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Fellowship, Snellville, Georgia, USA
Worshipper: Friar Tuck.
Fellowship, Snellville, Georgia, USA.
A sprawling building set high on a hill overlooking a residential
area. As you enter the lobby, you are greeted with the inviting
aroma of Starbucks coffee. The lobby is huge, well lit and airy,
with the coffee shop to the right, a bookshop directly across
from it, and numerous chairs for watching the closed circuit
feed from the auditorium on a flat screen monitor. Going from
the lobby into the auditorium is a stark contrast. The auditorium,
with its seating capacity of around 2,000, is dark and windowless.
There are three large screens suspended over the stage, and
several more on different walls. This makes it easy to see what
is happening up front from anywhere. There are cameras and light
trees in abundance. I found it to be a fairly intimidating auditorium
for a non-member. As for the rest of the building, the basement
is set aside for classes. The campus also includes a former
house that now is used for youth classes and worship.
They appear to be a very outward focused congregation, although
not particularly welcoming to visitors (more about that later).
They sponsor many children's groups, including one for children
of divorced parents; student fellowships; adult groups for every
stage of life; a men's basketball league; and Grace 360, which
conducts a number of outreaches into the community. There are
four services each Sunday, including an evening service.
Snellville is a suburb of Atlanta beset with suburban sprawl
which is moving shopping areas closer and closer to Grace's
campus. Since 2000 there has been an ongoing project, not without
controversy, to convert abandoned and decaying shopping malls
into parkland and municipal campuses.
The Revd Buddy Hoffman, senior pastor, led the preaching, prayers,
and communion. The Revd Aaron Keyes, worship pastor, led the
worship and praise.
The date & time:
Sunday, May 3, 2009, 9.00am.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
Bulging at the seams. There were literally thousands of people
there in the auditorium and others watching on closed circuit
TV in the lobby.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
There was an official greeter on duty (think: Walmart). The
only other person who spoke to me was a rather rude usher who
was more concerned that I not disturb the taping of the service
than whether I was seated.
Was your pew comfortable?
No. I got to the service about five minutes early and the regular
members had "saved" all the padded seats (about 40 per cent
of seating). What was left were standard metal folding chairs.
I found one free toward the back and sat down, which is when
I was accosted by the above mentioned usher. No one helped me
find a seat.
How would you describe the pre-service
Noisy but I liked it. It was full of people catching up with
one another. There is also Starbucks coffee available which
you are encouraged to take with you into the auditorium. I hope
this trend catches on!
What were the exact opening words of the
"Welcome to Grace! Please move in and make room for others."
What books did the congregation use during the
The songs were projected onto one of the five (at least) screens,
so there was no hymnal used. However, Bibles were handed out
so that everyone could follow the scriptures during the sermon.
These Bibles were in different modern translations and were
ours to keep.
What musical instruments
The praise team used a keyboard, three guitars, and a huge drum
set. They had two vocalists, one lead singer, and a deaf interpreter.
Did anything distract
The most distracting thing was the constant movement of people
at the perimeters of the auditorium. This wasn't terrible but
definitely was distracting.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
The worship was very upscale contemporary. Aaron Keyes, the worship leader, is very talented but my first impression was that we were being led by a celebrity rather than a minister. This is, I'm sure, unfair but was my first impression because of how much everyone up front looked like a professional rock band.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 Buddy Hoffman is an engaging preacher whose earnestness
is easy to see. The sermon really was more of a biblical exposition
than a traditional sermon and was in two distinct parts: reading
and commentary on the selected text and then application for
practical living. I benefited from it. At the end, though, there
was a rushed attempt to fill out an alliterative outline printed
in the bulletin. I really didn't think this fit the message.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
The sermon was entitled "This kind!" and the text was Mark 9:14-32
(Jesus drives out an evil spirit when his disciples could not).
All ministries are not equivalent. Some are "this kind," the
kind that demand prayer and patience, while some are easy.
Which part of the service was like being in
After the sermon and before communion there was a wonderful
moment of unplugged worship singing "All honor and glory and
power are yours. Amen" that really was quite chilling in its
simplicity and evocativeness.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Trying to get a seat at Grace is an unpleasant experience, and
mine was made worse by being made to feel that my presence was
less important than the techie aspects of the service. I found
this church to be very uninviting for the first time visitor.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I stood in the crowded lobby where people were trying to exit
while thousands were trying to come in for the next service.
I thought to myself that there must be something great happening
here for this many people to love this place, even though I
felt completely ignored. And, as a matter of fact, I was completely
ignored! Not one person spoke to me in five minutes except to
ask me to move out of their way.
How would you describe the after-service
Starbucks, baby! The coffee, tea and hot chocolate at Grace
rock, even though they asked for a $1 donation. It was well
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
2 I gave Grace such a low grade because it is one of
the most intimidating, uninviting churches for a first timer
that I have ever visited. However, it is obvious that people
love this place, so if I lived in the area I would have to give
it several tries to see what keeps people active here.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Definitely. The emphasis on the Word was wonderful and not at
all given from a position of judgment. I felt the people there
were outwardly focused and Christ centered.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Feeling puzzled about the juxtaposition of fervent worship,
biblical fidelity and people so focused on getting a comfortable
seat that the visitor is not only ignored but actively pushed
to the back of the line.
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