Mystery Worshipper: Church Hopper
Church: Buckhead Church
Location: Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 2 January 2011, 11:00am
The church looks more like a corporate high-rise building than a traditional church, so it fits right in with the other corporate buildings in the area. A sleek cylindrical glass-filled building of about four floors.
The church is a satellite (or as they would call it, a "strategic partner") of North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia, described in the book Hipster Christianity as having "the biggest concentration of Christian hipsters in Atlanta." As is usual with megachurches, they sponsor dozens of ministries that reach out to children, youth, young adults, mature adults and the elderly of all circumstances in life. These are all detailed on their website. They are one of three churches comprising North Point Ministries.
It's located in Atlanta's upscale neighborhood of Buckhead. It's very close to the high-end Lenox Square Mall and across the street from a hotel. Several other shops, restaurants and hotels are found in the area.
A man who I think was named Doug led the service. The pastor was the Revd Charles Andrew Stanley ("Andy"). Andy's father is the Revd Charles F. Stanley, senior pastor of Atlanta's First Baptist Church and founder of In Touch Ministries. The elder Dr Stanley's scholarly Bible-based preaching can be heard every Sunday on cable television stations throughout the United States.
What was the name of the service?Worship Service.
How full was the building?
Almost full. The auditorium had an upstairs balcony and looked like it held about 3,000 or 4,000 people total.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A man greeted me and handed me a brochure as I entered. I thought it was the order of service but it was more of an overview of the church. I had a little time to scout the information desk. There, a lady asked me if it was my first time and handed me a package with a CD and some stylish cards giving more information on the church, a parking map, and a statement of beliefs.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, but it wasn't a pew. I had a comfortable chair. I appreciated the extra legroom between rows, as I am tall.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Services are held on the third floor, so we had to go up an escalator. On the way, we passed rooms where Sunday school was in progress. Arriving at the worship space, I found a seat on my own, but I did see some ushers later who were finding seats for others. Most people came on time. Ten minutes before church started, they showed a video with cool graphics giving highlights of upcoming activities plus some amusing skits about church life.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Hi, everyone. Happy New Year."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
No books. Some people brought Bibles but they did not seem necessary. The verse was projected on a video screen, as were the song lyrics.
What musical instruments were played?
A full rock band: a keyboard player, two guitarists, drummer, lead vocalist, and a backup singer. And they were loud!
Did anything distract you?
This is a very tech-savvy church. The stage lights changed from cerise to blue to green as the songs went on. I found myself mesmerized by the lights more than the music.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Unlike most churches that try to pull off the rock band thing, this one did a very professional job. Band was tight, and I have to say they looked the part of a trendy rock band. With the lights turned down low and the band so loud, I could have been at a real rock concert. The downside is that I did not feel as if I was a worshipper but more of a spectator. They sang two songs I did not know, that could have been hits from Christian radio. I glanced around and saw that most people were singing along, so clearly they were not affected as I was. A few people were lifting up hands in worship.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – This was the first church I have ever been to where the preacher appeared via hologram. He was preaching live at North Point and they "beamed" him (with his stool and all) onto the stage of Buckhead Church. I found it a little strange for about a minute, but then I forgot about it. It seemed as if he were really there.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Andy Stanley preached from Galatians 6:9 ("Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.") Statistics were flashed on the video screen such as 16.7 million people in America struggle with hunger. When people see this kind of thing, they think, "If I can't help everyone, then I will help no one." As Christians, we do not have this luxury. We need to think, "Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone." He challenged everyone this year to look for that struggling single mother or office co-worker who is the one God is nudging you to get involved with. What if everyone decided to get involved in one other person's life? That could change the world!
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Andy's message. He is a gifted speaker: funny, smart, relevant and able to take a well-used Bible passage and breathe some new thoughts into it. He told a story about a 20-year involvement with a drug addict and street person named Jane whom he was able to help after many ups and downs. Jane went on to start a ministry for abused women.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
While not strictly part of the service, I was very annoyed by how long it took to get out of the parking garage maybe 15 minutes of waiting in line. I found my good Christian vibe being replaced by something close to irritation. It would have been a good chance to practice patience if I had remembered at the time. If I ever came back, I would try to find some other parking alternative.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
People filed out and went on with their day. Again there was a big crush getting down the escalator. No one talked to me.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
No announcement of any coffee was made, so I assume this is not a feature of the church.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – I could listen to Andy Stanley all day long. I am not sure if I would like to listen to that band, though.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. The church seems to cater primarily to professional singles and families in their 20s and 30s. This is a hard demographic for the church to reach and I was heartened to see so many "trendies" in attendance.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
"Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone."