I wrote my first vision article feeling like it was part 1 of 2, though I really had no clue what part 2 would be about until we went on vacation. While visiting friends in California we went with them over two Sundays to a newer satellite Saddleback Church. Part 2 became clear as I observed how they “do church” on Sunday using a facility that is not perfect for a typical church, but turn it into a welcoming atmosphere from the point you drive on the lot.
I hope folks didn’t tune out on this when they saw Saddleback. I am well aware of the many opinions about some of Pastor Rick Warren’s teaching when it comes to money, our desire to not become a mega-church, etc., but there is no denying they must be doing some things right and I believe every opportunity to learn something should be capitalized. Looking for aspects that could be a fit for Pathway I kept my head on a swivel and took notes during our experience worshiping in this different setting.
Smiling greeters in their branded shirts and hanging name tags welcomed us as we drove in, clear signage indicated reserved prime parking spaces for first time guests, and greeters at multiple points welcomed us, pointed us in the right direction, chatted briefly with us, and offered us whatever assistance we may need. There was music playing outside as we walked in, in the hallways, and in the sanctuary prior to the service avoiding “dead air” and beginning to create a sense of worship right away. Multiple welcome stations offered information, points to collect our contact information via iPad, and offered us a first-time visitor gift.
Most areas, the coffee was free and available to anyone as they passed by. The second Sunday, I noticed a unique coffee station tucked in the back corner of the sanctuary offering a $2 cup of coffee. I walked over and the barista volunteering there explained it was a pour over cup that would be one of the best cups I’ve ever had. I asked for one, and during the process, which took about 2 minutes, he chatted me up explaining the process as he ground fresh beans, measured and weighed everything for the perfect cup, bloomed the coffee before pouring, and proceeded to make me a really good cup of coffee. While chatting he figured out we were visiting, and when I offered to pay for the coffee, he said nope, it’s on us. I walked away thinking what a perfect way to give a little attention to folks that come over using a process that takes a couple minutes and has its own built in sort of talk track that is pretty easy for anyone with a good attitude to deliver.
During the service people came in at all sorts of random times. There was always a greeter available to help them find a seat. A photographer roamed grabbing pictures, and sat next to me the second Sunday taking a great shot as a super-cute 18 month old girl with pig tails going all directions peaked over her mom’s shoulder. I asked him if they were for the web site, and he said they use some on the web, but also include new pics weekly in their bulletin to keep it fresh and real.
The service each week started with a well done video that focused on the importance of viewing church not as something to be consumed, but how important active participation is and also highlighting ministry and mission activities. The videos looked very well done and I’m sure took decent time to create, and probably an investment in equipment and software to produce.
The local pastor invited all newcomers to a monthly newcomer dinner, requesting RSVP via web site, or contact card which was included in the program and collected during the offering. He also focused on getting folks to 100 and 200 level newcomer classes to learn about church in general (100) and getting involved and taking part in church ministry (200). He also talked about fun days for the whole church like a beach day for baptisms and fun in the sun for everyone and getting a block of tickets to a baseball game where they would tailgate and enjoy the game together.
The lyrics for singing were on multiple monitors throughout the room. The sanctuary had a low ceiling, posts in various site lines, and was probably not the most optimal worship space. They used varying graphics to accentuate the songs on the screens, colored stage lighting and even smoke makers. Their primary worship leader had an awesome voice, but they also had others in the praise team lead portions of songs. During this time, I felt it maybe a bit over the top for my taste. I also had never heard most of the songs that were being sung. I missed the way Pathway keeps the praise team volume lower, so we can hear and feel the congregational singing. Big plug and thanks from me for our singing, song selection, and all those involved in tech, music, and vocals to make it happen week after week.
Thought the approach gave some items for consideration if we were to begin configuring worship in Northwoods. There is already existing stage lighting that could be used, lower ceiling and potential site line obstructions that would require a different, in a good way, setup that can still create an inviting atmosphere and maybe some ideas for enhancing what we currently do without going too far over the top.
I was also quietly please when there was a technical issue thinking, I guess it happens to everyone no matter what size church it is! Probably mean on my part, but just like we do at Pathway when something happens, they powered on through and it was no big deal.
