The Journey, Brooklyn, New York, USA

The Journey, Brooklyn, New York City, USA


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Mystery Worshipper: EggyWeggy
Church: The Journey
Location: Brooklyn, New York City, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 1 February 2009, 11:00am

The building

They meet in the auditorium of a Brooklyn public school. Standing three stories high, the building is right off Smith Street one block away from Atlantic Avenue. It's a nondescript, featureless rectangular brick building.

The church

Journey Brooklyn is one of three Journey church locations (the other two being Jersey City and Manhattan, with a new branch opening soon in Queens). The pastoral staff preach at each church on a rotational basis, so every week Journey Brooklyn has a different speaker. They emphasize the importance of groups, both spiritual and recreational, that meet during the week at various locations.

The neighborhood

Once a simple plot of Dutch farmland, the section of Brooklyn once known as North Gowanus was home to working-class Puerto Rican, African-American, and Native American Mohawk families until the 1960s, by which time the area had fallen on hard times and many old buildings were slated for demolition. But then it was discovered by professionals and artists from Manhattan who gradually gentrified the area and renamed it Boerum Hill. Lying just east of the ultra-fashionable Carroll Gardens neighborhood, Boerum Hill today features beautifully restored old brownstone houses, a plethora of African and Islamic restaurants and crafts boutiques, and new high end restaurants and shops. The area is well served by subway lines. The church's immediate neighborhood has a quaint vibe with a variety of different eating locations.

The cast

Executive Pastor Kerrick Thomas was the main speaker. Elliot Sneed, Journey Brooklyn's pastor, spoke briefly.

What was the name of the service?

Exponential: The Power of a Compounding Life

How full was the building?

The auditorium, capable of seating 150 people, was only a third full. Most of the attendees sat in the middle and right sections, with only a handful sitting on the left hand side.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

I was greeted by ushers near the front entrance of the building, and then again right outside of the auditorium. I was handed the day's bulletin and sermon notes.

Was your pew comfortable?

The auditorium seats were like the ones I remember from my own elementary school: wooden, with armrests and no cushioning.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Relatively quiet.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"My name is Kerrick Thomas. I'm one of the teaching pastors here at the Journey."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The church bulletin had everything that you could possibly need for the sermon. It had fill-in-the-blank segments, pre-punched holes in the side for those who want to keep it in their binders afterwards, and all of the day's scripture readings as well as the scripture being projected onto the screen.

What musical instruments were played?

The worship team consisted of a keyboardist, acoustic guitarist, drummer, and four vocalists.

Did anything distract you?

The most distracting thing about Journey Brooklyn is their weekly bulletin. Containing an offering envelope, their 20-page growth group listing, sermon notes, fundraising information, a flyer promoting the next sermon series, a brief FAQ, and a connection card, the bulletin gave enough reading material to keep me distracted from actually paying attention to the sermon.

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

The music was a pretty mellow contemporary style, à la Hillsong or the Christian worship leader and songwriter Chris Tomlin. But the only people who seemed into the praise were the people leading it. Most of the attendees were standing – no clappers here, folks – but for all I know they could have been sipping coffee or talking for all the enthusiasm they showed.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

20 minutes, and that's stretching it. The 20 minutes included the time given over to three video clips, and when Pastor Thomas passed the preaching baton to Pastor Sneed and back. Not exactly a lot of information to swallow here, folks, and on top of that, bad jokes aplenty. I think the jokes added a good three minutes to the sermon time.

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

3 – The preacher tried a bit too hard to make jokes to connect to the congregation, and the feedback from the congregation was a bit lackluster.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The sermon, entitled "Exponential: My Life to the Power of Relationships," focused on encouraging members of the church to join a growth group as a means to facilitate spiritual growth and build relations within the church community. In a nutshell? "Join the Journey growth groups!" He gave five reasons why we should join the groups, and backed them all up with scripture, but the backing was rather weak and a bit of a stretch.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The best part of the sermon, for me, was when Kerrick Thomas emphasized that "our church must grow larger and smaller at the same time," which is a very important concept that many churches seem to overlook.

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

The corny jokes were like being in the other place. The fact that the pastor laughed at his own jokes while no one else did was probably worse for him than it was for me, though. Ha!

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

Nothing. Absolutely nothing. As soon as the sermon was over, everyone vacated the auditorium as if it were the... er... other place. The only people who stuck around were the worship team members, who were packing up their equipment. Where did everyone else go? I would like to know as well!

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Coffee from a Dunkin Donuts shop, served in paper cups with some sugar and milk available. Pretty good selection if you ask me, but only because I would pick Dunkin over Starbucks any day.

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

3 – The vast selection of growth groups makes the church community seem worthwhile. However, everything else about the church leaves much to be desired. If I had the option of skipping Sunday service and just attending a growth group, that would suit me just fine. Perhaps it was just today, but the preaching was non-existent. It was more like an infomercial than anything else. Although Journey Brooklyn did not have a huge congregation, there was a distinct lack of post-service fellowship. I thought only bigger churches suffered from that.

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

Not particularly. I just didn't feel like I was a Christian at all after listening to this "sermon". There was a distinct lack of the following words: Jesus, God, Holy Spirit, salvation, repentance, fellowship, or anything that sounds even remotely like a community of believers. However, I do know all the benefits of being part of a growth group, and where they meet, and how much fun they are.

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

I will remember that the public school where Journey Brooklyn meets is a lot prettier than the elementary school that I attended.

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