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2509: Waterfront Christian Church, Geelong, Australia
Waterfront Christian Church, Geelong
Mystery Worshipper: The Messenger.
The church: Waterfront Christian Church, Geelong, Australia.
Denomination: Apostolic Church Australia.
The building: They meet in a grey cinder block ex-bowling alley, so from the outside itís nothing impressive. However, inside it is a bright, clean, recently renovated, large and spacious auditorium. The focal point of the auditorium is the large stage with a backdrop of hundreds of white paper chains reaching from the ceiling to the ground lit with colourful stage lights. (I was half expecting tongues of fire to descend on the band with the flammable combination of strips of paper and stage lights.)
The church: They seem to be a vibrant, energetic and responsive congregation. They love praising God with their hands, holding them high and clapping to the beat during praise, applauding the band and speaker, and nail biting during the sermon. It is clear that they are a welcoming church who deeply care for the people of their city and trust in Godís power to save.
The neighbourhood: Geelong is a port city in Victoria, not far from Melbourne. In 1844, a local inventor built the world's first ice making machine, and shortly thereafter he was commissioned by a local brewery to build a machine for cooling beer. Gold was discovered nearby in 1851, and during the ensuing rush, false maps were issued to draw prospectors away from claims already staked. Geelong today is an important industrial centre, with the Ford Motor Company, Alcoa Aluminum and Shell Oil maintaining major facilities there. Waterfront Christian Church is the closest church in the heart of Geelong and shares a street with many pubs and clubs.
The cast: The lead singer of the band was a young woman called Chelsea. The speaker was Jonathan Winkler (in his early 20s, pastor in charge of creative ministries and also a son of the senior pastor, John Winkler). Prayer for the city was led by the senior pastor. Another young man, whose name wasn't mentioned, read scripture and spoke some motivational words before the offering.
The date & time: Sunday, 24 March 2013, 6.00pm.

What was the name of the service?
Sunday Service.

How full was the building?
When we walked in at 5.50 there were only three other people in an auditorium with 300-400 chairs, and room for twice that many. A couple of people came to welcome us and promised that more people would come. By the end of the second song, which was an amalgamation of three songs creatively blended together, it was around 35 per cent full. The age range was from teenagers to the elderly, but the early evening start time didn't seem to attract many young families.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, in multiple ways. As we walked in, a shy young girl was holding information sheets but didnít welcome us. However, a man (her father?) welcomed me, shook my hand and asked if I wanted an info sheet. As we were looking lost as to which of the 398 spare seats we should sit in, a young woman welcomed us and encouraged us to take a seat. Once we were seated, three young men, all of whom would turn out to have roles up front that night, took turns at welcoming us with friendly words and a firm handshake. They even tried remembering the names of all five of us in our party!

Was your pew comfortable?
There were blue plastic seats attached to each other, probably five to a row. They were wide enough so as to not feel like you were sitting on your neighbour. They had no cushions but were moulded perfectly to fit one's nether contours, so no complaints there.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The band were practicing loudly at first, then they left and we sat in a comfortable silence. It didnít feel like you had to be silent, though – the few people there were chatting away while the rest of us watched the countdown timer on PowerPoint and admired all the paper chains.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
Chelsea said: "Welcome, Church!" Then someone asked, "What day is it?" to which we all answered, "Sunday!"

What books did the congregation use during the service?
None were offered and none were in the pews. Most people brought their own Bibles. Not that we were ever encouraged to look up passages. The songs were all on PowerPoint.

What musical instruments were played?
Keyboard, three guitars, drum kit, male and female backup vocals and lead singer. Halfway through the sermon, the speaker was going to play the grand piano but decided instead to use the keyboard.

Did anything distract you?
There was an elderly man who stood facing an older lady, working out the song lyrics to her through sign language. I couldnít understand why he needed to sign the words to her, seeing that she could have easily read them herself on the screen. Also, I noticed just how many people bit their nails during the sermon. But the biggest distraction was the church being encouraged to applaud the band, or the speaker, or the keyboard music that played during the senior pastor's testimony and prayer.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Happy clappy. The drums were played well, and you couldnít help but find yourself bopping to the rhythm or snapping your fingers to the beat. They encouraged us to raise our hands in different directions as we prayed, to applaud, to yell amen and respond with loud verbal affirmation to what was being said.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
31 minutes, although it included a piano solo on Psalm 1 in the middle. It was played and sung beautifully but didnít really have anything to do with the sermon. Even the speaker admitted as we left the building that he played it because he thought his sermon was too short and he needed to fill in the time.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
1 – This score is for content. He really hadnít grounded the sermon on a biblical text, although he referenced some texts seemingly without any regard for their context. Parts of his sermon didnít seem to relate with his big idea. But if I scored solely on delivery and style, it would have been an 8. He gained attention at the start and kept it throughout. He was clear and well spoken.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
New is always better. Weíre a new creation. Although new character seems impossible, we need to grow up and mature. A Christian life seems repetitive – reading, praying, reading, praying – but there is no substitution for the Word of God. Read it. (It would have been good if he had demonstrated how to read it through his preaching.)

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The warm welcome we received. Blokes seemed genuinely interested in greeting us and taking the time to learn our names.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The repetitive nature of some of the songs, e.g. "We are free, we are free, we are free" over and over again, like a broken record. The times at the end of some songs when every musician just played as noisily as possible while people shouted and lifted their hands for a couple of minutes. I wonder if this was what Paul meant when he said that people sometimes sound like "a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal" (1 Corinthians 13:1). And let's face it – new is not always better. Should I take a new wife?

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No time to look lost. Before we could get out of our seats, the senior pastor came over, introduced himself, and spoke with us for some time. On our way out, we noticed an angry homeless man in the foyer, but they seemed to be handling it well.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was nothing. People left quickly, as their dinner was probably awaiting them back home.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 – People were warm and engaging and seemed genuine in their faith and praise of God, but the lack of hearing God speak through his word was a large drawback.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
It did. I loved the genuine concern they had for the city and its lost which came out in conversations after the service and the prayer.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The keyboard solo in the middle of the sermon.
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