From the outside, the building did not look like a traditional church: no gigantic cross or steeple present. Rather, it reminded me of my childhood dentist's office. It was a very clean building, accessible parking, and nicely maintained on the exterior and interior.
Among their ministries are a food pantry, soup kitchen, and "Circle One", which (quoting from their website) engages in "selfless good deeds" in order to "amaze the community" so that "the good news of Christ will prevail."
It's Dallas suburbia. Lots of shops, gas stations and restaurants in the area. A gigantic special needs school sits directly across the street from the church, which engulfs the intersection.
Elder Hal Habecker, head pastor, presided over the services. Interestingly, he was referred to in the bulletin and on the website simply as "Pastor Hal".
What was the name of the service?Worship Service.
How full was the building?
The church seats roughly 300, and was about three-quarters full. The church's body was mostly comprised of families and senior citizens.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes! This was the highlight of my morning. I met with the standard firm handshake and a "Happy Easter" as I walked through the door. Inside, a welcome center was strategically placed next to the sanctuary entrance, and a gentleman was stationed there waiting for guests. He approached me and asked if I had visited the church before. Upon finding out I was a newbie, he personally escorted me into the sanctuary and introduced me to the ushers. He invited me to get comfortable and said that the service would start in ten minutes. It was refreshing and I felt he was genuine in his efforts to welcome me.
Was your pew comfortable?
There were no traditional pews. There were cushioned green patterned chairs that were linked together. They were quite comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
As I sat down, the place appeared empty. In typical Dallas fashion, over half of the congregation did not slip into their seats until the service had already begun. Announcements were displayed on screens at the front during pre-service; these were informative and nicely designed. The pianist was delightful to listen to. She played a lovely rendition of "Because He Lives" as the announcements scrolled through. Once the masses flocked into the sanctuary, the place was abuzz with conversation. The announcements then shifted to a looping slide that said "Welcome to Church" with a crown of thorns around the text, except the crown had been artistically altered to blue and purple bolts of electricity coming out of it.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
The worship leader opened with the words "Good evening" at the 10.15am service! Thankfully, for him, most were distracted by their own conversations and did not pick up on the faux pas. This was soon followed by the phrase "He is risen!" to which the congregation responded, "He is risen indeed!"
What books did the congregation use during the service?
None. Song lyrics were displayed on large projector screens at the front of the sanctuary. There were Bibles placed in attached racks underneath the seats, but they were not utilized.
What musical instruments were played?
A grand piano, electric keyboard, three guitars and drums.
Did anything distract you?
There was a large black masking of drapery that was on the right side of the stage. I wanted to peel it back and see if the Wizard of Oz was hiding behind it. There was also a man seated in the row in front of me who kept turning around eyeballing the back of the sanctuary. Either he was waiting on someone or trying to figure out how to rob the offering plate.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Happy clappy! The worship leader often used the phrase "Put your hands together, church!" during the singing. The music was advertised as "blended." Opened with a hymn of "Christ the Lord is Risen Today", followed by contemporary praise songs "Happy Day", "God Is Able" and "Glorious Day." The musicians and vocalists were talented and engaged in the worship. However, the sound balance was lacking. The drums were four times louder than everything else, and often drowned out the craftsmanship of the pianist, guitarists, and vocalists, who at times sang in beautiful harmony with each other. Most of the time, the congregation could not hear themselves or others around them sing. At select moments, when the instrumentation got stripped down, it was refreshing to hear each other singing and experience a communal environment.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 – It's hard to assess the preacher's abilities on this specific Sunday, being that it was Easter. He seemed to have excellent speaking skills: he strongly projected, was enthusiastic and articulate. He used lots of hand gestures and spoke with conviction. His strongest aspects of preaching were his ability to connect with an audience based on his zeal and enthusiasm. But it was very apparent that the sermon was catered to a visitor who had never heard the gospel before, so it was basic and fundamental.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The message was that Jesus was resurrected from the dead, and appeared to Mary Magdalene and the disciples. The Resurrection was real, and this should lead to faith in Christ. The sermon never officially concluded, as a baby dedication was woven into the ending of the message.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
There were moments during the congregational singing where a very short elderly woman and her very tall husband were holding their hands up in the air toward the heaven with reckless abandon. It was a genuine authentically beautiful picture of a marriage submitted to Christ. There was a special men's Easter choir of about 15 who, toward the end of the service, sang a harmonized original number that was incredibly touching. The lighting designer also did a really nice job throughout the service of creating nice color palettes on the stage that enhanced (but did not distract from) the mood and atmosphere they were after.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The call and response phrase "He is risen" ("He is risen indeed") was beaten to death. This phrase was uttered from the pulpit 57 times by the midpoint in the sermon. I gave up counting at that point. It would not be a shock if they got into triple digits. It was seemingly resounded on the minute, every minute. We get it. It's Easter. We are celebrating the moment. But it became robotic, and the congregation definitely lost steam repeating it as the service progressed. The sermon should have been titled "If you didn't know he is risen, you're in for a real treat" or "You will memorize three words today." Finally, an awkward instance occurred around me when the pastor said that we will have the same voices in heaven as we do on earth, to which the chain smoking lady next to me rasped, "Oh God, I hope not."
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
This was shocking. Never in my years of attending worship services has the same greeter who welcomed me into a building made it a point to bee-line all the way back over to me and invite me back next week. We had a brief conversation about different ministries of the church. I felt cared for.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was no after-service coffee apparent. However, the communion wafers that were served earlier were the size of a salad plate, so perhaps everyone was full.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – I walked away from the service thinking this would be a great spot for my parents. It had a nice homey atmosphere. But my age group and life stage did not appear to be represented, which would give me pause about coming back.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Sure. The Easter message of Christ's resurrection made me grateful for my pardoned sins and the salvation I have.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
He is risen. He is risen indeed. (Repeat.)