Mystery Worshipper: Harriet M. Welsch
Church: Vanguard Church
Location: Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 10 September 2006, 10:00am
The building is in an old movie theater. I remember going to movies here before it shut down in 1996. It retains its movie theater feel: there are six auditoriums, one used for the worship service and the others converted into childcare and Sunday school rooms. The concession counter is intact; there is an espresso bar and pastry counter, and a soda fountain. The restrooms feel like movie theater restrooms! But why do all churches think women need gaudy fake flower arrangements on the bathroom counters?
From what I could see, most congregants are young, with young children. There seems to be a thriving singles group as well. Vanguard was advertising many ministries to get involved in, from men's and women's groups to MOPS (Mothers of Pre-Schoolers), singles and young marrieds, a restoration ministry (helping to heal wounded lives), prayer and stewardship ministries, etc.
Colorado Springs is located near the foot of Pike's Peak, one of North America's most famous mountains. Surrounded by incredible natural beauty, the city is, however, not immune from urban sprawl, crime, and overcrowding. Vanguard Church is surrounded by strip malls, gas stations, Starbucks, bowling alleys and the like – no homes nearby. There is even a nail salon almost attached to the church!
The Revd Kelly Williams, senior pastor.
What was the name of the service?No name, just the 10.00am service. Please note, the service started at 10.06, to be precise!
How full was the building?
Just before the service started, the auditorium was almost full. This changed as the service went on – see my notes on distractions below for a complete explanation.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes! The best welcome I've ever gotten – from the clergy, that is, although at the time I had no idea who it was who was greeting me. The senior pastor was standing at the door and he shook my hand, introduced himself as Kelly, asked me my name, where I was from, was it my first time, how did I hear about the church, etc. His manner seemed very genuine and welcoming, and when he got up to preach later his manner was the same. Otherwise, no one talked to me, but what else is new? I must have put on my "Leave me alone" T-shirt by mistake.
Was your pew comfortable?
Comfortable? Too comfortable! It was a padded rocking-chair movie theater seat complete with armrests (but no drink holder – which many people could have used, since so many came in with coffee). I was afraid to put my purse on the floor because I flashed back to having Coke and popcorn spill down the aisle. It was totally a movie theater environment. The lights were down so low that I couldn't even read the bulletin.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
People were talking to each other as if before a show, but it was too dark for me to see anything clearly. There was nothing reverential about the atmosphere.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Hey, good morning. I said good morning! Welcome to Vanguard Church. There seems to be a lot of energy in the room. Let's start off by standing and singing 'You Are Worthy'."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
None. I had my Bible, but others didn't. There was no need to open a Bible because the bulletin had two pages for sermon notes, complete with fill-in-the-blanks. The original movie screen was up, and song lyrics and sermon notes were flashed on the large screen.
What musical instruments were played?
Two acoustic guitars, one electric guitar, one bass guitar and a violin accompanied a single vocalist.
Did anything distract you?
The biggest distraction by far was the continual stream of people going up and down the aisle looking for seats. The service started six minutes late, and for the next 24 minutes I counted over 50 people entering the auditorium trying to find a seat. Couples, singles, wandering up and down the aisle, lattes in hand, trying to find seats. To me, this is not casual worship – it's being too lazy to get to church on time! Perhaps Vanguard should rope off the back 50 seats for these people. And their lattes. Other distractions? A couple of typos on the lyric sheets – no big deal, but c'mon, how hard is it to get "you're" down instead of "your"? The slides had strange background pictures. One looked like a scarecrow in a broccoli field, with worship lyrics superimposed. Huh?
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship was wonderful, albeit extremely loud. So loud I couldn't hear myself sing (although I imagine the people in front of me could, and they were wishing they couldn't!). I love loud, rock-inspired worship, and this group was tight and cohesive. I would have loved a couple more songs and a shorter sermon. I was sitting near the man who worked the computer, who was dancing with the computer keyboard still in his hand. At first I thought he was playing an accordion! Then I realized he was changing the slides on the screen and worshipping joyfully at the same time. Great!
Exactly how long was the sermon?
55 minutes. Yes, that's right.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Kelly was casual and relaxed. It was almost like being at a seminar rather than listening to a sermon. He asked questions of the congregation and expected answers – unusual, I thought, especially since no one really seemed to know the answers to questions such as "What's a modern mode of operation?"
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Relationships and love are the highest goals of a Christian.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Worship such as this could easily transport me to heaven if the hoardes of latecomers roaming the aisles with their lattes didn't pull me back to earth.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Not arriving on time, not starting on time, not finishing your latte before entering.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I hung out by the back door and smiled at children and people. They smiled back. They walked away. Cool. That's what I do at my church. Or maybe I don't even smile. But the only one with anything to say was Kelly Williams, standing at the door saying good-bye to people.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
No free food that I could find, except snack-sized candy bars at little tables where you could sign up to serve on a ministry. Which I wasn't ready to do. I did get a cup of ice water, though. And it was good ice water, the kind with the little shards of ice that clump up so that you accidentally pour the whole cup down your shirt.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – and I'd be on time!
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, absolutely. The message that relationships come before information rang true with me. I feel this church would accept me along with all my quirks – it would be up to the challenge.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The genuineness of the senior pastor, Kelly Williams. He preached on servant leadership, and he was a servant leader.