They meet at the Regal Oceanside Stadium 16 Theater, a multiplex cinema that looks much like any other. Today they used auditorium no. 9, one of the smaller ones but with a slightly better class of seats than the others. The seats are arranged in typical stadium fashion as one finds in almost all movie houses these days.
Their website lists about two dozen ministries that they are involved in. These include small groups; men's, women's, students' and young adults' groups; a recovery ministry; and a ministry to the deaf - just to name a few. The most interesting appears to be Surf & Serve, where (quoting from their website) "for 60-90 minutes, the gang surfs some of the nicest waves anywhere. Then we retreat to the beach and pull up a beach chair, a Bible, and a beverage and look at what the Lord has to say to us." Apparently there are many seekers in the surfing community. Who knew? In addition to Surf & Serve, they have one service in the Regal Stadium 16 each Sunday.
Oceanside, about 60 miles north of San Diego, has been famous right from its founding for its fabulous Pacific Ocean beaches. It is home to the Camp Pendleton US Marine Corps base. The downtown area where the theater is located is a mixture of touristy kitsch and military honky-tonk. Rather quiet this time of year, it is quite busy in the summer. The theater is in a plaza whose other tenants are an ice cream shop and several eateries (the Japanese place is especially good).
Pastor Shawn Mitchell.
What was the name of the service?I think they called it City Church
How full was the building?
Auditorium no. 9 holds about 225 people and I counted 25.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Outside on the plaza, a gentleman named Richard spoke with me briefly. Inside, someone at the door said, "Welcome, welcome, welcome!" At the auditorium entrance, a woman handing out leaflets said, "Good morning and welcome." There was someone inside the auditorium greeting people in like manner.
Was your pew comfortable?
I'm not a fan of stadium seating, but the seats were comfortable enough.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The inside was dark, with miscellaneous videos and a countdown clock displayed on the movie screen. Background music was playing over the PA system, including a rock version of "Auld Lang Syne." People found seats and waited expectantly for things to get underway.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning. We're gonna close out 2017 with some praise and worship."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
None. The handout we received at the door contained mostly announcements plus a sermon outline with blanks to fill in.
What musical instruments were played?
Digital keyboard and drums. There were four vocalists.
Did anything distract you?
I suppose the most distracting thing about it was the venue itself. I've watched many a movie at the Regal Oceanside but have never attended church there until today.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Very happy, very clappy. Lots of swinging and swaying, arms waving, hands in the air, and all that. It followed the standard "rock concert as church" format, with 15 minutes of rock music, the lyrics of which were repeated over and over again. This was followed by some personal testimonies, some announcements, a prayer, meet and greet, the sermon, and a concluding prayer.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 – Pastor Shawn Mitchell was present in person - indeed, during the meet and greet he was out in the audience (oops, I mean congregation) personally welcoming everyone and shaking everyone's hand with a "Good morning, welcome, happy New Year, God bless you." But at message time, a video came on the screen of him beginning the sermon. His preaching style was rapid and excited and charismatic but very, very loud! There was lots of "Say Amen, family - oh, I love to hear the church say Amen!" but of course he couldn't hear anything as he was speaking from the video. My score of 5 is based primarily on the loud volume and the fact that the sermon was pre-recorded.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Appropriate for New Years Eve, his theme was "A Fresh Start" and his primary text was Isaiah 43:18-19 (God will do a new thing). Happy New Year! We heard those words a year ago today, but did we have a happy year? Or are we saying to ourselves, "How did I get into this mess and how do I get out of it?" This is a time to look back on the positive as well as the negative, and resolve not to make the same mistakes as before. Walk with strength and courage. God will make a way for us, even if we don't see it. The past is a guidepost, not a whipping post. Let go of the old. Look to the future. Be aware of what God is doing for you. The windshield of a car is much larger than the rear view mirror. Give God some time each day; get to know him better. God wants us to succeed. Success may not be clear at first, but watch God work!
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Rock concert as church is not my idea of heaven, but everyone seemed to be getting into it well enough. Bless them!
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I would have to say the loud volume. I was glad I had brought my earplugs with me, but even with them in, the volume was deafening.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
After the sermon was over, a gentleman got up and thanked us for coming and offered a concluding prayer. As we left, people were stationed at the exits holding collection buckets to receive our offerings.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none. Their website and the sign out front had promised food and drink, but I saw no evidence of any. I had to use the rest room, and when I emerged I saw that the place had completely cleared out.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
0 – As I said, it's not my style of church, but I don't begrudge it to those whose style it is.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
This particular service didn't, no, although I am of course glad that I am a Christian.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The windshield of a car is larger than the rear view mirror.