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3136: Renew Church, Peoria, Arizona, USA
Renew Church, Peoria, AZ (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Lou M. Christie.
The church: Renew Church, Peoria, Arizona, USA.
Denomination: Independent.
The building: They occupy what appears to have been a store at one time. The inside is plain and appears to have been cleaned up, but not renovated, after the store vacated the premises. One enters a lobby where a registration table had been set up and coffee and donuts were available. The auditorium is square, with a stage at one end. The stage was bathed in purple lighting but the rest of the room was lit by bare fluorescent bulbs in the ceiling.
The church: They have home groups and both local and global outreaches to a variety of charitable organizations. Their Generation 180 student ministry provides an environment where teenagers can (quoting from their website) “hang out and can be themselves in a safe environment. We worship, have sound teaching, and a lot of fun with friends.”
The neighborhood: Peoria is a large, sprawling suburb northwest of Phoenix. Large as it is, it has a tiny, compact downtown area near the intersection of Grand and Peoria Avenues. If truth be told, downtown looks rather seedy; but if one knows where to look, one can uncover some architectural treasures such as the old jail house (which for a time housed the city council chambers – what does that say about politicians?); the old two-room school, which many thought was one room too large; the Agricultural & Farm Implements Museum; the grand old Edwards Hotel, now boarded up and vacant; and several curious old private homes. Renew Church is in the heart of downtown, right next to the firehouse. Across the street is a park in which can be found a rather endearing sculpture of a little boy, little girl and little dog drinking water from a pump.
The cast: John Rineer, lead pastor, read announcements. Jonathan Scoggins, discipleship and teaching pastor, preached.
The date & time: Sunday, March 26, 2017, 10.45am.

What was the name of the service?
Worship Service.

How full was the building?
About 75 chairs had been set out. By service time there were about 35 people occupying them, but by the time the “worship” and meet and greet were over, they were mostly full. A young to middle aged crowd, all informally dressed, including the two pastors.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Did they ever! As I made to enter, Pastor Jonathan held the door for me, greeted and welcomed me, and asked how I had come to learn about the church. As I was helping myself to coffee and donuts, several other people came over to me and greeted me as well. Inside the auditorium, others did likewise.

Was your pew comfortable?
They were purple banquet-style chairs and were comfortable enough.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Several people greeted me, as mentioned above. A woman sat down in front of me and told me she liked to be able to see the pastor as well as the screen. “You should try the front row sometime,” she said. She asked me if this was my first time there, and said she had been coming for a couple of months now. Soft rock music was playing over the PA system. As service time approached, a countdown clock was displayed on screen and the music got louder.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
“Good morning, folks.”

What books did the congregation use during the service?
None. Words to the songs were projected on screen.

What musical instruments were played?
Acoustic guitar, electric guitar, drums, vocalist. A digital keyboard was on stage but was not played.

Did anything distract you?
One gentleman wore a t-shirt that announced on the back that he belonged to the Christian Motorcycle Association: “Riding for the Son.” Another gentleman wore a t-shirt that read, “Tough guys wear pink.” Well, it was Laetare Sunday after all, although I doubt if anyone there realized it besides me.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Happy clappy ruled the day. It followed the standard rock concert as church format: “worship,” announcements, sermon, offering, more “worship.” The music was of the lite Christian rock variety. I found it impossible to take notes during the meet and greet because just about everyone there came over to me, shook my hand, and introduced themselves. I had to keep putting down my pen – not that I'm complaining. It was very pleasant.

Renew Church, Peoria, AZ (Worship)

Exactly how long was the sermon?
35 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – I liked Pastor Jonathan’s style – it was relaxed and very informal, with lots of questions-and-answers. His sermon was well organized but it rambled on a bit too long, I thought. Just when it sounded like he was going to wrap it up, he would say something like “As we will see…”, which of course meant that more would follow.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
His text was Isaiah 55:1-3 (“Come, you who are thirsty…”). Which of us has ever been on a diet? Not much fun, are they? Food is wonderful but sometimes it doesn’t satisfy. We also seek spiritual satisfaction. To achieve it, we sometimes try things that don’t help. But God can help us figure it out. And his help is free – it costs nothing, because Jesus already paid for our sins in full on the Cross. We hunger and thirst for righteousness, and we will be satisfied – but we have to stop and listen to God. Be engaged! Change the way you think and the way you behave. God’s ways are far above our ways – but he lets us in on what they are. Soak up the knowledge he gives us, like trees soak up water. If plants don’t receive water regularly they will die. Likewise, if we don’t receive nourishment from God regularly by going to church every week, our knowledge of God will die. We are testimonies to God’s goodness, but we are works in progress. Let us pray that God will help us develop a taste for his Word.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I liked Pastor Jonathan’s sermon, but I especially liked how everyone seemed to sit in rapt attention, hanging on to his every word. No one’s interest seemed to flag for even a moment.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
A gentleman sitting next to me was wearing a Rosary around his neck. Sorry, I know that’s the fashion, but I don’t like it! Also, the meet and greet was timed via a countdown clock. I’d never seen that done before. It struck me as odd – it's one thing for someone to announce, "OK, folks, time to get back to the service," but another to have it happen on cue, as if pre-programmed.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
After the collection was taken up, the “worship” started up again, and I slipped out as I knew there wouldn’t be communion today. Besides, I think they practice closed communion to all but “believers.” Pastor Jonathan followed me out into the lobby, thanked me for coming, and said he hoped to see me there next week.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Pre-service coffee was hot and tasty, and the donuts were delicious.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 – I liked the preaching and the people’s friendliness and sincerity. It was clear that they all love their church and wouldn’t miss a Sunday for the world. But this is not my style of worship. There is more to worship than "worship."

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes.

Renew Church, Peoria, AZ (Sculpture)

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Hearing people not going to church compared to plants not receiving water.
 
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