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  1392: First Baptist, Norfolk, Virginia, USA

First Baptist, Norfolk, Virginia, USA

Mystery Worshipper: Nomad.
The church: First Baptist, Norfolk, Virginia, USA.
Denomination: Southern Baptist.
The building: A modern church which is the main campus of this growing congregation. The signage placed outside and inside the building is up-to-date and well-placed. The presence of a bookstore/gift shop that was opened for business on a Sunday was a surprise, but was very tasteful in how it was done. An elevator to the second level and restrooms with wide doors, and a worship center with a sloping floor, made the entire building accessible to all who might want to make use of the facility.
The church: The church has its main facility at its "Norfolk Campus" on Kempsville Road and it has a second "Chesapeake Campus", which meets in a middle school in that community. The congregation attracts an attendance of over 2,500 at its two campuses and church plants. More than 2,100 attend Bible studies and other groups. A Spanish and a Russian church also make use of this church's facilities.
The neighborhood: The immediate neighborhood is residential, but is slowly giving way to an emerging business district. An example of this: Two houses directly across the street from the church are surrounded by additional church parking lots.
The cast: Rev. Dr Eric Thomas, senior pastor; Rev. John Griffin, associate pastor, music and worship. The guest preacher was Dr Jay Strack, president and founder of Student Leadership University.
The date & time: Sunday, 11th February 2007, 8.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Morning Worship Service (the first service of the three offered on Sunday mornings).

How full was the building?
The sanctuary (or "worship center", as it is called) had about 225 people in attendance.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A gentleman at the door gave us a warm handshake and welcomed us. A young girl and a lady were handing out professionally printed bulletins called the The First Edition. It listed information about the worship services and Bible studies offered on Saturday evening and Sunday morning. Another gentleman shook our hands and welcomed us at the door of the worship center.

Was your pew comfortable?
The upholstered pews were very comfortable and were arranged in a half-moon setting.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was a very friendly atmosphere, with folks talking amongst themselves, hugging one another and shaking the hands of anyone who happened by. People of all ages were smiling and seemed happy to be there.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning; it is good to see you today."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Available in the pews: Bibles (New International Version) and hymnals. Most folks seemed to have brought their own Bibles. We did not need to use the hymnals since the words could be seen in large print on screens at the front, and on TV screens placed all around the center.

What musical instruments were played?
A full-sized organ, a keyboard, piano, two electric guitars, and a drum set.

Did anything distract you?
The pre-service announcements about upcoming events could be seen on all the screens around the center. This use of these screens continued throughout the service, with words to songs, sermon notes and so on being displayed. It pulled my attention away from the speaker and the choir.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was a joy-filled worship service. There was some "clapping for Jesus" and a few raised hands during the praise music, but it felt a very natural and affirming style of worship.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
38 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The guest preacher did the usual things: referring to his knowledge of the senior pastor, giving his background and his testimony, introducing humor and home-spun charm. He gave a very well delivered sermon that made quite a bit out of just three verses!

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
"The Three Success Secrets of Shamgar", centered on three verses from the book of Judges (Judges 3:31; 5:6; and 21:25). The three "successes" were: 1. Start where you are... today. Don't emphasize yesterday; don't exagerate the potential of tomorrow. 2. Use what you have. We can be so consumed with what we do not have that we do not use what we do have! 3. Do what you can! His overall message was that we can all be like Shamgar. Even though we might feel overlooked or unappreciated and we don't think people expect much from us, we do have the power to do what we can and make a difference for good... for God! One person can make a difference!

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The adult choir and the youth choir were wonderful. The music minister has a wonderful voice! He seemed to be worshipping through the music (versus performing the music), which is a big difference. In fact, all the people in the choirs seemed to be worshipping, and this meant a lot to us. We have been in other places where the ego of folks in the choirs seemed so theatrical, and not worshipful.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The screened commercials for upcoming worship and study events. Sometimes the changing announcement on all the screens proved a bit distracting from what was happening at the front. A few times, the worship leaders asked for us to "give Jesus applause." When this happened, it transformed the worship service into a performance type of event. It detracted from my worship experience.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We did not exit the worship center until 9.17am, so the folks for the 9.30 service were waiting just outside, ready to enter. There were a lot of folks in the outside hallway, so no one approached us when we were unsure where to go next. There was a welcome center which we visited; the lady was very pleasant and helped us find a Sunday school class to attend.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The announcement bulletin stated that there is a congregational fellowship time with refreshments after the 11.00am service. Since we attended the earliest service, we made do with the refreshments in the Sunday school class we attended. No sign indicated whether anything was fairly traded or not. Available were regular and decaf coffee (which was freshly made and good), hot tea, water and donuts. The styrofoam cups were a turn-off, though understandable, given the number of participants.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – There was a real sense of connection present in the church. The feeling that people were interested in each other was very evident. Of particular interest was the use of small groups, discipleship, and mission – all designed for the building of disciples and not the building of a church.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Absolutely! It was wonderful to see so many folks and a large choir in their robes at this early service. It was encouraging to see so many youth participating in the youth choir. It was great to see different people participating in the service through prayer and singing.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The beaming smiles of the youth in the youth choir... worshipping through the music. They inspired the rest of us!
 
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