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1618: Zion Christian Church, Troy, Michigan, USA
Zion Christian Church, Troy, Michigan, USA
Mystery Worshipper: Angel Unaware.
The church: Zion Christian Church, Troy, Michigan, USA.
Denomination: Independent.
The building: A massive domed structure with A-frame foyer and rectangular covered entranceway, on a 46-acre sprawling campus that also includes a school and athletic fields. The interior is dark because of muted gray walls, a black ceiling and no windows. A bank of spotlights aimed at the stage illuminated only the cast of musicians and singers. In front of the acrylic pulpit stood a stone bird bath with a gurgling fountain nestled amidst artificial flowers.
The church: They offer ministries aimed at every stage of life, from preschool to adulthood, plus a bereavement ministry. There are two services each Sunday plus a Wednesday evening service.
The neighborhood: Zion Christian is located in the city of Troy, Michigan, an affluent northern suburb of Detroit and a thriving center of business, particularly in the automotive and financial sectors. Troy is home to a number of major companies, including the Budd Company, maker of many of the railroad cars used on subway lines, Amtrak and commuter routes; the Kelly Services employment agency; and the Cable TV entertainment firm Starz Media. Famous sons include the rather unfortunately named televangelist Jack Van Impe.
The cast: A host of instrumentalists on the main stage supported a nine-member praise team. The speaker never introduced himself, so I'm not sure which pastor it was from an expansive roster of clergy listed in the newsletter.
The date & time: August 31, 2008, 8.30am.

What was the name of the service?
It had no special name.

How full was the building?
The sanctuary, which must be able to accommodate thousands, held about 75 congregants at the starting time. About 15 minutes into the service, the number increased to about 100.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
The usher gave me a "knuckle touch" with the greeting, "Hey bud."

Was your pew comfortable?
Very comfy. Fully upholstered and plump. Lots of leg room too, which was a necessity as most congregants felt the need to move around while listening to the praise team (see below).

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
One word: Loud. The praise team were practicing as though the sanctuary were full. Decibel readings surely matched or exceeded those of a rock concert.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, everyone. Amen? Amen!"

What books did the congregation use during the service?
None. Everything – including song texts, commercials and infomercials – was projected onto three jumbo screens.

What musical instruments were played?
Nine instrumentalists, including two percussion sets, one of which was encased in a very curious plexiglas booth that looked all the world like an airport control tower.

Did anything distract you?
The dark interior with its rather fey appointments.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Unmistakably happy clappy, if not fully Pentecostal. People stood with closed eyes (or gazed at the black ceiling) and raised hands as the praise team sang at us. Most congregants also managed a slow rotation from the hips even while holding this position.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
42 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
1 – The minister regaled us with blustery, irrelevant (and, frankly, boring) stories from his own life that were detached from the scripture text. The congregation seemed remarkably patient with his message, but after 42 minutes we all began to wither. All told, the sermon lacked progression and strength.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Fasting. Except that he really didn't talk much about fasting, but rambled on with distracting diversions far afield of the discipline of fasting. For example: "Ladies' dress should always be modest. We want the brothers to be worshipping the Lord and not his creation. Amen? Amen!" And: "If you can say no to food, then you can say no to sex, drugs and rock and roll! Amen? Amen!" And so forth. At the end of the message, he offered five ways in which to apply the discipline of fasting to one's life, but by then the verbose rhetoric had rendered me so brain-dead that I can hardly remember any of them.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Over-sized, commodious parking spaces near the entrance doors.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Most literally, the dark, cavernous creepy aesthetic of the blackened sanctuary. Beside that, the patronizing tone and message of the minister.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Um, we didn't hang around. We made a bee-line to our automobile.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
See above.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
1 – The final straw for me, in addition to all the above, was that I did not know any of the songs. Apparently no one else did either, for no one around us sang nor did they seem to care. I guess the call to stand and worship meant to stand and listen to the praise team sing at us. The entire morning was a lot of listening and watching, with little participation.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
No. The whole morning felt more like a well-choreographed show centered on the minister than a time of dignified, God-centered worship.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The minister continually asking "Amen?" and then answering his own question with "Amen!"
 
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