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
The worship center seemed filled to capacity, but not crowded. At least 500 people, probably more.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
The standard smiling greeter at the door said good morning and admired the Mystery Worshiper's adorable infant son.
Was your pew comfortable?
Instead of pews, there were cushioned chairs affixed to one another. They were soft and comfy, but I felt awkwardly close to the young man next to me, who was wearing rather strong cologne.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
People were milling about, happily chatting. In fact, this attitude seemed to extend through the first few minutes of singing. After five minutes or so, people began to find their seats and join in the service.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, it's good to have you here," followed by an announcement that some poor soul had left their car's headlights on.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
None at all. The hymnal racks beneath the chairs were all empty. The words to the songs were printed in the bulletin and projected on large screens. Most of the congregation seemed to bring their own Bible, but the text for the sermon was also printed in the bulletin.
What musical instruments were played?
The band was large, talented and well-led. There seemed to be a piano, electric keyboard, acoustic guitar, electric bass, drum kit, and a second drummer with an assortment of congas, bongos, and chimes. There was also a very enthusiastic choir.
Did anything distract you?
Two minor things: First, some of the more enthusiastic choir members were swaying, waving their hands, and generally "feeling the power of the spirit." This is fine, but they were located directly in my line of sight behind the worship leader. Second, when the congregation began to clap on one of the up-tempo numbers, none of them seemed to have any rhythm at all. The effect was so awkward that the worship leader made a joke about "remedial clapping lessons" at the end of the song.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Standard mega-church evangelical worship. There were a half dozen inoffensive praise choruses, an "inspirational" song by a soloist, and a gargantuan sermon. Nothing else. The only prayers were a few extemporaneous "O Father we just praise you..." sorts by the worship leader, and a brief "Lord, speak through this text..." prayer by the preacher. Clearly this church considers the sermon to be the central element of the worship service, almost to the exclusion of everything else. To be honest, with the 45-minute sermon, lack of participatory liturgy, and the hotel-style surroundings, I felt more like I was attending a conference or an academic lecture than a worship service.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 Rev. Turner is a young man with a warm, casual speaking style. His sermon was peppered with pleasant and relevant anecdotes about his family and current events. He would surely merit a 10 if judged only on style and warmth, but I found the content of the message troublesome enough to drop his rating down a bit.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The text for the sermon was Colossians 2:8 "See that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy..." Rev. Turner gave a standard conservative list of the deceptive philosophies that can take Christians captive, including the homosexual agenda, heterodox theology, Catholic views about Mary, and the ill-defined but very scary world of "postmodernism". To be sure, these are issues that are important in the conservative Protestant world. But I'm not sure they were relevant to the text at hand, which seemed sadly divorced from its immediate context in Colossians. Rev. Turner didn't really make an attempt to establish how these particular philosophies were likely to take his congregation captive, nor to even explain why these particular issues should be correlated with the warning in Colossians. In fact, I'm not sure that the congregation was challenged at all by the sermon they all seemed to already agree that these philosophical stands were dangerous and to be avoided by Christians. He perhaps would have served the text (and the congregation) better by challenging some of those assumptions of middle-class American conservative Protestantism that are actually likely to ensnare his flock: materialism, nationalism, lack of sympathy for the poor, etc.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Although the music was not very theologically deep (praise choruses seldom are), it was remarkably well done and the congregation sang along with vigor. It was lovely to be among so many people who were willing to sing their hearts out.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Although Rev. Turner was a gifted speaker, the sermon was tedious, largely because of its excessive length.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I didn't have a chance to look lost, as I met some acquaintances soon after the service. In addition, my infant son acts as a magnet for strangers of all sorts who want to fuss over him. Nevertheless, the sheer size of the building and the large number of congregants made it seem as though it would be easy for a visitor to be overlooked.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I'm not a coffee drinker myself, but by all reports it was good (this is, after all, Starbucks country). There were several large urns with both regular and decaf as well as hot water for tea. Many sorts of pastry were available, which were delicious.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 The enthusiasm of the congregation was great, but I would prefer something a bit more traditional liturgically and a bit less doctrinally fundamentalist.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I was pleased to be in a place where so many people seemed so enthusiastic about their faith.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The fact that the worship service was so very much like a college lecture.