The sermon was piped in on the screen monitors from the main campus. I didn’t expect to like this at all but had also never experienced it this way. After experiencing it, my personal preference would still be having an in-person preacher, but I did find myself engaged and actively watching/listening to the monitors almost forgetting I wasn’t watching a live person. My thought was that in a room where site lines may not be perfect, or overflow has to extend out into the reception area like we may possibly have to do at Northwoods, was that well place monitors can help overcome visibility issues and not leave folks or areas feeling isolated and left out. I firmly believe in the importance of worshiping together as the Pathway family and body of Christ and how critical it is in my, and my family’s church life.
This was an entirely separate experience where 8th grade and below goes to the youth area. They have their own smaller stage, monitors, praise team (my friend’s 7th grader is starting to play bass guitar), separate message, and have time to play multiple games (video, board, and table games), and get snacks together. Both my girls said they really liked it.
My friend’s wife had to work in children’s church both Sunday’s since they are a newer satellite start-up and don’t have enough volunteers yet. She told us she hasn’t been able to be in church for months but doesn’t mind as she knows the church is building up more. She made me think of all our members that so faithfully minister to our children, how I know some have done it for many years while we build toward a day of being able to serve and not be overloaded and how thankful I am for each person using their gifts in this way.
We toured this area afterward and I immediately thought of opportunities for the loft area in Northwoods realizing it would need to be built out a bit and have soundproofing in place to separate it from the main worship space if Pathway were to do something like this.
Greeters still staffed multiple locations for info table, assistance, and working to collect contact details in a non-pushy way, while also ensuring visitors received their gift. Outside there was a freezer chest with popsicles and other snacks along with the multiple coffee stations with non-refrigerated snacks. They included a donation jar to help support the hospitality ministry. They even had a blow up bouncy house and bean bags outside readily available to anyone.
I stopped by the information table and noted they were selling Saddleback branded items, giving out free info packets, and also advertising something called “The Giving Keys”.
Turns out they have created a pay-it-forward ministry to give jobs and assistance to individuals transitioning out of homelessness in the LA area. A pretty cool idea of buying this key with an inspirational word you choose on it that you also give or send to someone as encouragement and a way to pay-it-forward. There is other merchandise, and the site collects testimonial stories from those that participate. There are stories from people all across the country indicating it doesn’t just have to be money from those in the church. My thought was it was a great way to expand a meaningful ministry across the country, or even world using the internet, and use it to create a real impact to individuals in need locally as well.
Stop Trying and Start Trusting
Times of change are the perfect time to evaluate how we do what we do. Personally, I think it is a good practice to find the best practices elsewhere and consider where they may be applicable in our own approach in combination with our own ideas. I remember doing this when we designed the new web site. There is a ton of good stuff out there already that can be incorporated here, but there is also a lot of it that just wouldn’t fit the Pathway culture. The journey to discerning what fits, works, or even if God is saying yes, or no may be at times frustrating, but should also be viewed as great learning, growth, and build excitement toward what is coming.
My vacation church experience demonstrated further how a non-traditional space can be transformed into a welcoming and effective location for ministry. It’s probably obvious, but I also came away with multiple ideas for how Northwoods could be configured and used in this way. Much if the infrastructure already there and just needing to be put together in new way.
I think I would be safe to describe Jesus’ ministry on earth as extremely non-traditional. In fact, he flew in face of tradition intentionally with a message to stop trying their way and trust in Him as the way, the truth, and the life.
In John 13:15-17 Jesus says, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”
I am thankful God placed me and my family at Pathway over 15 years ago! This congregation has become our family and we enjoy doing church, doing life, and going through the ups and downs of a smaller church with a bigger vision. Pathway began with the intention of being different and has not veered from that original course.
Applying this in the context of considering Northwoods, we have opportunity to continue to be different, establish a ministry (or ministries), in a non-traditional context leveraging a core family already experienced in having to trust for its next step.
The go-forward green lights seem to keep coming as we come up on a final vote. I understand there can be legitimate concern on how it will all work and what are the right ways to use our time, effort, and resources. But I further believe the logistics and specifics will work themselves out in great ways no matter what happens next because there is one in control far greater and more creative than we could ever hope to be!
My vision is that we as a congregation would be given the wisdom and discernment to believe that if this is where God is calling Pathway, then we can focus our trying on His plan and trust that it will be glorifying to God and impactful for His kingdom if we get ourselves out of the way and go toward where he is leading.