Mystery Worshipper: St Francis
Church: Riverview Church
Location: Perth, Western Australia
Date of visit: Saturday, 13 March 2010, 6:00pm
The church meets at three different venues around Perth. The one I visited is a large factory type building that was previously used as an electrical parts warehouse. The church has occupied it since 1985. The interior of the building has been greatly improved and transformed into an inviting, pleasant space.
Riverview Church is the largest charismatic independent church in Western Australia, with 4000 people attending its services each week. It was founded in 1979 under the name Inner City Faith Fellowship, and later changed its name to Rhema Family Church. It has been known under its present name since 1988. Riverview is seen as a centre of excellence by Christians in Perth, and many regular churchgoers from other churches attend Riverview now and again. Its many ministries and outreaches are well documented on its website.
The venue I visited is located in the Burswood suburb of Perth. Originally named Burrswood, its present name came about from a misspelling made by workmen painting the railway station sign. The Burswood Entertainment Complex, including two hotels, a 24 hour casino, convention centre, seven restaurants, seven bars, a nightclub, theatre and an indoor stadium, is directly opposite the church. There are also two brothels in the immediate vicinity!
The service leaders were Adam Meredith, a member of the leadership team, and Neil Chisholm. The worship leader was Jess (no surname given). The speaker was Kelley Chisholm, also a member of the leadership team.
What was the name of the service?Saturday Night Service.
How full was the building?
The building holds over 1000 people but curtains had been put up to make a smaller space for about 400. That space was very full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
The car park attendant was ecstatic over the fact that it had just started raining. This will bemuse English readers, but there had been no rain in Perth for four months, and the previous week's temperature had sat in the high 30s/low 40s Celsius (around 100 degrees Fahrenheit), so the thought of rain was delicious. His friendly welcome was matched by those of a lady and gentleman at the front doors and that of a person nearby, who talked for some time when we were asked to turn around and greet people.
Was your pew comfortable?
The seats were very comfortable, padded theatre-type seats.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
A praise and worship CD was playing and people were happily talking and laughing with friends. Announcements were running on two large screens.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Welcome. How are you doing? Welcome to Riverview."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
All words were projected onto the large screens, including Bible readings and sermon points.
What musical instruments were played?
There were keyboard, three electric guitars, bass guitar and drums. The sound system was excellent with great balance.
Did anything distract you?
Because the church is an old warehouse, the interior does not distract. Black curtains are on three sides and this tends to direct the worshippers' attention to the stage and the screens. However, a group of young teenage boys in the row in front did cause me to relive my youth a little as they kidded around at times and tried to impress a group of similarly aged girls.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
This was a typical charismatic/Pentecostal service, with many people raising their hands and closing their eyes during the 20 minutes of singing. I enjoyed worshipping God at Riverview but found it slightly off-putting that I was unable to hear my voice or those of the people on either side of me because of the volume of the band, singers and choir even though it didn't appear painfully loud. I could have been singing the Fremantle Dockers football club song ("Hit 'em real hard, send them down below") or the National Anthem and no one would have known!
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – A very well thought out and well presented talk.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Kelley Chisholm spoke on Genesis 45:1-8 (Joseph does not blame his brothers for selling him into slavery in Egypt, but says rather that it was God's will). Joseph had his position on important matters already made up before the events happened. He didn't have to make panicked decisions. We, too, should have a default position already decided upon, so that when problems arise we will know what we're going to do and not be dependent on emotions or the circumstances we find ourselves in.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The professionalism and excellence of almost every part of the service: excellent music, preaching and seating.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The four minute harangue before the offering was taken up. Do these churches really think that people don't have their "default offering already decided upon" and instead bring a large sum of money with them to church, only to decide how much of it to give based on how much they are motivated by the pre-offering sermonette?
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I stood on the outskirts of the several hundred people drinking coffee and talking and laughing. After five minutes I went home. To be fair, I wonder how people would know I was a visitor and not just someone waiting for his wife?
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was free instant coffee or tea in takeaway mugs. Hot chips, hamburgers, etc. were available for purchase in a large cafeteria.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – There is much to like about this church and its largeness allows it really to embrace excellence. However, the largeness also mitigates against a family feeling, and I think I would miss knowing the people sitting in the seats around me.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. God was praised and worshipped and hundreds of people in central Perth enjoyed celebrating his goodness and love.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The strangeness of singing at full volume and not hearing my own voice.