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2090: Family Church, Portsmouth, England
Family Church, Portsmouth, England
Mystery Worshipper: Holy Cow.
The church: Family Church, Portsmouth, England.
Denomination: Independent. They are a member of Portsmouth Churches, a loose association of churches of 16 denominations in the Portsmouth area, and Synergy Network, which describes themselves as "a fellowship of like-minded ministers who desire inspirational relationships and growth in their leadership, ministries and lives."
The building: The congregation meet in City Girls' School, a modern looking structure. Worship is set up in the gym and there is a café in the assembly hall. Other rooms are used for the crèche and children's groups. The church makes good use of the space and benefits from the large school car park. I do pity the poor volunteers who have to set everything up and cart it to and fro every week, though!
The church: The church is one of three set up by the same team in this part of Hampshire. It has a huge, multicultural congregation with an enviable number of young people attending. Their many activities are well described on their website.
The neighbourhood: Portsmouth, on England's south coast, is England's only island city. It has been a seaport since ancient times and may have been home to the Roman Classis Britannia. The school sits on a busy traffic junction between two highly populated areas and is overshadowed by a large, beautiful but rather imposing 11th century Anglican church across the road.
The cast: Executive Pastor Steuart Payne.
The date & time: Sunday, 19 September 2010, 11.15am.

What was the name of the service?
Sunday Meeting.

How full was the building?
Absolutely packed! I gave up counting after 300.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I got a cheery "Good morning" from one of the fluorescent-tabarded car park attendants and a "Welcome" from a greeter on the door. Volunteers wearing "Host" t-shirts barred our entry to the worship area until exactly 11.15, when a friendly team directed everyone to seats.

Was your pew comfortable?
The chairs were a fairly standard school-issue plastic. They did the job and, to be honest, it soon became clear that we wouldn't get to spend much time sitting!

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Very busy, with people arriving for the service and others lingering for a coffee after the earlier one.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, Church. Let's see you on your feet!"

What books did the congregation use during the service?
There were none. Lyrics were displayed on two large screens. I noticed that quite a few worshippers had their own Bibles with them.

What musical instruments were played?
I counted a keyboard, four guitars, drums, and four singers. The singers were particularly bouncy and moved around the stage a lot – I may well have counted one twice.

Did anything distract you?
Bouncing is a big thing in this church, and they were all at it. It was very joyful and energetic but perhaps a bit much for this non-morning person!

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Happy clappy doesn't even begin to do it justice. If you like your worship energetic and loud, this place is for you.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
25 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – Pastor Payne is likeable and speaks enthusiastically. I'd probably enjoy having a pint with him. His sermon was quite light and accessible, which would suit the seekers and new believers who I think make up a fair proportion of the church. It did, however, lack any of the depth that seasoned believers might expect.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was based on Mark 10:13-16 (Jesus blesses the children). It was preached to coincide with the Sunday school graduation ceremony. In brief, he spoke about why we should do everything we can to ensure children can connect with God and how we might do it.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Seeing such a large number of young people engaged in worship.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Watching a step-by-step video demonstration of how to fill in my credit card details on the offertory envelope and which other payment options were available.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No chance of that. Visitors were asked to raise their hands and were given bright yellow goodie bags. The bag may as well have been a target! I was whisked off for a coffee by an enthusiastic woman who was ready to sign me up for everything the church had to offer!

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There is a café where you pay for your drinks and snacks. As a visitor I had a free coffee voucher in my goodie bag, but I had to fill my details in on the back before handing it over. I didn't feel ready to be on the church database after just one service, so I declined the coffee.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – I felt a bit lost in the crowd, to be honest. The style of the service wasn't really my cup of tea either, but those who enjoy lively, energetic worship would love it.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes it did. Despite my reservations about aspects of the service, it was fantastic to see so many worshippers of all ages.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Seeing almost the entire congregation bounce in unison!
 
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