Downtown Christian Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Downtown Christian Church, Grand Rapids
Location: Michigan, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 18 February 2024, 10:00am

The building

The sanctuary and education wing are both one-story and sit atop a wooded hillside. The sanctuary is linear and feels at least three times as long as it is wide, with rows of seating having seven chairs around a center aisle. Opposite when you enter is the raised stage for the worship band in front of large floor-to-ceiling windows filled with louvers to mitigate brightness. A series of narrow stained glass windows are spaced on both sides.

The church

The church has been on a journey, moving into their current building in 2023 after being in rented facilities for their first 10 years, and are grateful to have a place to call home. There is a healthy mix of ages, led by a leadership team rather than the traditional pastoral hierarchy.

The neighborhood

The church sits above the main road both literally and figuratively. From the road, only part of the building can be seen projecting from the brow of the hill, and having driven up through the trees, you come upon a residential neighborhood opening up beyond the parking areas.

The cast

The church has a leadership team composed of married couples. Two couples were involved in the service today. The wife of the worship leader gave the greetings and announcements, while the wife of the man who shared encouragement at the beginning of the service preached the sermon.

What was the name of the service?

Sunday Morning Worship.

How full was the building?

The building was almost full. Most rows had at best only a few open seats and I don’t remember seeing any row of seats less than half full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Yes, many. Before we even entered we met a friendly soul outside who asked if we were new and struck up a conversation. Once inside, we were immediately greeted by a couple who more than welcomed us, and even after we sat down, others including one of the leaders came and introduced themselves. Very welcoming! We received a welcome bag which contained a Gospel of John, as well as a very nice ceramic mug with the church’s name on it.

Was your pew comfortable?

The seating was separate chairs with a cushioned fabric seat and back – comfortable enough that I never found myself shifting in my seat.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Most people arrived before the service started and there was what best may be called a general buzz from the many conversations happening between friends. People seemed genuinely happy to be together both before and during the service.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

‘Good morning, my name’s Jamie, I’m on the leadership team here at DCC, we welcome you this morning.’

What books did the congregation use during the service?

No hymnals or Bibles at the pews. Screens projected the lyrics of the hymns.

What musical instruments were played?

Two electric guitars, a keyboard, and a cajon box drum, a wooden box played by hand.

Did anything distract you?

Mobile phones have taken the place of printed copies of the Bible for many people, and bless their heart for reading the Bible, but I still find moving backlit screens distracting. There was the nice distraction of the intermittent glow from the stained glass when the sun would come out.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Definitely upbeat and modern! Enough people offered shouts and praises during the first song that I thought it was a Pentecostal church, but it was just people happy to worship. The songs were mostly new to me but the lyrics had depth and were meaningful. The lead singer as well as the other musicians were excellent and demonstrated worship.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

The speaker said she had 30 minutes and maybe went over that a little.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

7 — This number may be a bit low since it was the first time I’ve heard a woman preach in person. Her message often elicited affirmations from the congregation. Much of the start of the message was on Adam and Eve and the snake, and the typical meant-to-be funny comments about men and women resonated differently coming from a woman. Her use of sound effects to reinforce both serious and humorous points in the sermon were noticeable as well.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The sermon was part of a series titled ‘The Simple Gospel,’ and this day’s message was on ‘The Fall and Redemption.’ After speaking on what was lost in the Fall and what was given up, the message was about Jesus and how he restored it all and more. At the end, it was about his return. In a nutshell, it was all about Jesus.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

There were moments during the service, when the focus was solely on Christ, which were what I’m expecting heaven will be like. Everyone seemed to be together of one mind and one heart, and present in the moment.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

It was more like being in another place than the other place, but the celebration of communion felt very informal. We had each been given an all-in-one juice and wafer combo, popular since the pandemic, when we entered the sanctuary. In the service, a heartfelt reflection on communion was given, but without the usual inclusion of Jesus’ words, ‘This is my body…’ I didn’t realize that others had already eaten and drunk until the next thing started in the service, so I took my wafer and juice then.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

We didn’t make it to the back of the church until others in our row and in front of us greeted us and shared their experience as relative newcomers to the church. The wife of the couple who first greeted us stopped by to thank us for coming. Although we left about 20 minutes after the service, it seemed like most of the people were still there.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There is coffee available before and after the service, freshly brewed regular and decaf with a selection of flavored creams. I had mine with hazelnut.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

9 — The people were warm, engaging and open, and it was a great place to have a conversation, spiritual and otherwise. Based on the list of announcements, there are so many different ministries offered it would be hard not to find a place to be a part of the community.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

Yes, and surprisingly it’s because of the differences to what I’m familiar with, a reminder that the body of Christ is one body. Their love of Jesus came through the worship, the message and their fellowship together.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

It was my first time hearing a woman preach.

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