Mystery Worshipper: The G.O.A.T
Church: New Life Providence Church
Location: Virginia Beach, Virginia, USA
Date of visit: Saturday, 11 April 2009, 6:00pm
A large modern structure with wide peaked roof and comparatively short sides, with steeple behind. Upon entering the main doors from the parking lot, one steps into a spacious lobby that leads to the sanctuary. On the west end of the building is a fellowship area for younger children. My first impression of the church was one of cleanliness, neatness, and organization.
Their many activities are all described on their website. Of special note is a benevolence ministry that helps members faced with unexpected financial hardship. They also sponsor special programs geared to all age groups from young children through older adults.
Virginia Beach, on Virginia's Atlantic coast, is a popular seaside resort featuring a variety of recreational and entertainment opportunities. Less than a mile away from the church is Regent University (formerly CBN University), founded by American televangelist Pat Robertson. The church is surrounded by a medical facility, a financial institution, and the parking lot of a shopping center.
The praise/worship leader opened the service but never gave his name. The Revd Dan Backens, senior pastor, was the leader for the remaining time.
What was the name of the service?Saturday Night Celebration Service.
How full was the building?
The church was definitely at full capacity. The ushers had to fetch some folding chairs. Until the children were dismissed for children's church, there were quite a few people standing along the sides of the sanctuary.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
After I entered the building, I was greeted by an usher in the lobby. He smiled, shook my hand and handed me the church bulletin.
Was your pew comfortable?
My chair was fairly comfortable. It was a stackable interlocking pew chair.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The church has something called a "pre-service prayer." This commences 30 minutes before the service and was in progress as I entered the sanctuary. It took me a while to figure out what was going on. Every few minutes or so, someone sitting in the congregation would approach a microphone, pray publicly, and then return to their seat. The keyboardist played softly during these prayers. This continued until 10 minutes before the service. At the five minute mark, a countdown clock was projected onto the three screens hanging down from the ceiling at the front of the sanctuary. With the music softly playing, it was a pretty reverential atmosphere.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Hello, New Life! Hello, New Life! Let's all stand tonight."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
There were no books. The songs that were sung had lyrics projected onto the screens at the front.
What musical instruments were played?
I saw the following: keyboard, harp, violins, bass guitar, flute, saxophones and drums. As a former flutist myself, I was sort of glad to see a flute player.
Did anything distract you?
Because of the location of the section in which I was sitting, people who entered were an initial distraction because they passed through my line of view. In addition, one of the persons sitting around me was wearing a perfume that irritated my right eye.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Not stiff-upper-lip. It was very moving and powerful. There were many people standing with their arms raised, shouting to the Lord. There was much clapping. New Life believes in the charismatic gifts. However, I did not see anyone speaking in tongues or giving public prophecy. At one point the children played a song on color-coded hand bells, ringing them in response to colored cards that the director held up. Those actual bells had been played all over the world by different children. It was very moving. When it was over, the congregation gave the children a well-deserved standing ovation.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – Pastor Dan Backens is very laid-back and personable. He's also extremely witty and makes one feel relaxed. He doesn't make one feel as if he's preaching at you. He's more of a teacher, not a preacher. He did not veer off on tangents and pretty much stayed on the sermon topic.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was entitled "The Cross and the Tomb." It was about how to have victory in your life. Jesus wants us to rise up and be victorious. The Cross pays a ransom, gives me salvation, and causes my sins to be forgiven. The Tomb gives me a new future, a new freedom, a new life, and victory.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
New Life prides itself on being a multi-cultural church where people from varying ethnic groups can come together to worship one Creator. I really enjoyed worshipping in a sanctuary full of people from different backgrounds and cultures. Everything from the worship team on down to the ushers was graced with multi-diversity.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Truly, there was really nothing of note to report. Everything appeared to be orderly and well-organized. There were no noticeable malfunctions or gaffes. I actually had a pleasant experience from when I first arrived in the parking lot until I returned back to my car. Good job, New Life!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No one talked to me. Perhaps, I need to work on my "lost" face. I eventually walked through the children's area looking lost, thinking that someone would ask me if I was looking for a child. But no one did.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Unfortunately, there were no after-service refreshments provided.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 – My church background is a non-Pentecostal one. Perhaps that is why I generally feel spiritually uncomfortable in a church that promotes or condones speaking in tongues or public prophecy. I feel that Paul's first letter to the Corinthians teaches a different doctrine regarding spiritual gifts than the one to which this church adheres. Nevertheless, I still had an enjoyable time.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Worshipping in a racially diverse environment made me feel unified with everyone there and truly glad to be a Christian.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
However, the same people with whom I felt unified would, in their haste to depart the church, ignore the prominent one-way arrows painted onto the parking lot surface. Chalk one up to human nature.