Church…the building or the people?

Church Experience #2 – Jan 9, 2011

the Net Church – Chattanooga

No building? No worries!

For my first Chattanooga church experience of 2011 I decided to visit the Net Church that currently meets in the Rave movie theater off I-24 near the Moore Road exit (184).  I decided to visit this church for two reasons: 1) I met the worship leader, MJ, at my company Christmas party back in December (his girlfriend was a newly hired employee) and he spoke passionately about his church, which is always good.  And 2) I was really interested to see what a church that once had a billboard that promoted their website, www.ifyouhatechurch.com, was like (visit their website for an explanation).  I’ve always been curious about the pros and cons of not having a church building.  On one hand, it seems like such a waste for every single church to build another building.  Do we really need that many church buildings?  It seems like the ones we already have don’t even get used that much.  On the other hand, I can see why a congregation would want their own space to hold events whenever they want.  The people at the Net certainly didn’t seem like not having their own building affected them in the least, and they definitely did an excellent job of utilizing the movie theater space effectively.

Church at the movies?

It definitely seemed strange walking up to a movie theater on Sunday morning to go to a church service.  It’s just one of those things where you unconsciously have expectations in certain settings because of past repetitive experiences.  The atmosphere inside was a distinct break from my typical movie theater experience.  The greeters at the door weren’t tearing tickets and I didn’t have to pull out my wallet to shell out $20 to get inside.  Once inside I was pleasantly surprised to see several rooms being used as child care facilities, and in the hallway outside of the worship theater was an impressive spread of refreshments.  I’m a huge fan of free coffee before church, and to be honest I don’t understand why every church doesn’t do this.  It seems like a well-caffeinated congregation would increase the probability for energetic worship and attentiveness during the sermon…just sayin’.  In fact, I’d like to see a study done comparing tithing and collections in a caffeinated congregation vs. coffee-free…I’d wager that coffee drinkers are more generous.  Who’s willing to try to prove me wrong?  The Net not only had free coffee, but there were donuts and other goodies…score!  My wife and I got there fairly early, so we stood around in the hallway drinking coffee and watching all the goings-on.  The environment seemed very relaxed with the majority of people wearing jeans and casual clothes, and there was a fairly balanced mix of all ages from small children up to 40-somethings, with the 50-plus crowd being a little light but still represented.  We didn’t really get approached by many people, but the few people that I engaged in conversation seemed friendly and open.

Hi-Def worship

The one thing I can say about going to church at the Net, was that it was amazingly comfortable.  The theater seats were the plush kind that recline when you lean back and the armrest cupholders are a great thing for coffee drinkers (OK, so maybe I’m coffee obsessed).  The worship music was very modern with electric instruments and contemporary worship songs with the lyrics displayed on the movie screen.  I love the sound of electric worship, but for me it creates more of a passive worship experience rather than active worship.  I enjoy the sound and internalize the music more than other styles of worship music, but I find it difficult to sing along and outwardly worship.  My explanation would be that this is the kind of music I want to hear on the radio, because when I’m in the car I like to feel the music and contemplate the lyrics, but at church I prefer active worship.  For other people that don’t like to dance, jump, wave arms, and belt out simplified lyrics (like my wife Laura), this would probably be an ideal worship experience for you.  All in all, this worship experience seemed pretty “chillaxed” yet edgy…retro enough for Generation X’ers to feel nice and grungy, but current enough for Generation Y’ers to wallow in emo bliss (if you didn’t follow that part, ask a teenager for translation).

Beattitudes, dude

After worship concluded, Pastor Ryan announced that he was beginning a 6 month long study on three chapters in Matthew including 8 weeks on the Beattitudes.  This is exactly the kind of sermon series that I like, getting down and dirty with some real Bible study.  I find that a lot of preachers spend too much time giving a Holy Spirit pep rally and fail to give the congregation the Bible meat that will sustain that Holy Spirit energy and help build some real Faith muscle.  I really liked the way Pastor Ryan took notice that Jesus’ first recorded spoken message in Matthew (and the New Testament) was a blessing, which launched his Earthly ministry.  I never really thought of it that way, but it definitely makes sense.  He then drew the parallel that the beginning of the Christian life for new believers is like the beginning of Jesus’ ministry…it starts with a blessing.  How great is our God that the instant we choose to accept the sacrifice of His Son as payment for our sins, and we confess that Jesus is our Savior, we are blessed in that moment with eternal life.  Wow.  I’d like to let you know that in the process of typing those words I was brought to tears.  Without deserving any grace or mercy, we are freely given a full measure by the Lord our God.  I’d love to hear the rest of Pastor Ryan’s Matthew series, but alas…my “50 church” surfing adventure must continue.  I’m sure God will continue to bless me with wisdom and insight into His Word from many more of the sermons I will hear.

No popcorn, but bread instead

The service closed with an open invitation for everyone to partake in communion.  I’ve seen communion served and handled many different ways, and in this case it was provided in self-serve stations.  People were asked to come down to the communion station and tear a piece of bread from the loaf and dip it into the bowl of grape juice.  I don’t have a problem with the different ways in which communion is offered, and for those who do, I’m very sorry that you’re getting hung up on ceremonial practices.  What I feel is important is that everyone has a clear understanding of why they are taking part in this practice so that it does not become ritualistic and lose its meaning to anyone.  I can also see some people being nervous about walking up in front of a large congregation to take communion, and this may sound harsh, but get over it!  Jesus hung on the cross for us and if we can’t make a public statement by walking up and taking communion in front of everyone, there may be deeper issues that need to be addressed.  All I can say is to ask and trust God, He will give you both the desire and the strength to take advantage of these opportunities to publicly affirm your faith.

Closing

After the service ended my wife and I stuck around for the monthly Q & A time that Pastor Ryan and some of the other church leaders set aside for visitors and new members.  They asked for an introduction from each of us and gave us a good history of where this church came from and what their goals are (you’ll have to either attend for yourself or visit their website for that info).  They explained that home-based small groups were an essential part of their ministry in order to fulfill the need for fellowship and developing Christian relationships.  The Sunday worship was to fulfill the need for group worship and Bible teaching.  Everyone I met at the Net Church was very nice, but I really would have liked to meet more people to get a feel for what their church meant to them and why they attended there.  Maybe those questions are for another time.  Until then, so long and may God bless His faithful servants at the Net Church Chattanooga.

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