River Hills Church, Winder, Georgia, USA


Info and corrections →

Mystery Worshipper:
Church: River Hills Church
Location: Winder, Georgia, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 18 July 2021, 11:00am

The building

The facility is a fun twist on industrial-chic. It looks simple and unassuming on the exterior, with its neutral earth-tones in brick and concrete. However, the interior boasts open spaces with inviting interior design, including artificial greenery, pallet walls, and bits of metal decor.

The church

River Hills offers multiple opportunities to serve those in need with prayer and giving of resources. They spoke of ample areas in which people can connect with one another and the surrounding community.

The neighborhood

Winder (the first syllable is pronounced with a long ‘i’) is a small city in north-central Georgia. Incorporated in 1893, it was originally called Jug Tavern and was later named in honor of John H. Winder, president of the Seaboard Air Line Railroad, in its heyday the major connection between Atlanta and the Northeast. In 2011, Winder became the first city in Georgia to permit the sale of alcoholic beverages on Sunday. This church is nestled nicely in between the hustle and bustle of downtown Winder and the rural areas on the outskirts.

The cast

The pastor opened the service with a welcome and the worship team led the music before the pastor gave the sermon.

What was the name of the service?

Sunday Service.

How full was the building?

The building was about one-third occupied during the second service of the morning, which is when I attended.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

As I approached the front entrance of the church, the doors swung open wide, being held by two friendly gentlemen, smiling and saying ‘Good morning!’ When I located the cafe where coffee was being served, the lady behind the counter was very kind and asked if I would like a cup of coffee. Then, another gentleman greeted me with a ‘Hello’ as he handed me a worship packet at the entrance of the sanctuary.

Was your pew comfortable?

The rows of chairs were actually quite comfortable. They were semi-firm and covered in a soft gray heavy-duty upholstery fabric. The rows were a good distance apart, so there was no need to squeeze past anyone to get to your seat.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Before the service began, the room was mostly quiet and there were not many people in the sanctuary. As the service began, congregants trickled in from the lobby and found their seats. By the time the worship music started, the room was about one-third full.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

The pastor said ‘Good morning!’ and as he was met with a whisper of a response, he retorted, ‘Let's try that again … GOOD MORNING!’ This elicited a much more animated reply from the crowd.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Only a few Bibles were seen during the service. Several people used Bible apps on their phones, but most read along with the text displayed on one of the large screens on either side of the room. No other materials were used.

What musical instruments were played?

The worship team used an electronic keyboard, acoustic guitar, electric bass guitar, electronic keyboard, and a cajón, a box-shaped percussion instrument. The music was contemporary but with a more intimate and acoustical vibe.

Did anything distract you?

There were a couple of things that directed my attention from the pastor speaking. First, a young lady arose from her seat to exit during the sermon, which wasn't so much of a distraction in itself, but the high-pitched squeak the heavy door made when she opened it was a head-turner for sure. The other instance was when an airplane flew over the church and the loud rushing wind made it difficult to hear the message, but only for a few seconds.

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

The worship portion was somewhat reserved. While there was participation from the congregation, it was soft and restrained. There were a few moments when I could faintly hear those around me singing, and a lady near me raised her hands gently and gradually in exaltation.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

37 minutes.

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

8 — The pastor preached an easy-to-follow sermon, with several points about the message and its application. He often used (or should I say overused) the expression ‘Does that make sense?’

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The sermon was titled 'In God We Trust.' It was about trusting God with our community and how we, as believers, are called to evangelize to those around us. The message was to be the ‘beautiful feet,’ like those in Romans 10:15, that bring the Good News to others. He referred to Luke 5:17-26, where the paralyzed man is lowered through the roof of the house Jesus was in. The point was that there is one message, but many methods of evangelism. He made a good parallel in saying, 'If the front door is closed, find another way' in regard to evangelizing those around us.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

While the worship was wonderful and led by talented musicians and vocalists, and the message was thought-provoking and inspiring, the best part was hearing about all of the ways in which this congregation was utilizing their time, talents, and treasures to serve their neighbors. Not just in the immediate area, but also in their overseas ministries, like in Haiti.

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

One blunder was with the coffee I was served. Once I reached the last half-inch of coffee, I realized that most of the remaining substance in my cup was coffee grounds, so I was unable to finish my drink. Later, there was a moment during prayer in which, even with my eyes closed, I could tell someone was trying to figure out which lights to turn on and which to turn off. It was like a strobe light over my eyelids and I have no idea what was said during the prayer at that point. The worst was when a young lady turned off a light in the room I was in, without acknowledging me (see below).

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

After the service, I was greeted with a passing ‘Bye!’ and ‘Have a good week!’ from a couple of strangers. I then wandered through the church and found myself in the children's area. There were several people standing around and conversing with one another, but no one seemed to notice me. I then walked into the back room where children are checked in upon arrival. A young lady with blonde hair walked into the room, saw me walking through, but still proceeded to turn off the light without even a word. She then left, and I took that as my cue to do the same.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

The taste of the coffee was average. It wasn't weak or overly stout, but it did have a good amount of grounds in it. It was served in a small styrofoam cup and an assortment of creamers and sweeteners littered the counter top. I didn't see any food items being offered.

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

7 — If I were looking for a church home, I might consider visiting this church again. I understand that the pandemic has played a role in some people's willingness to engage with strangers. So, I would give this church another chance to live out the message preached from the stage this morning by engaging with those around them.

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

The service actually inspired me to live out my faith in front of those around me and evangelize through my thoughts, words, and actions by praying, taking initiative, and being a light in this world. I would say that this morning made me glad to be a Christian.

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

'There is one message, but many methods ... if the front door is closed, find another way.'

Our Mystery Worshippers are volunteers who warm church pews for us around the world. If you’d like to become a Mystery Worshipper, start here.

Find out how to reproduce this report in your church magazine or website.

Comments and corrections

To comment, please scroll to the end of this report and add your thoughts there. To send us factual corrections, please contact us. We also discuss reports on our Ecclesiantics bulletin board.

© Ship of Fools