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City Church, Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Worshipper: Church Hopper.
City Church, Atlanta, Georgia, USA.
Passion Movement. The Passion Movement is a partnership founded
in 1997 by the contemporary Christian musician Chris Tomlin
and Atlanta pastor Louie Giglio. The Passion Movement seeks
to minister to teens, university students and young adults who
crave an alternative to traditional worship.
A large, fairly nondescript white building with the number 515
painted large in orange, that being the street address of the
church. The inside halls have very high ceilings and lots of
space and put you in mind of a museum. The "sanctuary" itself
is set up like a concert hall.
They describe themselves on their website as "conservative
and evangelical" and as believing in "a lifestyle
of extravagant worship." They sponsor two ministries for
children: Bloom, for ages six weeks to five years, and Passion
Kids, for ages five through ten. They also involve themselves
in issues like stopping human trafficking and aid to the displaced
in Haiti. I thought it was interesting that they took a two-week
sabbath this summer and did not hold services for two Sundays
in a row.
The church is in Buckhead, which is an upscale suburb in north
Atlanta, full of the usual stores, apartments and office buildings
you would find in such an area.
Pastor Louie Giglio, worship leader Chris Tomlin, another man
whose name was never made public.
The date & time:
Sunday, September 2, 2012, 6.45pm.
What was the name of the service?
Gathering. Sounds much cooler than "service", don't you think?
How full was the building?
Full seemed like 2,000 people there. I was astonished,
as it was an evening service on a holiday weekend (Labor Day)!
Did anyone welcome you
Yes, so many welcoming people: at the front door, at the door
to the sanctuary, when you were leaving. I was shown to a seat
next to a young man and his wife who said hello when I sat down.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, it was a movie-theatre type seat and very comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service
As hopped-up as a rock concert. I got there on time, but the
band had already started and the lights were flashing, and people
were raising hands and singing along fervently.
What were the exact opening words of the
"Welcome to the Gathering. Please turn around and greet your neighbor."
What books did the congregation
use during the service?
None. Nothing so old-school as a bulletin or hymn sheet was
given. In fact, I did not see any materials around for the taking.
But the service was very easy to follow, though it would have
been nice to know who was who on the stage. Song lyrics were
projected onto a screen. When it came time for the Bible reading,
about a third of the people opened a Bible, a third looked at
the words projected on the screen, and another third read along
on their smart phones. Yours truly wanted to fit in, so she
left her black leather bound Bible in the car and popped open
her iPhone, the first time I've ever done that in church.
What musical instruments
Full rock band: keyboard, two acoustic guitars, one electric
guitar, one bass, drums, backup singer. Chris Tomlin, who is
well-known for his worship song "How Great is Our God", led
the singing. He was very good at keeping the crowd engaged (though
I would have expected that) and made sure to keep the focus
on God rather than himself.
Did anything distract you?
There was a tall black support pole in my way and sometimes
it would block Chris, but there were three overhead screens
to capture the action as well.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
Very happy clappy. Usually I am annoyed with rock bands in church,
but this one less so. I did not know any of the songs, but everyone
was signing lustily and enjoying them. Chris did premiere a
new song called "God of Angel Armies" for an upcoming album,
which everyone sang along with. I think it could be a hit, so
remember that you read it here first when it comes out next
Exactly how long was the sermon?
About an hour. I could not believe it was that long because my attention never wandered.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 Pastor Louie Giglio is a very good speaker, extremely animated and quite funny too.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
It was part of a series on prodigals. Although I have heard
the Prodigal Son preached on many times, Pastor Louie brought
some new insights to the old story. I won't attempt to reduce
an hour-long sermon to a nutshell, so I'll only mention that
the son was probably quite dirty and smelly from having lived
out in the open for so long, and yet his father ran to meet
him and even embraced him, smell and all. That showed how much
he loved him.
Which part of the service was like being in
Listening to the pastor. He sort of acted out the parable on
stage, including the running and the bear hug, and it gave me
a new picture of how much God loves even me.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
At the beginning of the sermon (or "talk" as they called it)
the pastor told a long story about riding his bike and coming
upon a raccoon that he thought was dead. But the raccoon reared
up his head and hissed at him. He was acting out the hiss and
said it loudly and the audience jumped. I was wondering what
that had to do with anything, but then he said, "Just as you're
surprised by this, you'll be surprised by what you'll learn
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
After the sermon there were more worship songs. I snuck out
just before the end and was in the hallway. I ended up talking
with a nice man at a booth advertising an upcoming Passion World
Tour in South Africa in October. He gave me a card listing things
to pray about.
How would you describe the after-service
None was offered.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 The 25 year old in me wants to give this a 9; the 48
year old that I am wanted to rate it a 7. So we've settle on
an 8. Though there were a few people my age in the crowd, this
is definitely a young person's church. (Should churches have
age demographics? I wonder.) The loud rock band would not be
something I'd want to hear every week, though I could tell the
music was top notch and so was the speaker.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Yes. I still cannot get over the fact that a church could attract
2,000 young people on a Sunday night over a holiday weekend.
It gives me hope for the next generation.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The image of God wrapping me in a bear hug. And the turnout on a Sunday night.
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